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In 2014 the Pennsylvania Humanities Council awarded its first civic engagement planning grant to the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative, a joint effort of seven local nonprofit organizations. Scranton, a city of about 75,000 in northeastern Pennsylvania, was settled by Welsh and other European immigrants and once known as an iron and steel hub. While the city has moved away from its industrial past, the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative hopes to inspire its residents to embrace the humanities as one way of sparking a new spirit of pride and dynamism. This project focused on West Scranton, a diverse neighborhood with new immigrants settled alongside long-time residents, and it aimed to engage the community in improving and building neighborhood pocket parks. Project goals Through this project, the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative aimed to advance an understanding of the humanities and civic engagement, while also serving as a mechanism to pull in key city, county, neighborhood, academic, and nonprofit leaders to advance mutual goals for the betterment of the community. Major goals included Using the humanities to refine civic engagement and foster community. Engaging residents in genuine dialogue on the future of their community. Restoring social capital among residents. Partners Led by the Scranton Area Community Foundation, the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative represents the joined forces of the Lackawanna County Library System, Lackawanna Heritage Valley, Neighbor Works Northeastern Pennsylvania, United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania, United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, and the University of Scranton. Related Content Scranton Heritage Series Fellows Park Ribbon Cutting Turning Strangers into Neighbors
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council is pleased to announce that 15 libraries across Pennsylvania have been selected to host a spring 2016 Teen Reading Lounge program. This particular round of programming aims to better understand the needs of low-income youth and to explore how Teen Reading Lounge can help them build essential life skills. "More than 600 teenagers and 77 libraries have participated in Teen Reading Lounge since its launch in 2009," said Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director. "As we move forward with this program, we want to ensure that we reach teens across diverse socio-economic backgrounds." Teen Reading Lounge is a nontraditional book club for teens ages 12-18. Teens help to create the reading list for their program sites and, working with trained facilitators, to design creative projects that bring the books to life. Participants report stronger interpersonal, communication, literacy, and critical-thinking skills, and increased confidence. The program is built on the belief that encouragement to choose creative pursuits and interest-focused programs is crucial to teen development. The humanities naturally push teens to ask questions and share ideas, activities that are vital as teens begin to discover who they are, who they want to be, and how to relate to other people. "You can’t get confidence from a book, but connecting with other teenagers to share experiences and have discussions can make a big difference in the way kids feel about themselves and their ability to make wise choices," Zierer said. "Real confidence builds resiliency, so teens can bounce back from challenges and excel in life." According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 39% of Pennsylvania children lived in low-income families in 2013 (with low-income defined as $47,248 for a family of four with two children). The public policy blog Third and State reports that half of all school districts in Pennsylvania suffered from concentrated poverty in 2013-14, meaning the poverty rate equaled or exceeded 40%. (The federal poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $23,624 in 2013.) All libraries participating in the 2015-16 Teen Reading Lounge program currently provide services to low-income youth, with 57% of the selected sites reporting poverty rates for their community at 20% or higher. When it comes to producing programs for teens, the sites range from extensive experience to no prior experience, but all are committed to learning how to work with this age group. With Teen Reading Lounge, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council invests funds to improve achievement outcomes for youth, but it also helps position libraries to make changes in the way they serve youth. The 2015-16 Teen Reading Lounge sites will receive funding to cover program expenses as well as an honorarium to pay a program facilitator. They will also receive training in working with facilitators and local teens to design a program that’s meaningful for their communities. In December site coordinators and facilitators will attend a mandatory all-day orientation on topics including selecting books, designing activities, recruiting the target audience, and building relationships with teens. All Teen Reading Lounge programs will launch in 2016. Sites hosting a 2015-16 Teen Reading Lounge program are listed below by county: Beaver Baden Memorial Library, Baden, and Laughlin Memorial Library, Ambridge B.F. Jones Memorial Library, Aliquippa Bradford Allen F. Pierce Free Library, Troy Delaware Lansdowne Public Library, Lansdowne Franklin Coyle Free Library, Chambersburg Mercer Community Library of the Shenango Valley, Sharon Montgomery Pottstown Public Library, Pottstown Northumberland Priestley Forsyth Memorial Library, Northumberland Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia - Greater Olney Branch, Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia - Haverford Avenue Branch Library, Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia - Kensington Branch, Philadelphia Free Library of Philadelphia - Wadsworth Branch, Philadelphia York Guthrie Memorial Library, Hanover Martin Memorial Library, York Teen Reading Lounge is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
On October 13, 2015, Penn State Reads author Russell Gold discussed his book The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World with a live community audience in State College. Gold gave brief opening remarks then engaged in lively discussion with Katie O’Toole, who is an instructor in Penn State’s College of Communications and a seasoned public broadcasting writer and producer. Audience members submitted questions to fuel the conversation throughout the evening, and they had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with Gold during a book-signing session. Gold was in State College for a series of events connected to the Penn State Reads program, which each year invites people across the university to read a single book. To bring the wider State College community into the conversation, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council produces an annual public event in partnership with the Penn State Reads Program, the Schlow Centre Region Library, and with Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Pennsylvania Center for the Book, and University Libraries. Gold lent his perspective as a veteran energy reporter to every part of the community conversation. "If we want to be serious about using fossil fuels and trying to find a way to do it in an environmentally responsible manner, then we all have a stake in it." - Russell Gold "You wouldn't build a nuclear power plant — you wouldn't build some sort of a smelter — lightly regulated,” he said in opening remarks. “But for some reason we feel that that's OK to do with fracking.” He added, “If we want to be serious about using fossil fuels and trying to find a way to do it in an environmentally responsible manner, then we all have a stake in it. The companies have a stake in it, the neighbors, the community has a stake in it, and, yes, the governmental regulators have a stake in it." In The Boom Gold tells the stories of scientists, engineers, business people, environmentalists, and community members in great detail, weaving together a series of widely varied perspectives on the domestic drilling boom. He acknowledges early in the book that “common ground is elusive. The forces arrayed in favor and against don’t speak the same language.” During the community conversation, Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director Laurie Zierer pointed to the power of the humanities to help individuals and communities work together to solve complex problems. She noted that book people and passionate humanities advocates tend to be good at deliberation, at long and careful consideration and discussion. “Books and ideas—and our discussion of them —are best when they lead us to collaborate with others in our communities to solve problems that may seem insurmountable,” Zierer said. “To paraphrase the philosopher Peter Levine, in his recent book We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, people—all of us sitting here tonight—are our best renewable source of energy and power.” Near the end of The Boom Gold writes, “It’s time to slow down… When it comes to fracking, getting it right is important. And if we blow it, we’re never going to forgive ourselves.” It is our hope that, with the knowledge and wisdom from books like The Boom and humanities programs like the Penn State Reads community event, we can make strong decisions about issues like fracking and work together to make a difference in our communities.
Over the last two years the Pennsylvania Humanities Council has led the Chester Made initiative in partnership with the City of Chester, Just Act (formerly Gas & Electric Arts), Chester Arts Alive!, Widener University, and The Artist Warehouse. This bold project is grounded in the belief “that democracy is animated by imaginative humanities programming—by people creatively engaged in history, storytelling, and dialogue about issues affecting their communities.” A report from Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, found that Chester Made delivered on its discovery and demonstration intents in many ways: "Chester Made set out to recognize and promote arts and culture in the City of Chester and to harness its power as a force for community revitalization. The project did this and more. ... As a result of this dynamic initiative, there is hope and excitement in the promise of new artist and cultural leadership in the downtown and in elevating new as well as longstanding cultural assets that are 'Chester Made through and through.' ” Findings According to the report, the Chester Made initiative Expanded who participates in public process. Revealed a spectrum of cultural assets that had not been fully known or acknowledged. Revealed that the impact of arts and culture on Chester and its people is profound and multidimensional. Generated a palpable sense of hope and pride among participants. Made important connections, improving existing relationships and building new relationships within and across sectors, catalyzing new collaborations, and developing leadership in the community for future efforts. Generated much learning about what it takes to plan and implement an arts-based and humanities-informed approach to civic planning and community building. Read the Executive Summary We invite you to read the executive summary based on the full report by Pam Korza and Barbara Schaffer Bacon of Animating Democracy. The summary focuses on the efficacy and value of a humanities-informed and arts-based approach for community research and planning and specific community outcomes of the Chester Made project. Funders This report was made possible with support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Chester Made partners have been invited to make presentations on the initiative and its impact both locally and nationally, from the 15th annual Imagining America conference in Baltimore to the National Humanities Conference of the Federation of State Humanities Councils in St. Louis. A selection of presentation summaries appears below. Philanthropy Network's Sparking Solutions Conference Theme--Learning and Leading Together in a Diverse Landscape Session--The Art of Community Engagement: Utilizing the Arts, Culture, and Humanities as Tools to Connect, Collaborate, and Transform November 12, 2015, Philadelphia Effective community engagement is a critical piece of any significant change initiative, but it is also one of the most challenging to accomplish in a meaningful and authentic way. Creative tools and approaches to engagement can play a critical role in overcoming these challenges, helping to increase understanding of community values, foster engagement across diverse stakeholder groups, and ultimately produce more satisfying, equitable, and rewarding outcomes for all involved. This session explored the opportunities presented by the arts, culture, and humanities to foster engagement and collaboration around critical community issues. Community leaders and regional funders shared insights from a number of outstanding community engagement initiatives taking place in our region that have utilized visual and performing arts to help drive community change and growth. These examples demonstrated the powerful impacts that can be had when funders, nonprofits, government, and most importantly, community members, use creative tools to achieve a common goal. Drawing from the experiences shared by our presenters, session participants engaged in a meaningful dialogue on how these lessons can be applied and expanded upon in their own work and throughout our region. Presenters Moderator Maud Lyon, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance Artists working with community members to give them voice--and ownership of change Andrew Frishkoff, LISC Philadelphia Aviva Kapust, The Village of Arts and Humanities Using the arts to talk about difficult, deep issues, and blending old Germantown with new Germantown Trapeta Mayson, Historic Germantown Changing the narrative of the community Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council Devon Walls, The Artist Warehouse Imagining America Conference Theme--America Will Be! The Art and Power of "Weaving Our We" Session--What Makes Chester, Chester: How Community Narratives Are Informing City Planning Saturday, October 3, 2015, Baltimore Chester Made created a dynamic public space for city residents to articulate personal stories and identify cultural assets toward re-imagining a positive community narrative and informing future revitalization efforts. In this session, participants experienced theatre- and story-based strategies used to engage a wide cross-section of Chester residents while building the arts-based engagement capacity of local artists. The Chester Made Ensemble gave a repeat performance of its presentation to Chester City Council, Bob Leonard hosted a talk show–style conversation, and the audience had multiple opportunities to ask questions and exchange with the presenters. The Pennsylvania Humanities Council situated the Chester Made project within its new Civic Engagement Initiative, which applies the humanities as a tool for creating knowledge, social capital, and policy change. Chester city planners discussed mapmaking and arts-based practices as new ways to inform planning for a cultural corridor. Widener University described its role and approach in assessing community outcomes, and reflected on how Chester Made served its own learning regarding community engagement strategies grounded in democratic values. Participants Bob Leonard, Professor of Theatre, Virginia Tech (moderator) Laurie Zierer, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Humanities Council Lisa Jo Epstein, Executive Director, Just Act Don W. Newton, Founding Board Member, Chester Arts Alive! Chester Made Ensemble members Sister Mafalda Thomas-Bouzy, Stefan Matthews, Tanina Harris Devon Walls, The Artist Warehouse James Turner, Director of Business Development, Chester Water Authority Sharon Meagher, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Widener University Mary Beth Semerod, Graduate Student, Widener University Pam Korza, Co-director, Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts
Heritage, history, and culture continue to be great sources of strength in Scranton, including in West Scranton, with its electric Main Street restaurants, stores, and businesses. As part of its humanities-based approach to civic engagement, the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative designed the Heritage Series—presentations on cultural heritage coupled with opportunities for storytelling and affirmation of shared values. The aim was to spark conversations about the rich diversity of the West Scranton community and to bring residents into conversation about the future of their neighborhood. The series began in November 2014 with Turkish Coffee, organized by Maureen McGuigan, deputy director of arts and culture for Lackawanna County, and sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Center Scranton Branch. Yasin Kucak, director of the Turkish Cultural Center, and another young Turkish man who had grown up in Russia, gave a presentation about Turkish culture and cuisine as well as their experiences as immigrants. Most of the residents who participated in Turkish Coffee were of Welsh, Irish, or German descent. Following the main presentation, McGuigan asked the assembled group to talk about their own cultural heritage as well as their feelings about West Scranton, including economic challenges and fears about change in the neighborhood. “Although some of the conversation started out negatively, once people were talking more in depth and about specific things, the mood shifted. It was very touching to see the pride people had about West Scranton,” McGuigan said. Members of the group mentioned specific churches and schools they had attended, and they reflected on how much they liked the people of West Scranton and the sense of community they had always found there. The success of Turkish Coffee warmed other groups up to the possibility of hosting Heritage Series events. Subsequent events, including Welsh Tea, Dominican Carnival, Irish Supper, and Italian Antipasto were well attended. McGuigan facilitated the Welsh Tea event, with the West Hyde Park Neighborhood Association providing traditional Welsh foods. Roughly 45 people attended to hear presenters on Welsh cultural themes, including a woman recounting a trip to Wales, an author who wrote a historical novel, and two seniors who talked about growing up in Scranton. Audience discussion followed each presentation. Beyond expressing cultural points that resonated with them—encouraged by the photos shown or novel excerpt read together—the group discussed how Welsh culture could be reflected in future designs for parks in West Scranton. “One woman mentioned that she hadn’t previously thought of a park in this way, which to me was a great moment,” McGuigan said. “It’s inspiring to me that just having a dialogue and focusing on the positive aspects of a neighborhood could help a community open up to possibility and, instead of being defeated by challenges, come together to face them.” Related Content Turning Strangers into Neighbors Fellows Park Ribbon Cutting
On September 25, 2015, the Scranton Neighborhood Park Collaborative and West Scranton Hyde Park Neighborhood Watch hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark completion of the "Safety Phase" of renovations in Fellows Park. Scranton Area Community Foundation President and CEO Laura Ducceschi, who launched this project, told the Scranton Times-Tribune, "We learned what our community wants to see in this particular park," and this event marked "the beginning of where we are going to go next." Through storytelling and information-gathering sessions during the year-long phase, the Collaborative engaged community members in planning for the park's future. Landscape architect Tom McLane worked with the group on design concepts, including plans for a gazebo and amphitheater, which will be built during future phases. In addition safety improvements such as installing a fence and lights and improving landscaping were also made. The following photos of the event were taken by Burnside Photographic. Related Content Scranton Heritage Series Turning Strangers into Neighbors
Governor Tom Wolf has declared October 2015 as Arts and Humanities Month in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Established 20 years ago, Arts and Humanities Month has become the nation's largest collective annual celebration of the arts. Every October organizations nationwide encourage Americans to explore new facets of the arts and humanities in their lives and to begin a lifelong habit of active participation in the arts and humanities. The text of the proclamation appears below. View a pdf of the signed proclamation with the governor’s seal at the bottom of the page.
On September 29, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed an act that led to the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanites (NEH). To mark this milestone, the NEH held a digital event designed to flood social media with support for the humanities on September 29, 2015, at 1 p.m. A special THANK YOU to all who helped us infuse the celebration with Pennslyvania pride. A selection of well wishes from across the commonwealth appears below. Track #NEHturns50 throughout the year for news and special events.
The Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative joins the forces of six local nonprofit organizations in using the humanities to advance civic engagement in West Scranton. One of the crucial questions facing this group--and the West Scranton neighborhood--is how to bring residents together around a sense of community. It’s a question that Jesse J. Ergott had considered extensively before the nonprofit organization he leads, NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania, joined the Collaborative. NeighborWorks had been working in West Scranton for more than a year through its Home Matters Repair Initiative, which enlists local volunteers to provide no-cost home repairs to elderly, disabled, and modest-income residents in Lackawanna County. One of NeighborWorks’ aims is to bring the “neighbor” concept back into the community. This aim connects well with the humanities-based approach of the Collaborative to create opportunities for residents to affirm shared values and experiences and encourage dialogue on the path to a stronger community. In particular Ergott feels that the Collaborative’s project to bring West Scranton residents together around planning pocket parks provided a concrete next step for engaging people who had benefitted from Neighbor Works’ efforts. “The pocket parks provide a reason for people to get together and talk about what they want their community to be. They will also provide a space for them to continue gathering,” said Ergott. To illustrate his point, Ergott shared a story about a woman named Agnes, whose house was chosen by NeighborWorks to be painted and repaired for free. Even though Agnes has lived in her house for more than 30 years, she’s met many of her current neighbors only recently. For years Agnes had avoided contact with the community because she felt embarrassed by the state of her home. But once her house was repaired and painted, she began to spend time sitting on her porch, talking with people, and she began attending events and meetings in the neighborhood. “Sometimes people on the receiving end of service think, ‘These volunteers gave me so much. What can I do now to give back?’ Ergott said. He is hopeful that the work of the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative will continue to provide residents like Agnes with ongoing links to the community. “It brings people together who had no reason to come together previously,” he said. “For a neighborhood like West Scranton, a project like this really represents hope.” Related Content Scranton Heritage Series Fellows Park Ribbon Cutting