Year in review: 23 humanities highlights of ’23

December 19, 2023

As 2023 comes to an end, we wanted to reflect on some of the highlights from our work and the efforts of our partners over this last year.

It was a big year for PA Humanities, as we kicked off our 50th anniversary celebration that will continue into 2024. It was also a year of great accomplishments for organizations across Pennsylvania as they continue to demonstrate the power of the humanities to uncover and uplift hidden voices, bring communities together to create positive change and share stories of our history and the bonds that unite us all. 

Join us in celebrating some of our favorite moments, projects and more from 2023!

Highlights from PA Humanities

Cheers to 50 years! The celebration begins! 🔗  

PA Humanities was founded in 1973, and since that time we’ve worked side-by-side with everyday people to build connections and foster transformative conversations within communities. As we continue to revolutionize the way people think about and engage with the humanities, we launched our year-long celebration this summer with an exciting series of new programs and projects aimed at honoring the people of Pennsylvania and their stories, traditions and talents. 

Uncovering the details: Discovery Project digs deep 🔗

PA Humanities launched the Discovery Project in the fall of 2022, and with the help of Drexel University, our goal of telling the story of humanities work and workers across the state continued throughout 2023 with listening sessions and deep analysis of the data. Stay tuned, because we’ll be rolling out reports and sharing what we’ve learned throughout the first part of 2024!

Announcing the new Youth-Led Humanities program 🔗

Expanding on all we’ve learned throughout more than a decade of our award-winning Teen Reading Lounge program, we launched a new Youth-Led Humanities cohort in 2023 as part of our 50th anniversary celebration. We invited dynamic young community organizer Zyahna Bryant to join us as keynote speaker at our Community Culture Changers Convening this summer, and the second cohort of the program launched this fall. 

A young poet pours water on the sidewalk to activate the invisible paint and make poetry appear like magic at the Rain Poetry reveal at Carroll Park in West Philadelphia.

Rain Poetry comes to Philadelphia 🔗

Did you visit any of our Rain Poetry installation sites this year? This 50th anniversary initiative brought teaching artists into area schools and inspired children to write their own haiku on the theme, “What makes you grow?” We installed select poems – some using invisible ink that only shows up when it’s wet – at five different sites throughout the city. We started with our very first reveal in Vernon Park, then celebrated haiku and the young poets who created them at Carroll Park, Lillian Marrero Library , Al Aqsa Islamic Academy and Marian Anderson Neighborhood Academy. You can see a recap of the project here, and get ready, Pittsburgh and Johnstown! Rain Poetry is coming to you in the spring!

Four new communities join the PA Heart & Soul family 🔗

PA Heart & Soul is a resident-led engagement process that uses storytelling and gathering as a way for citizens in small communities to learn what matters most to their town and plan for a future that includes everyone. This year we welcomed Etna, Venango Area (Cranberry, Oil City and Franklin), Mansfield and Port Allegany to the PA Heart & Soul program, bringing our total to 16 communities statewide in different stages of the four-phase process.

Wingspan launches to help grantees soar with $2.25 million initiative 🔗 

The brand new Wingspan grant initiative is another piece of PA Humanities’ 50th anniversary celebration, this one supporting BIPOC and rural organizations doing community-based humanities work. The 24 grantees, announced just this month, will have the opportunity for new resources and space for creativity and connection as we support their work financially and through a learning network throughout the two-year grant cycle. 

A Re-Vision podcast recording session.

Re-Vision: Conversations about our Constitution 🔗

In 2022, we asked young people across the state to reflect on the US Constitution through the “If You Were In the Room” project, and we expanded on that in 2023 with Re-Vision. This podcast series brought together scholars, working practitioners and young people to explore the meanings and intentions behind some of the Constitution’s revolutionary ideas – such as freedom of speech and the right to a speedy trial – and the real-life implications of the founding document on our nation today. 

New board members join our leadership 🔗

We were sad to say farewell to Sister Mary Persico and Cheryl Matherly, whose terms ended this fall after many years of service and leadership, but excited to welcome Jessica Herzing and Bryan Clark to our Board of Directors! 

Bringing emergent learning to the forefront of PA Humanities’ strategy 🔗

PA Heart & Soul ushered in an emergent way of working with communities in which everyone – funders and grantees alike – learns in real time and recognizes if it’s time to let go, change direction or try something new. It’s a strategy that centers around the intentional pursuit of shared values and goals, relationships and a dynamic mindset that allows for adaptation. Read more about the strategy and breaking free from a compliance mindset

The PA Humanities team grows 🔗

We welcomed three new people to our staff this year: community programs manager Jean-Pierre Brice, and programming coordinators Katie Jean and Leslie Wilson

Advocating for the humanities in Washington and beyond 🔗

Each year, we work to show our elected officials just how critical the humanities are to the state of Pennsylvania through efforts including Humanities on the Hill and our summer district office visits. This year we had 23 federal visits with 16 legislators to let them know about all the important work in their districts, presented at a statewide Arts and Humanities Convening coordinated by Senator Bob Casey and Lehigh University, and rallied our appeal to members of the state House of Representatives when the National Endowment for the Humanities was threatened with defunding. We were also delighted to have Caucus co-chair Joe Ciresi read our Kindness Poem on the floor of the House this summer!  

PA Humanities partnered with The Learning Tree in Indianapolis to take National Humanities Conference attendees on a neighborhood tour while discussing community connections, storytelling and local pride.

Representing PA at the National Humanities Conference 🔗

PA Humanities staff, board and partners were busy in October at the National Humanities Conference in Indianapolis! We participated in 10 incredible sessions, organized engaging off-site programs, led affinity groups and luncheons and shared about our research. 

Highlights from our partners

We Are Here: Our podcast series wraps

Our very first podcast series, We Are Here, launched in 2022 in partnership with Keystone Edge. It highlights the stories of our partners and grantees throughout the state who received funding through PA SHARP – Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan – and the year’s episodes included the story of a project to return the remains of Lenape ancestors to their rightful burial lands at Pennsbury Manor, a discussion about engaging young people in history, and a look at an organization working to cultivate big ideas in Erie

The historic Clayton mansion (upper left) in Pittsburgh, images from the “Pittsburgh and the Great Migration: Black Mobility and the Automobile” exhibit at the Frick’s car and carriage museum, and a look at the Homestead steel mill at the time Henry Clay Frick was alive.

Not the same old story at the Frick 🔗 

In Pittsburgh, leadership at The Frick’s Clayton house, one-time home of steel magnate Henry Clay Frick, decided to revamp its storytelling within the historic home to show a broader picture of the city during the Gilded Age and the time period’s impact on the modern world. The reinterpretation project was supported by a PA SHARP – Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan – grant from PA Humanities. 

Cliveden illuminates stories lost in the shadows 🔗

Benjamin Chew was one of the most powerful and wealthy men in Philadelphia in the 1700s, and his legacy includes an estate in the city’s Germantown neighborhood and approximately 230,000 documents related to the family’s lives and business dealings. Details of the family’s history of enslavement and indentured servitude are included in those many documents, and as research has brought more of that difficult history to light over the last decade they haven’t shied away from sharing it at Cliveden, the former family home and a PA SHARP grantee.

Celebrating the legacy of Paul Robeson 🔗

Paul Robeson was once one of the most famous people in the world, and he used his mighty platform to speak out against racism, Jim Crow laws and injustice in the U.S. and abroad. He also suffered the consequences. The West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and Paul Robeson House & Museum, which received a PA SHARP operations grant to aid in pandemic recovery and growth, works to share the legacy of the multi-faceted entertainer and political activist. 

Cameron County residents come together for Super Saturday festivities.

Collaboration key to success for Cameron County Heart & Soul 🔗

After completing the PA Heart & Soul process, residents in Cameron County are seeing payoffs including the revival of beloved traditions, investment in local businesses and tourism initiatives, and a new crop of community leaders coming to the fore. 

Young people ‘adulting,’ changing narrative in Chester 🔗 

In a community where the outside narrative often focuses on the negative, Tara Jones is helping young people use their voice to illuminate the positive with podcasts produced at the Chester Cultural Arts & Technology Center, supported by a SHARP grant, and participation in PA Humanities’ Youth-Led Humanities cohort. 

PA teens push back against book banning 🔗 

The Teen Reading Lounge program at Brandywine Community Library is fighting the idea that teens are too young to discuss and engage with controversial topics. 

Young people take part in One Book One Norristown activities, and the mural design painted on the side of a school in Norristown as part of the celebration.

Community-wide book club thrives in Norristown 🔗 

With the help of PA SHARP funding, what began as a way to combat pandemic-related learning loss and help kids get back into reading and excited about books evolved into literacy programming for the entire community through One Book One Norristown

Library offers remixed takes on classic tales 🔗 

Classic stories endure throughout the centuries, yet even in the most timeless narrative, there exist gaps in representation and outdated elements. Tredyffrin Township Library used funding from a PA SHARP grant to help patrons bring an updated spin to enduring tales with their “Remixed Classics Scriptwriter’s Handbook.” 

Participants in COSACOSA art at large, inc.’s Kin/Folk/Lore community storytelling project.

Ordinary people, extraordinary tales 🔗 

Two different projects in two different parts of Pennsylvania have built on the ideas that everyone has a story to tell, and everyone’s history matters. With funding from PA SHARP grants, initiatives from COSACOSA art at large, Inc.’s and Dreamwrights Center for Community Arts have allowed individuals to grapple with their role in something greater, and neighbors to see themselves reflected in one another in meaningful ways.  

Upper Chichester celebrates H&S status 🔗

PA Heart & Soul leads to a wide variety of positive outcomes for communities, but success doesn’t come without hard work. To celebrate both the effort and remarkable achievements of the Upper Chichester team, PA Humanities recognized the leadership and volunteers with an official PA Heart & Soul Community designation at a Board of Commissioners meeting. 

A special thank you to our partners who make all this possible, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, Spring Point Partners, Community Heart & Soul, Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Route 6 Alliance, Warren County, The William Penn Foundation, U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and PA Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Drexel University, National Endowment for the Arts, and all our many individual donors and supporters throughout Pennsylvania and beyond.

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