We put the humanities in action to create positive change.
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council is seeking individuals committed to championing the humanities to fill open positions on its board of directors. Qualified individuals representing diversity of background, life, thought and professional experience are encouraged to apply. Deadline is March 31. PHC’s board of directors comprises elected individuals and governor appointees who are eligible to serve up to two successive three-year terms. Currently 19 members serve on the board with backgrounds in business, law, education, philanthropy, government, and arts and culture. New board members are elected each spring.
Re-imagine the past, and reclaim Chester's future this winter in the Chester Made Exploration Zone! On April 20, meet Rebecca Yamin, a historical archaeologist who specializes in urban archaeology and has explored underground passageways in Chester and collected residents’ stories about them. Yamin will join Chester Made historians and residents for a reception and lecture on Chester’s Underground History: Myth and Reality where they will work together at confirming or debunking these stories once and for all. Residents can also take part in a follow-up workshop where they will be invited to share an object that means something to them. Yamin and the Chester Made team will guide residents in connecting their objects to the past and viewing them together with others to create a profile of the community not clouded in myth. Recent events include lessons in creative and cultural rebuilding with Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates and Detroit city planner Kimberly Driggins. The Chester Made team also hosts regular workshops and builds in the Chester Made makerspace and community discussions around a variety of topics.
On March 20 MacArthur Fellow and National Humanities Medalist Anna Deavere Smith led a Master Class in Empathy with 120 Philadelphia-area leaders, including former mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Richard Ross. The class effectively launched “Move in Closer,” a series of activities designed to celebrate Leadership Philadelphia’s 60th anniversary. Founded in 1959, Leadership Philadelphia mobilizes and connects the talent of the private sector to serve the community. It is the original and flagship model for 400 such organizations across the country. The year-long sweep of “Move in Closer” activities is partially funded in partnership with PHC through a National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman’s Grant.
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has expanded its award-winning Teen Reading Lounge program to twelve sites, including eight libraries across the state and four out-of-school-time sites in Philadelphia. The primary goal is to leverage the humanities as a tool for positive youth development, with an emphasis on engaging low-income youth and youth of color. "Traditional programs for teens follow the 'if you build it, they will come' model," said Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director. "Teen Reading Lounge is different because we start by asking teens what’s important and interesting to them. We’ve seen some very positive outcomes—and as we move forward and expand the program, we want to ensure its participants are as diverse as the population of our state."
Through funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Standing Together initiative, we've partnered with Penn VUB to expand and enhance the program’s humanities components. The primary goal is to help participants build vital skills such as synthesizing information, effective communication and critical reflection, all of which contribute to success in postsecondary education. Another program goal: building students' confidence in their ability to effect positive change, not only in their own lives, but in their communities as well.
Valerie Adams-Bass is a developmental psychologist who focuses on adolescent development. A partner in the creation of our Teen Reading Lounge program, Dr. Adams-Bass has helped PHC understand how the humanities and the higher order thinking skills associated with the humanities can prepare youth to participate in a larger civic and political arena. She shares some thoughts on these topics in the following post.
Each year, the statewide nonprofit Preservation Pennsylvania puts out a call for nominations to its Pennsylvania At Risk list, made up of sites determined to be among the commonwealth’s most endangered historic resources. In 2018, four remarkable places that are part of Pennsylvania’s history were added to the list and will become Preservation Pennsylvania’s work priorities for the year. Together, these four sites represent approximately 635 years of Pennsylvania history. The tales they tell are about slavery, creating community after the Civil War, taming the Pennsylvania wilds, industrial growth and railroad history, craftsmanship, and the ways that people form strong connections to local places they love.
In early March, a group of PHC staff and board members traveled to Washington for Humanities on the Hill, an annual opportunity to meet with members of Congress and make a persuasive case for the value and impact of the humanities. The goal of this national event is to advocate for increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)—and in turn for state humanities councils like PHC.
Beginning this past fall, I have had the pleasure of being PHC’s communication’s intern. Given my rhetoric and public advocacy background, I’m interested in exploring community development and the importance of creating transparency among a group of people. A peer exchange weekend with the Chester Made initiative gave me the opportunity. Chester Made is a civic engagement project that brings together various residents from artists and local leaders to entrepreneurs with a common goal of changing the perception of Chester and building a stronger community.
The Williamsport Sun-Gazette has reviewed the new film, From the Heart of Williamsport, which premiered February 9 to a full house of more than 300 people at the Community Art Center. The film was created by the Heart of Williamsport team, who describe it as "a storytelling film that celebrates what we love about our community."
If you're reading this, you're probably familiar with many of the talking points about how the humanities benefit society. Exposure to the arts improves student test scores. Museum attendance leads to positive developmental outcomes. And a liberal arts education can cultivate a set of skills in students that appeal to employers. But can the humanities play a constructive role in community planning efforts? It's an intriguing idea, and it goes to the heart of the Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart and Soul method. This method "empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately strengthening the social, cultural and economic vibrancy of communities."
President Trump’s FY 2019 budget proposal again requests elimination of NEH and other federal cultural agencies. We strongly believe that Congress will once again support state humanities councils’ work with to strengthen education and civic engagement for residents across the nations—but we cannot rest on our laurels. Continued advocacy in the coming months is crucial.