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Oct 07, 2021

Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) is pleased to announce its partnership with Dr. Brittany Levingston, one of the 41 newest Leading Edge Fellows, who will develop a series of statewide programs centered on the renowned works of Pennsylvania playwright August Wilson.  The Leading Edge Fellowship is an initiative of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) that aims to demonstrate the potential of people with advanced degrees in the humanities and humanistic social sciences to solve problems outside the academy. It recently underwent a major expansion with the support of a $3.6 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The fellowship program features outstanding PhDs in the humanities that have been placed with nonprofits to support initiatives advancing social justice and equity in communities across the United States. Fellows receive an annual stipend, as well as health insurance and professional development support. "As we look forward with hope to our emergence from the pandemic, we also feel a sense of urgency in helping humanistic scholars work with others to create a better, more inclusive future,” said ACLS President Joy Connolly. “This impressive group reflects our commitment to supporting early career scholars and recognizing the power humanistic knowledge and inquiry have to help shape the world beyond campus." Levingston’s work will focus on the ten plays of August Wilson’s Century Cycle, which chronicles the collective memory, history, and dreams of African American families across the twentieth century. She will collaborate with PHC on a slate of community engagement programs exploring themes from the plays in conjunction with the rich history of African American communities across the state. “I am overjoyed to be working with PHC on this exciting project that will celebrate the work of August Wilson and the stories of African American communities in Pennsylvania,” said Levingston. “I look forward to collaborating with partners across the state to bring inspiring and engaging programming to local communities.” Levingston recently received a PhD in English and African American Studies from Yale University. She began her work with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council as a Leading Edge Fellow in September, 2021. Public programs are expected to be announced in Summer 2022.

Oct 06, 2021

Whew -- we’re hot off a whirlwind of summer visits with federal legislators! Conducted virtually this year, we stressed the importance of the humanities to Pennsylvanians everywhere. During the pandemic our programs and grants provided opportunities for people to connect and discuss important issues, have meaningful cultural and learning experiences, and engage in equitable community-building PHC, along with our board, partners, and grantees, organized Zoom calls with congressional representatives and their staff in 11 of the 18 districts across both the state and political spectrum, such as Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05) and Glenn Thompson (PA-15). We discussed PHC’s work in their district, the crucial importance of the humanities to the state’s economy, the on-going impact of COVID-19, and the available recovery and growth opportunities.  “I always feel a little nervous before advocacy meetings with representatives and legislators,” said John Orr, PHC board member and executive director of Art-Reach. “Then I get into the meetings and remember they’re just people who want to do good things in their districts, and PHC has opportunities that will directly impact their residents. It’s really fun watching opportunity turn into action.” Our research shows that the pandemic took a hefty toll on the cultural sector: a 37% decline in overall budgets, 34% decline in revenues, and a 22% reduction of full-time employees. Last year, we rapidly responded to this crisis by reallocating our resources to provide emergency support through our Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers program and then later distributed $780,500 through PHC CARES, as part of the CARES Act of 2020.  We continue to focus on meeting the emerging and on-going needs of the humanities by developing statewide webinars, grant opportunities, educational programs, and learning networks. Fortunately, Pennsylvania’s cultural sector is strong, creative, and resilient and has been adapting despite the challenges. "It’s wonderful to share with legislators about the positive impact that PHC's programming is having here in Upper Chichester,” said Barbara Kelley, coordinator for Upper Chichester Heart & Soul. “Through Community Heart & Soul we have found a new way to better engage with and inspire our residents using the tools of the humanities." The big news for the legislators on this round of summer visits was PA SHARP, our new $1.2 million dollar growth and recovery grant program supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan of 2021. PHC is offering up to $20,000 in flexible funding to support the growth and recovery of the humanities in Pennsylvania. PA SHARP goes beyond relief and is an opportunity to reimagine, reinvent, and re-envision humanities work through planning, capacity building, and creative programming.  “It was a breath of fresh air to connect with representatives across the state and assure them that the humanities are doing important work in their districts,” said Taylor Tolton-Kain, PHC’s Program and Communications Associate. Although PHC advocates year round for the humanities, we now have a little time to catch our breath before getting prepped for our next big push at Humanities on the Hill 2022.   Related Content PA SHARP: Recovery and Growth Grants (Application period closed)

Sep 20, 2021

October 1st is the deadline for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s (PHC’s) $1.2 million statewide recovery and growth program. Called PA SHARP (Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan), the initiative provides up to $20,000 in flexible funding to strengthen and grow the humanities. Pennsylvania organizations with a humanities-based mission and organizations conducting humanities programming are eligible to apply. “Throughout the on-going pandemic, the humanities took the lead in inspiring learning and keeping us connected, resilient, and healing in communities large and small across the state,”  said Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. “Through PA SHARP we have the opportunity to build on this essential recovery work by reimagining the possibilities of the humanities through core support of our historic sites, public libraries, and museums and creative programming by cultural producers at the local level.” Funding for PA SHARP comes from PHC’s federal partner, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Recognizing the financial realities of the pandemic and the vital importance of the humanities to economic and civic life, this legislation allocated to the NEH funds to “prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the coronavirus.”  “With so many of our nation’s cultural and educational institutions reeling from the economic fallout of the pandemic, NEH’s state and jurisdictional humanities partners are on the front lines of the crisis, adapting and responding to urgent needs within their states and communities to shore up the humanities organizations and resources that enrich the lives of so many citizens,” said NEH Acting Chairman Adam Wolfson. “NEH is grateful to our state and jurisdictional partners for joining us in this effort to quickly distribute American Rescue Plan relief funding to where it is most needed.”  In addition to providing recovery funds, PHC will partner with grantees on the development of a statewide support network that fosters resource sharing, professional development, and mutual support. The PA SHARP Learning Network will address the urgent need for the humanities by bringing together people passionate about creating inclusive, engaged communities and ready to lead the statewide recovery alongside PHC. PA SHARP is an expansion of PHC’s previous recovery work, beginning when the coronavirus pandemic first affected business operations. In 2020, PHC rapidly responded by reallocating its program funding for emergency support through Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers and then later distributed an additional $780,500 through PHC CARES, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020. In finding the most effective ways to meet the emerging and continuing needs of the humanities in Pennsylvania, PHC developed relevant and accessible webinars, educational programs, and learning networks.  The PA SHARP grant portal is open and applications are due by midnight on October 1, 2021. PHC is committed to equitable grantmaking and will be considering geographic diversity and the importance of reaching underrepresented communities in its funding decisions. For more information, including grant guidelines, frequently asked questions, and a preview application, visit

Jul 28, 2021

Upper Chichester Heart & Soul supercharged their outreach and civic engagement this summer with two successful community summits. People from all corners of the township gathered to vote on action ideas centered on each of their seven value statements: sense of community, location and accessibility, education, safety, economic opportunity, community resources, and recreation and open spaces.  These values were developed through volunteer-led conversations and story-gathering work with residents, nonprofits, government agencies, educational institutions, and business leaders. The effort is centered in the PA Community Heart & Soul model which creatively engages residents in planning and decision-making processes as a way to strengthen a town’s social, cultural and economic vibrancy. "We needed to have Heart & Soul at this time in the history of our township,” said Diane Simon, part of the Upper Chichester Heart & Soul leadership team. “We, as residents, are being able to give our input as to what we'd like to see." The action items voted most important during this third phase of the program will soon be incorporated into a community action plan, a practical roadmap to making meaningful change in the future. "I think there's a lot of opportunity here for change,” said Joe Neary, 4th Ward Commissioner for Upper Chichester Township. In addition to the summits, the leadership team implemented a final “7-day blitz” of outreach activities through mass mail, email,  and social media campaigns in their effort to give as many people a seat at the table as possible. Once all the feedback is received they will begin the process of data analysis to determine what actions residents find most important. Fortunately, interest in attending events is picking up steam again after having to move operations online during the height of the pandemic, said Barbara Kelley, Assistant Township Manager. “We’re excited by the energy and momentum we’re now seeing. Community Heart & Soul is helping us chart a course for a bright and prosperous future that involves everyone.”   Related Content Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities Community Heart & Soul (Orton Family Foundation) Upper Chichester Heart & Soul volunteers gather for intensive storytelling training 

Jul 20, 2021

Nearly 20 young people from Upper Darby Free Library Municipal Branch's Teen Reading Lounge and the Upper Darby mayor's youth advisory committee gathered safely outdoors for a special virtual meeting with Representative Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05). With phones and tablets in hand, the teens engaged Scanlon in an hour-long conversation about issues they were concerned about: education, gun violence, the environment, and mental health issues.  Scanlon gave thoughtful answers and offered some of her personal political journey, including her early concern for environmental issues based on experiences growing up as a teenager in Watertown, New York near the Canadian border. Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) is PHC’s award-winning, nontraditional book club for youth with sites across the state. Participants work together to co-create the reading list and, with support from trained facilitators, design creative projects and organize events, like the Scanlon meeting, that connect themes in their books to tangible action in their communities. "Through TRL, our teens have been participating in local governance by having six teens serve on three different Upper Darby township committees." said Jean Kosha, Teen Reading Lounge coordinator and library assistant at Upper Darby Free Library Municipal Branch.  "Meeting with Representative Scanlon gave them a chance to ask her about national and world issues important to them." Scanlon concluded her virtual visit by inviting the young people to join her Congressional Youth Cabinet (CYC), a nonpartisan initiative to provide high school students in Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District with an opportunity to learn more about Congress and the policymaking process. Members of the CYC get to share their ideas about solving pressing issues facing young Americans and have the opportunity to connect with other elected officials, peers, and community leaders. "Through reading and discussing different perspectives and social issues, Teen Reading Lounge ultimately aims to nurture empathic young leaders and engaged citizens," said Julia Terry, PHC's education officer. "These young peoples' concern for their community, humanity at large, and the environment was clear in the depth and maturity of their questions and the agency and commitment they bring to their work."   Related Content Humanities help Upper Darby youth navigate COVID-19 and stay connected Teen Reading Lounge

Jul 06, 2021

Lights, camera, action! Young people at B.F. Jones Memorial Library in Aliquippa got a chance to sit in the director's seat and help produce a video about their recent environmental civic engagement work. The project was inspired by their talks with Eliza Griswold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New Yorker. It was led by participants in the library’s Teen Reading Lounge program in partnership with Ya Momz House, with support from PHC and a Democracy and the Informed Citizen grant. Through discussions and community conversations, the group determined that litter was a major problem so they teamed up with The Big Beaver Litter Gitters to help clean up their neighborhood.  “That’s one of the key things with TRL ... showing them how to use their talents to actually make a difference."   - Kristen Janci, Youth & Outreach Coordinator at BF Jones Memorial Library Using what they learned about environmental journalism from Griswold, they created an inspiring video that shows the power of young people to make meaningful change through dialogue about issues important to them.  Watch their final video below and read more about this powerful story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

May 25, 2021

With the support of PHC CARES, Abington Community Library in Lackawanna County is providing anti-racism/mental health kits to their patrons. The story was recently profiledby News Watch 16 (WNEP) and features PHC's senior program officer Jen Danifo. "That's a huge service that the library can bring and the coolest thing about their project is that the patrons themselves were helping to create these kits which can be therapeutic as well," said Danifo. "This is just such a cool project." PHC CARES was an emergency relief fund for humanities organizations facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis. $780,500 in emergency relief grants were given to 140 Pennsylvania nonprofits in August of 2020. Watch the full video below:  Funding for these grants has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act economic stabilization plan.

May 19, 2021

The PA Kindness Poem Project kicked off in February of 2021 and Pennsylvanians everywhere have answered the call to spread kindness online through social media. From heartfelt quotes to original poetry, PHC's staff have been inspired and encouraged by all the messages promoting generosity, healing, reconciliation, and peace. Soon Philadelphia poet laureate Trapeta B. Mayson will be using these submissions as inspiration for an original poem to be released on World Kindness Day -- but there's is still plenty of time to participate before the August 31st deadline! Learn how you can be part of this project and help spread kindness across the state. Download our social media toolkit for tips on how to amplify your message and graphics that you can share. Here are some #PAKindnessPoem submissions for inspiration:

May 04, 2021

People have a lot to say about Pennsylvania Community Heart & Soul! This resident-driven, humanities-based process engages the entire of a town in identifying what they love most about their community, what future they want for it, and how to achieve it. Participants often become Heart & Soul champions -- and impactful local leaders -- fueling the program's steady growth across the state. Already in 2021, four  new towns emerged along the historic Route 6 corridor. The "Community Heart & Soul Minutes" videos below feature three incredible PA women leaders -- two from Williamsport (Star Poole and Alice Trowbridge) and one from Meadville (Autumn Vogel). They share their insights and experiences on community engagement, personal growth, planning, volunteering, and reimagining local decision-making.    "I started as a Community Heart & Soul volunteer and I got offered an opportunity to tell my story and everything pretty much blossomed from there. I feel like I know most of the city now just from not being afraid to engage in my community." Star Poole, Community Heart & Soul Volunteer and School Board member in Williamsport   "One of the biggest impacts that Heart & Soul had in our community was involving new people -- people who weren't typically involved, weren't typically at the table, weren't typically heard -- and involving them in a really meaningful way in shaping our town and envisioning new possibilities..." Autumn Vogel, current Meadville City Councilor and 2017-2018 Project Coordinator for My Meadville   "As a planner having done community engagement for years, this turns everything on its head. It starts with the people and what the people want and what matters most to them and the projects follow from that." Alice Trowbridge, former Community Heart & Soul Project Coordinator for Heart of Williamsport, Williamsport, Pennsylvania and a Community Heart & Soul Coach   

Apr 26, 2021

This event has concluded. You can watch a recording here.   A politically divided Pennsylvania was thrust into the national spotlight during the contentious 2020 national election, testing the foundations of our democracy at all levels of government. The aftermath left the state with evenly split congressional representation and increasingly inflexible partisanship from all sides. “What's Next?” - National Politics at the Local Level explores how tensions and fractures on national issues are playing out in local Pennsylvania politics. No matter where you stand on national debates about gun control, immigration, and abortion, urgent community issues like safety in schools, infrastructure repairs, and clean water are often decided at the local level and solutions can transcend the national rhetoric.   Join WHYY and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council as we host a lively virtual discussion, moderated by journalist Solomon Jones, about how national politics impact local decision-making - and what’s next for Pennsylvania in this new era of hyperpolarization.  Moderator:  Solomon Jones: WHYY/Inquirer Columist and Radio Host Panelists: Susan Spicka: Executive Director of Education Voters of PA David Thornburgh, President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy Katie Meyer: WHYY Political Reporter   Funding is provided by the "Why It Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation" initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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