Humanities take center stage on Capitol Hill

March 22, 2023
Humanities state council executive directors from around the country
Executive directors from state humanities councils nationwide, including PA Humanities' Laurie Zierer, joined together following the annual Humanities on the Hill advocacy gathering in Washington, D.C.

By Karen Price

Each year, Humanities on the Hill, organized by the Federation of State Humanities Councils, gives PA Humanities the opportunity to meet with Pennsylvania’s federal legislators and discuss the ways in which the humanities are making a difference in their districts and across the state.

It’s also a chance to emphasize the need to fully fund the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in order to help statewide cultural organizations and the communities and people who they support to thrive and grow. Recently, NEH funding has supported work and institutions in Pennsylvania including:

  • Scribe Video’s Power Politics project, which trained high school and college students in oral history methodologies and documented strategies for Black and Puerto Rican political empowerment in Philadelphia.
  • The Landis Valley Museum, a Lancaster County farm museum that’s helping to keep alive the legacy and accomplishments of William Chester Ruth, an African American entrepreneur and inventor in the early 20th century who helped make farming easier and more profitable. 
  • Warren Public Library, which hired a teen services coordinator to help rural youth build skills and connections with one another and community members in a welcoming, affirming space.

These are just some of the 92 projects and organizations that benefitted from PA SHARP – Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan – funding. The NEH provides critical support for Pennsylvania’s cultural sector, which has a $4.5 billion annual impact and supplies 46,800 jobs.

PA Humanities board member John Orr (left) and senior director of content and engagement Dawn Frisby Byers (right) highlighted programming and economic impact in District 5 with staff at the office of Representative Mary Gay Scanlon.

This year marked a return to in-person meetings in Washington, D.C., and PA Humanities staff and board members met face-to-face with 13 of 17 district legislators and/or their staff and representatives for both senators to also ask for their support for the FY24 budget request of $211 million for the NEH, including $66 million for the Federal/State Partnership (F/SP) that funds state councils like PA Humanities.

Staff and board attending including PA Humanities executive director Laurie Zierer, senior director of content and engagement Dawn Frisby Byers, development and research manager Nick Crosson, board member John Orr and board member Christina Saler, chair of the Government Relations Committee who has long been a key part of cultivating relationships with legislators.

“We were thrilled to meet with so many of our state lawmakers and their staff in person this year, including our newly-elected leaders who may be less familiar with our work,” Frisby Byers said. “Their support for the National Endowment for the Humanities is so important for the health of the cultural sector in Pennsylvania. This was an opportunity to show exactly how funds are utilized, and the direct and positive impact of the humanities on their communities and the people they represent.”

PA Humanities development & research manager Nick Crosson shares a video from a PA SHARP grantee in District 8 with Kaylee Robinson, senior legislative assistant to Congressman Matt Cartwright.

We added a special touch to our meetings this year. One grantee from each district provided a short video describing the work they’ve been able to do because of PA SHARP funding through the NEH, allowing lawmakers to hear these stories straight from the source. 

One video came from Raven Clark, the satellite program coordinator at the Jefferson Educational Society, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank that focuses on civic education in Erie. 

“Because of our PA SHARP grant funding, we were able to partner with the Erie Center for Arts & Technology to open up a new location in the heart of Erie’s lower east side,” Clark said in the video. “Erie’s lower east side is very economically depressed but also very culturally diverse. Because of this programming, we’ve been able to diversify our constituency base and broaden our reach into the community with more accessible programming to the people of the lower east side. We schedule programs that are focused on civic education, topics that are pertinent to communities of color, politics, sociology, environmentalism and more.”

Crosson, Robinson and PA Humanities board member Christina Saler, chair of the Government Relations Committee.

As part of PA Humanities’ role as a trusted source for information about the sector, we were also able to share with legislators the results of our surveys and research into how organizations have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic and the resources they still need to recover and grow.

“I had a great time at 2023 Humanities on the Hill,” PA Humanities board member John Orr said. “Not only was it rewarding to share all of the cool PA Humanities programming with our legislators, but it was also interesting to learn more about how other state councils are approaching their work. And as a board member, spending time with the PA Humanities team was invaluable and such a good way to strengthen relationships. I’m already looking forward to 2024.” 

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