One last look at a big year for the humanities in Pennsylvania

January 11, 2023

By Karen Price

It’s two weeks into the New Year and 2023 will be a big one for us. We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary to mark the momentous occasion have already moved full steam ahead on a number of exciting projects. Join us as we take one last look back at a wonderful 2022, reflecting on not only our accomplishments but also the impactful work of our partners who make a difference in their own communities across the state. Here are 22 highlights from 2022, 11 from our work and 11 from our partners. 

Click on each title to read more!

Highlights from PA Humanities

1. The PA SHARP Learning Network brings grantees together to support growth 🔗

On Jan. 20, PA Humanities launched the PA SHARP Learning Network, a year-long program that fostered resource sharing, networking, professional development and mutual support among PA SHARP grant recipients. All 92 grantees were invited and encouraged to attend the four virtual workshops held throughout the year covering organizational topics such as how to manage and plan for change, connecting with new audiences, fostering diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, and fundraising, and advocacy. 

2. Another successful year of advocating for the humanities 🔗

PA Humanities staff and board meet on Zoom with Congressman Dwight Evans
PA Humanities Senior Director of Content and Engagement Dawn Frisby Byers, Senior Policy Advisor Chandler Mason, Representative Dwight Evans, and PA Humanities Board Member and Development Co-Chair Michael A. Smith meet via Zoom to discuss supporting the National Endowment for the Humanities and PA Humanities’ work in District 3.

Last year brought opportunities to meet both virtually and in person with PA congressional legislators to share news of how the humanities are actionable in their districts, the importance of the humanities to the state’s growth and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing need for support through full funding of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Following a targeted year of advocacy, including Humanities on the Hill in Washington DC and summer visits with legislators, Congress passed an FY 2022 omnibus bill in December that included $180 million for the NEH, an increase of $12.5 million over the previous year and the largest in a decade. 

3. Leading Edge fellow Dr. Brittany Levingston helps shape special project to elevate the stories of Black Pennsylvanians 🔗

We were thrilled to work with American Council of Learned Societies’ Leading Edge Fellow Dr. Brittany Levingston, who has a PhD in English and African American Studies from Yale University. Brittany collaborated with us on a project entitled “Voices of History” that we will showcase to help celebrate our 50th anniversary. We’ll soon have more to share! 

4. Brian Thomas joins the team 🔗

Our search for a new operations manager in 2022 brought us Brian Thomas, and we’re not sure how we got by without him for as long as we did. Brian’s background includes finance, operations, and human resources for a data company and a passion for team building. He’s helped us work more effectively and efficiently. Before the year was over, Brian was named Director of People & Operations. 

5. Taking the pulse of the humanities sector in PA 🔗

PA Humanities wanted to know how the pandemic affected humanities organizations across the state and how they were cultivating recovery and growth within their communities, so we partnered with the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and launched the Pennsylvania Cultural Recovery & Regrowth Survey. More than 240 organizations responded, and we shared the findings in the webinar, “Creating Momentum: Where we are, where we’re going, why it matters.”

6. What If You Were in the Room? 🔗

Miguel Salvador, left, and Anna Skeels pose outside the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York City. PA Humanities hosted an educational experience that included tickets to the musical “Hamilton” and a private Q&A with cast members after the show.

This summer, PA Humanities asked a question of young people across the state: What if you were in the room when the US Constitution was being written? What would you change? What would you add? Who would you invite? Read more about our If You Were in the Room curated educational experience in Philadelphia and New York City with select participants here, and go here to see the video. If You Were In The Room was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the A More Perfect Union initiative. 

7. “We Are Here” podcast launches  🔗

Our longtime goal to produce a podcast became reality this year when we partnered with Keystone Edge to launch “We Are Here.” The podcast shares the stories of organizations all across Pennsylvania who are making their mark on their communities through the humanities, including Farm Arts Collective in Damascus and Three Aksha and Taller Puertorriqueno in Philadelphia. The fifth episode will drop soon; catch up on the first four here!

8. Drexel University and PA Humanities team up to tell story of humanities in PA 🔗

We’ve always known that Pennsylvania has a robust humanities sector, and with the PA Humanities Discovery Project we’ll be able to tell its story for the first time. Alongside Drexel University, we’re aiming  to map, network and celebrate Pennsylvania’s humanities landscape. The project kicked off with a statewide survey of the broader cultural sector, which closed at the end of the year with more than 500 people across the state participating, and continues today. 

9. Five new board members join PA Humanities 🔗

We wouldn’t be the organization we are without the leadership of our board, and this fall we welcomed five new members to help guide us, share their talents with us and join us in spreading the word of the power of the humanities. The new members represent both nonprofit and for profit companies and have experience in marketing, filmmaking, advocacy, and academics. Welcome to the team! 

10. Laurie Zierer receives Fifty over 50 honor 🔗

PA Humanities Director of Development Ken Dinitz, Executive Director Laurie Zierer and Senior Director of Content and Engagement Dawn Frisby Byers at the Fifty Over 50 banquet in Philadelphia.

Our fearless Executive Director Laurie Zierer leads with passion, authenticity and integrity and sets a high bar. In October, she was recognized for her dedication and named  to the 2022 City & State Pennsylvania Fifty Over 50 list, a distinguished award honoring the state’s most influential difference-makers. 

11. Sharing what we’ve learned across the state and nation 🔗

We love having the opportunity to share what we’ve learned and were honored to be invited to do that several times last year. We presented insights from our research into PA Heart & Soul at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ National Conference in Chicago and Teen Reading Lounge at the Pennsylvania Library Association Conference in Harrisburg. Our year ended by leading three sessions at the National Humanities Conference in Los Angeles, including “We don’t call it the humanities”: New Research & Synergies to Ignite Collaboration and Social Change,” where we debuted our latest research report, “Humanities in Action: A National Perspective.”

Highlights from our partners 

1. Oral history project spotlights political empowerment strategies in Philadelphia’s Black, Latinx communities 🔗

Despite Philadelphia’s rich heritage of Black and Latinx community organizing and political activism, many of the stories and figures involved remain untold pieces of the city’s history. Using funds from their PA SHARP grant, Scribe Video Center is working to change that with Power Politics, a project that is documenting the ways African Americans and Latinx people have worked to secure their representative share of political power for their communities. A total of 92 organizations utilized PA SHARP — Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan — funding, provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Spring Point Partners, for operations and programming in 2022.

2. Exploring culture shock through storytelling on Pittsburgh’s North Side 🔗

Abdi Lugundi on stage
Abdi Lugundi, who was a child when he came to the United States from a refugee camp in Africa, shares his story of culture shock during a storytelling event at City of Asylum’s Alphabet City venue in Pittsburgh.

Stories are at the very core of the humanities. They often entertain, but they also create awareness and appreciation of the experiences of others and help people to better understand themselves and the world around them. Stories are at the heart of what City of Asylum, another PA SHARP grantee, does as well. Their monthly open mic story slams invite individuals to share their own tales based around a theme.

3. Bringing Heart & Soul stories to life in Ambridge 🔗

Local artist Marlon Gist, center, created art for an additional four crosswalks based on stories that Heart & Soul volunteers collected from the community.

Ambridge Heart & Soul volunteers have been hard at work asking the residents of this small town steeped in the history of steel making in Western PA what they love and what’s important to them. That led to the creation of a public art project this summer where everyone was invited to join in and make their mark. 

4. Signs of friendship: Unique collaboration bridges divides in Western PA 🔗

The cast of the musical “Captain Louie JR” rehearses at the Western Pennsylvania School For the Deaf. Cast members range from age six to 18 and the group includes both deaf and hearing actors. The entire show is done both in spoken English and American Sign Language.

Hearing students from the Little Lake Theatre Company joined deaf students from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf to stage a production of “Captain Louie JR” this fall. Using a SHARP grant to help fund parts of the project including American Sign Language instruction for hearing students, the partnership taught both groups about communication and overcoming language barriers and helped them to gain an understanding of their peers who experience the world differently. 

5. Everybody eats: In PA, food is a gateway to the humanities 🔗

Although food isn’t the first thing that might come to mind when thinking about the humanities, organizations including SHARP grantees Community Partnerships in Lewiston, Farm Arts Collective in Damascus and the Painted Bride Resistance Garden in Philadelphia are using food as a way to bring people together, create space for isolated and neglected communities, and share history. 

6. Centering diverse voices in education 🔗

From left, Esperanza Arts Center mentor fellows and production assistants Emmanuel Figueroa and Ozias Ayala join Bruce Savage, media production professor at Esperanza College, and Josue Lora, production manager for the LuminArias video series, in preparing for a filming.

Instructors at Nueva Esperanza’s charter school in Philadelphia couldn’t find examples of accomplished Latinos in their classroom materials. Similarly, Assemble in Pittsburgh struggled to find African Americans represented in education about leaders in STEAM fields. Using PA SHARP funds, both are pushing back against that lack of representation by creating their own teaching materials and curriculum featuring diverse voices to expand students’ ideas of their own potential and futures. A story in two parts.

7. Uncovering 19th-century Black history in Philadelphia Victorian home 🔗

Although Germantown’s Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion doesn’t itself have a direct link to Black history, the museum’s commitment to serving its predominantly Black neighbors has created a space to share the stories of prominent but little-known African Americans of the 19th century with the help of PA SHARP funding.

8. Cameron County pride shines through as Heart & Soul project nears finish 🔗

volunteers gather on Super Saturday in Cameron County
Cameron County Project and PA Heart & Soul volunteers at a community event.

Having navigated the challenges of COVID-19, the committed volunteers that make up the Cameron County Project entered the fourth and final phase of the PA Heart & Soul model in 2022. Their efforts are paying off with local government support, a more engaged populace and a data source that could help inform development and decision-making for years to come.

9. Juneteenth celebration tells the story of surviving, thriving, and the African American journey 🔗

At Community Arts Center in Wallingford, Juneteenth was an opportunity to tell a story that spanned the full African American experience through the mediums that have meant so much to so many throughout that history: poetry, music, art and dance. PA SHARP funds helped make it possible.

10. LGBTQ+ archival work strengthens belonging and community in PA 🔗

Archives help to preserve history, and in the case of the LGBTQ+ community archives can reveal lives and histories that for too long remained hidden or underground. Two organizations on opposite sides of Pennsylvania – The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh and the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBTQ Center in Allentown – are using their collections to preserve and share the stories of the LGBTQ+ community with assistance from PA SHARP funding.

11. Teen Reading Lounge builds connectivity, community in Cambria County 🔗

Members of the Cambria County Teen Reading Lounge group, including Evan Gates (third from left) and Emma Stasiak (fourth from right).

The challenges of COVID-19 were particularly hard on young people. That’s why facilitators in Cambria County were determined to make Teen Reading Lounge a refuge where they could enjoy downtime, connectivity, communication with one another and a break from the challenges of life. 

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