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Apr 23, 2020

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has announced new grant guidelines designed to rapidly distribute CARES Act funding to cultural nonprofits affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This new funding opportunity, NEH CARES: Cultural Organizations, will provide grants of up to $300,000 to sustain humanities organizations and preserve jobs in the cultural sector. This grant opportunity should not be confused with the CARES Act funding allocated for distribution by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and other state councils. Information about that opportunity will be available soon. Please sign-up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.

Apr 08, 2020

Each one of us is a grassroots advocate.  Simply put, being a grassroots advocate means that we—no matter who we are or where we are—have each other’s back, in good times and in bad. I was reminded of this beautiful synergy when I recently sat in on a meeting of The Cameron County Project team in Emporium, PA. A small coalition of citizens who are transforming their county into a Heart & Soul Community in partnership with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Orton Family Foundation, these everyday women and men—accountants, teachers, an environmental specialist, school custodian, factory laborer, nonprofit director, bank teller, school nurse, stay-at-home parents, small business owners, retirees, and others—are each a blade of hope doing their part to sow seeds and improve the lives of their friends and neighbors. In just the few years since The Cameron County Project’s Community Heart & Soul initiative launched, they’ve connected one-on-one with over 500 of their neighbors to gather stories and taken part in 20 outreach events. Collectively, they’ve identified the local attributes that are most important to them: sense of community, nature, local economy, arts and culture, accessibility, and safety.  According to The Cameron County Project’s leader Jessica Herzing, at the very top of this list are the genuine, kind people who live in this rural area of The PA Wilds. “We were all surprised at the amount of people we didn’t know that live here,” she said. “We have about 4600 residents, and you feel like you know everyone, but even in a small county, that isn’t true. There are demographics here that are surprisingly wonderful!” And more recently, The Cameron County Project pivoted down yet another new pathway, adapting to more immediate needs by launching a Facebook touch-point effort called the “Cameron County – Covid 19 – Community Resource Group.” As grassroots advocates, we are planted in the soil of our backyards, neighborhoods, and the many communities to which we belong and with which we most identify. Broader still, we each are a thread uniquely sewn into the tapestry of our country and our world, with a purpose and mission beckoning us to go above and beyond. Our single thread—an original sliver of color and light—helps hold all the others together. And occasionally when our own thread snaps, the others hug and hold us in place. From our single thread the world radiates, and the sun, moon, and stars dangle and shine. The Cameron County Project team members are prime examples of how our individual and gathered threads of living, breathing grassroots advocacy—even as minute as they may seem amidst the larger patchwork of life—truly can move mountains and shift tides. Our efforts can reroute darkness and divert disaster, or simply bring a smile to a stranger’s face on the street. This being the greatest gift we, as grassroots advocates, can give to one another: the gift of connection, of letting others know we are all in this precious orbit called life together.  Our threads can, and do, make all the difference. I always sit in awe of folks like those leading the charge of progress at The Cameron County Project. I look into their eyes, and see the hope of today and the bright light of tomorrow reflected back. I love them most for even taking that first step to impact a need they see.  I admire their perseverance through challenges, like the often-arduous task of initially getting strangers and neighbors alike onboard to understand the mission at hand amidst the noise and clatter of misinformation and disconnection. I applaud their willpower in moving forward one step at a time to first form the portrait of a need, and then to strategize a blueprint for how they can best steer from there into a more promising future.  And, I respect the very personal, gut-level struggle many of these modest folks confront as they sometimes question their own worthiness and abilities in leading a marathon of good works. This journey can often feel more like the trenches of battle than goodwill. Still, even amidst incoming missiles of misunderstanding and petty grievances from others—whose hearts these grassroots advocates will have to work a little harder to convince—they walk with heads held high. “YOU ARE HEROES!” I told The Cameron County Project team, as we sat around a table at the Cameron County Chamber of Commerce office on a Thursday night a few months ago. “You’re too humble to call yourselves that, but that’s what you are.” They looked at me wide-eyed, carefully and slowly letting the recognition set in. Compliments aren’t a currency most grassroots advocates barter in, or even expect. For them, it’s about a higher calling than that. Even so, kind words and gratitude are deserved and hold value at the heart and soul level. “Yes, you are true heroes!” I repeated. “Your names may never be carved into monuments, nor will streets or auditoriums likely ever be named for you. But your footprints here, and the work you are doing right now, will outlive you. You embody the essence of what it means to be authentic grassroots advocates at their very best!” A pause . . . then they finally accepted my compliment with smiles in return. I’ve learned that sometimes being a grassroots advocate myself simply means being the cheerleader in the room, helping to rally others forward. Each one of us has a skill set, natural gifts, and a reservoir of passion. By rolling this foundation of heart and soul down the sidewalks and streets just outside our front door, or channeling it through our fingertips tapping across a keyboard, we can ignite change, in ways great and small. As a longtime member of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s Board of Directors—where I’m surrounded by even more of the most awesome grassroots advocates, I’ve especially gained an indelible appreciation for the sheer power that emerges at the crossroads of storytelling and advocacy.  Time and again, like during my visits with the team in Cameron County, I’ve seen how both the telling of and listening to our individual stories, our community’s stories, and our universal stories translate spoken and written words into unstoppable calls to action. Through these stories emerge transformative roots to the past, a firm grounding in the present, and the glistening seeds of innovation that we then get to plant as we ourselves pass this way ever so briefly. My own evolution as a grassroots advocate began by me looking deeply at what passions really make my heart sing and then looking at what platforms I have available to me as an author, artist, and educator. I challenge you to do the same: What are your passions, and what are your available platforms, and where can these resources cross paths to help others, even in the quietest, unseen corners? No matter who you are, or where you are, you have a voice, and a heart, and a platform. It can be a one-on-one connection—face-to-face, or via text, email, or handwritten note—or a more extensive outreach and involvement within your community, state, nation, or world.  You, my friend, are the pebble that can launch many ripples in the water. As an author writing books across multiple genres—memoir, essay collections, entertaining/culinary, history, how-to, and next up children’s literature, I discovered that I have the opportunity to connect with many different audiences across the country and advocate for things like healthier living, adopting rescue dogs, ending abuse, embracing forgiveness, cross-generational friendships, creativity, or simply reminding people to have fun.  Just as I’ve been blessed to be placed in front of millions of people during appearances on programs like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family, Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, EWTN’s The World Over, and home shopping’s behemoth QVC, I’ve also had amazing one-on-one interactions. Whether it’s a single person in the aisle of a supermarket who stops me because they need a hug and someone to just listen to them or audiences watching on the other side of that TV camera when the green light flashes on as I’m sitting on a set in Hollywood or New York, each of these platforms is an opportunity to connect and to advocate. As an artist, I’ve discovered the impactful possibilities of creating Participatory Art projects that everyone can come together to create, either in-person or via social media. These include THE SMILE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (is yours) and the 5 Day PEACE Challenge / #5dayPEACEchallenge. Whether exhibited in the bustling flow of a museum as the first was for one of its many installations or performed quietly along an old dirt road where I planted my final PEACE letter during the early days of the National Emergency amidst the Coronavirus outbreak, each has been a chance to reach out and to advocate. And, as an educator and professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, I quickly became a #1 Fan of Generation Z—young people born between 1997 and 2012. The unprecedented courage of these young people in sharing their truths out loud—especially regarding their mental health challenges—and, in doing so, flipping the script on stigmas and stereotypes, has energized me as a grassroots advocate on behalf of Gen Z and mental health.  Looking at the platforms available to me to shout this new mission from the rooftops, I penned two essays—“Who is Generation Z?” for Huffington Post and the cover story “X meets Z” for Portraits Magazine—to start putting the faces on this extraordinary new generation. And now, wherever I travel, I always sit down for roundtable discussions with Gen Zers and mental health experts, and other audiences to further these discussions.  Gen Zers have even emboldened me to step out more than ever before as an advocate and, for the first time, to share my own family’s legacy of suicide: my great-grandfather and two of his brothers all died by suicide. I’ve watched the impact of those deaths shower down through every generation of my family, often festering as stigmas, mental and behavioral health issues, addiction, and still more tragedy. Sharing my family’s story has helped open the door of healing for others to also walk through. As grassroots advocates, we are learners just as much, if not more, as we are teachers and doers. We are listeners just as much, if not more, as we are communicators. The Cameron County Project’s team leader Jessica Herzing puts it this way: Grassroots advocates are “people who steward their influence, in such a way, to help others grow theirs. They’re just community bridge builders, creating more accessible ways for more people to be heard.” Big thumbs up to that! So in this moment, I invite you to ask yourself:  What passions do I have?  What gifts do I have?  What platforms, great and small—social media, professional contacts, community relationships, etc.—do I have?  What needs do I see that could use my help?  And, if you are already active as a grassroots advocate—first off, thank you!—then I suggest asking yourself a question I ask myself every day: What more can I do? Then, look deeply within and know that you are the thread meant to pull all those answers together into action and hope.  And also please know, by doing so, you too are a hero!   5 Super Easy Ways Anyone Anywhere Can Be a Grassroots Advocate Right Now   SPREAD JOY!  At the core of being a grassroots advocate—locally, regionally, nationally, or globally—is connection. Whether you are new to recognizing your potential as a grassroots advocate or a seasoned pro at it, simply smiling and waving, and perhaps offering a kind word, to more people—friends and strangers alike—as they pass by is Grassroots Advocacy 101. USE YOUR VOICE! Our words—spoken, texted, emailed, or however shared, and no matter how articulate—can be very powerful and encouraging. Talking to friends and family about positive causes, issues, and organizations you believe in can send many ripples out into the world. EMBRACE YOUR ONLINE PLATFORM!  Whether you have one follower or 100 million, you can be a social media influencer. Use whatever social media you’re active on to both follow and share information about causes, issues, and organizations that inspire you. STUDY UP! Being a grassroots advocate means being a teacher and a student in ever-reversing roles. It’s important, and personally motivating, to take a few minutes here and there to research a cause, issue, or organization that speaks to your heart in order to further inform yourself and to better help you spread the message. SAY THANK YOU! Yes, money talks, but a well-deserved “Thank You!” speaks even louder at the heart and soul level. Combine the best of both by writing a check to a favorite charity (giving whatever works for you) and including a note thanking the staff and volunteers for their incredible service in making the world a better place.     About John Schlimm John Schlimm is a Harvard-trained educator, advocate, artist, and the author of 19 books. He has served on the Board of Directors at the Pennsylvania Humanities Council since 2015. For more information or to connect with John on social media, please visit:

Apr 03, 2020

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) today announced Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers, a new grant program supporting efforts to sustain public engagement during the COVID-19 crisis.  Due to social distancing requirements, cultural organizations have canceled in-person programs, festivals, and other major events that bring people together to build community and uplift local economies. Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers was created to provide financial assistance to Pennsylvania organizations migrating to virtual or other forms of distance-based cultural activities. “This crisis is impacting everyone but the cultural sector is particularly vulnerable,” said Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. “Whether it's a Zoom dinner-time book discussion or a podcast with local creative entrepreneurs and historians on downtown development, we want to quickly give affected organizations the support and visibility they need to champion their big ideas and help people stay connected at this crucial time.” The grants will be between $500-$2000 with a fast turnaround to get programs quickly off the ground. Applications will be accepted through April but the deadline may be extended as needed. This opportunity is open to small and medium sized non-profit organizations (budgets under $3 million). Interested individuals can work through local nonprofits to realize their projects. Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers is a PHC initiative and not part of the CARES Act, which has allocated additional federal funding to be distributed by state and territorial councils through the National Endowment for the Humanities. PHC will provide more information about CARES Act opportunities in the coming weeks. More info for Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers, visit: Please note that the application period is now closed.

Apr 01, 2020

Artists thrive through adversity because art is a marvelous transformation of adversity. No matter how difficult the times we face, artists smile, rise and get back to the life of art. What do Chester artists do in tough times like these? They Reclaim, Repurpose, Rebuild and #RemainCreative!    #RemainCreative is a Chester Made social media campaign that will keep our audience engaged and thinking creatively during this time of limited in-person interaction. Facebook & Instagram posts as well as E-blasts to our mailing list will show Chester artists continuing to thrive in their field while staying at home, healthy and safe. We will also post videos that will flash back to past Chester Made events, workshops, and activities that might inspire a creative post of your own.   #MOTIVATIONMONDAYS On a compelling #MotivationMonday, we heard from Sistah Mafalda, a Chester Made Artist and Storyteller resident and creator of #StandTall, a stilt-walking story-telling movement in the city of Chester. We hope you enjoy her message of resilience and freedom to #RemainCreative. Click here to watch all of the videos.  #THROWBACKTHURSDAYS What a joy it's been looking back at the many experiences of the Chester Made project. Throwback posts give Chester Made partners a chance to reflect on the lessons, connections, and successes from the past that continue to inspire and help us #RemainCreative today. On one #ThrowbackThursday we replayed a clip of N. Davina Stewart, a Gary, IN-based artist who utilizes satire, speculative fiction, and performance poetry to create compelling narratives and interactive public art projects that challenge the status quo and encourages participants to re-examine / re-imagine / re-invent the spaces they occupy. This is one of seven videos made documenting the 2016 Chicago & Gary peer exchange with local artists working to make change in their communities. Listen to what Davina has to say about owning your legacy and reflect on how this has informed many Chester Made activities. SITTING ON CRATES In his new series, Sitting on Crates, Chester Made Artistic Director Devon Walls interviews Overtown artists, including Kenneth "The Art Monster" Picasso and Emmanuel "Fitz God's Gift" Fitzpatrick, about their most recent work.   In episode one we are introduced to "By Any Means," a mural paying tribute to Malcolm X and Huey Newton, located on Edgemont Ave, Chester, PA. Hopefully you've had a chance to experience it in person! What's Coming Up That's right! Chester Made is officially making podcasts! Check out our first one here  featuring Devon Walls and Ulysses Slaughter talking about Chester's art scene. Listen on Anchor, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and more, all for free!  Finally, stay tuned for the brand new Chester Made Website coming soon! This website will have everything Chester Made and will be a hub for information about past, present and future Chester Made events and projects. We can't wait to hear what you think! Don't forget to share with us what you've been up to by emailing us at  #KEEPMAKINGART

Mar 31, 2020

The application period is now closed. Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) puts the humanities in action to create positive change in our lives and communities. We use everyday tools available to us all -- creativity and the power of stories, reflection, and relationships -- to grow our potential and shape an equitable society. The COVID-19 crisis is significantly impacting our cultural life through the closing of museums and libraries and the cancelation of in-person programs, historic tours, festivals, and other major events that bring people together to build community and support local economies, individuals, and organizations. We believe people have the creativity, know-how, and talent to make a difference right now in building culture, discussing books, and exploring history in our local communities while adhering to social distancing guidelines. We want to quickly give them the support and visibility they need to champion their big ideas.  PHC Pop Up Grants for Cultural Producers was created to support organizations in Pennsylvania seeking to launch humanities events, programs, and projects during the COVID-19 shutdown through virtual or other forms of distance-based engagement with the public.  Please note: Pop-up Grants for Cultural Producers are not part of the CARES Act, which allocated additional funding to state and territorial councils through the National Endowment for the Humanities. PHC will have more information that upcoming opportunity soon. Project Examples Humanities programs can take many forms. They delight us, inspire discovery and learning, and open our eyes and hearts to different points of view. They also help us connect, build community, and even heal. The following examples are only a short list meant to inspire:  a live Instagram talk about the history of dance clubs followed set of music and storytelling by a DJ and club owner; behind-the-scenes tour of a museum exhibit on Civil Rights led by a local historian and residents who share their stories  a Zoom dinner-time book discussion or coffee break journal-writing session or family recipe storytelling swap led by a librarian; Facebook live class exploring local history through family photographs followed by an online exhibit and blog by participants; curated collection of at-home activities for youth delivered directly to your door; podcast interviews delivered to your inbox by local mediamakers with creatives, cultural producers, and entrepreneurs on developing our communities.   Award Amount PHC Pop Up Grants for Cultural Producers will be between $500-$2000. Deadline Rolling through April. Deadline may be extended as needed and additional funds are available. Eligibility This opportunity is open to small and medium sized non-profit organizations (budgets under $3 million). Interested individuals should work through local nonprofits to realize their pop-up projects. How to Apply? The application period is now closed. Questions? Contact  

Mar 30, 2020

On April 2nd the Pennsylvania Humanities Council Teen Reading Lounge network hosted an informative 90-minute conversation exploring how afterschool humanities programming for youth ages 12 - 18 is being impacted by the COVID-19/novel coronavirus outbreak. Libraries, K-12 schools and many community centers serving youth and their families have been ordered to close. This resulted in an abrupt disruption in the afterschool opportunities young people have come to rely on for connection, comfort and learning.  So, where does that leave us? Are there opportunities to stay connected despite our mandate to maintain social distancing? What creative solutions are sites and staff coming up with across the state - and nationally - to stay connected? Hear what our panelists had to say. Guest speakers  included: Laura Saccente, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network (PSAYDN) Dr. Valerie Adams-Bass, Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Virginia. Corri Hines, School Age Services Advisor, Bureau of Library Development, Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Pennsylvania Department of Education We  spoke with Laura, Valerie and Corri about best practices for staying connected, guidelines for virtual and other forms of communications with youth and creative solutions for reaching youth and families that may not have robust technical resources. We  also reviewed local and national examples of virtual youth programs and youth engagement strategies. Access the resources that were shared and the powerpoint presentation here. This webinar is supported by Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services administered by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Department of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor.  Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mar 19, 2020

We are committed to supporting the public health and safety of all Pennsylvania residents. Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office, Pennsylvania Humanities Council has decided to cancel or postpone all upcoming events until further notice due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. We are also strongly encouraging all our program partners to do the same. In addition to event cancellations, our staff will be working remotely. Please get in touch with us at with any questions or feedback: we are here to help. Through its programs, events, and partnerships, PHC uses the humanities to bring Pennsylvanians together to shape the future through the power of stories, reflection, and relationships. We center our work on human connection and shared experiences that typically take place face-to-face at community gatherings.  As a statewide organization we are experienced at bridging divides, but the new “social distancing” guidelines are an entirely new challenge. They are also an opportunity for us to better implement and understand different communications tools as avenues for civic involvement and community development. We have started exploring ideas and resources to help keep Pennsylvanians connected throughout this crisis and will share them soon. Please know that we are monitoring the situation closely and will keep you informed of future changes and updates. Be advised that Pennsylvania residents should observe the latest recommended health and safety precautions. Visit and the Pennsylvania Department of Health for up-to-date information. Thank you for your patience and cooperation during this difficult time. Our heart goes out to everyone who has been or will be impacted by COVID-19.  We are all in this together.

Feb 19, 2020

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), the Beaver County Planning Commission, and the Orton Family Foundation to support the towns of Ambridge, Beaver Falls, and Rochester along their path to becoming stronger, more vibrant communities using Community Heart & Soul®, a humanities-based approach to community and economic development. Through this unique partnership among government agencies, a statewide nonprofit, and a national foundation, PHC and Orton will provide training and technical support worth an estimated $50,000 per year to each community. In addition, the communities expect to receive $25,000 per year in combined funding over two years from PHC and DCED, for a total investment valued at $150,000 per community. Since 2015, PHC has been working to bring Community Heart & Soul®, a model originally pioneered by Orton, to communities across Pennsylvania. Ambridge, Beaver Falls, and Rochester join Upper Chichester, Cameron County, Greater Carlisle, Meadville, and Williamsport, which currently have Community Heart & Soul® projects underway. “The humanities have proven a powerful tool for community and economic development in Pennsylvania,” said Laurie Zierer, PHC’s executive director. “We are seeing significant positive change because residents are building relationships, honoring their homegrown talents and assets, and reclaiming and reshaping their communities.” Each town is paired with an official Community Heart & Soul® coach, a trained professional tasked with guiding the community through the program, including gathering residents’ stories, carefully discerning a town’s values through community events and activities, and developing an action plan. "With its rich history, beautiful natural setting, and charming, family-friendly towns, Beaver County is primed for growth," said Lance Grable, Director of the Beaver County Office of Planning and Redevelopment. "Community Heart & Soul® will put Beaver County residents first, relying on their stories and feedback to steward future planning efforts. I could not be more proud of my County Commissioners for allowing us to embark on this monumental effort and teaming with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council." Beaver County is located in southwestern Pennsylvania, near the city of Pittsburgh and other amenities and attractions. Walkable towns dot the Ohio River which runs through the county's picturesque landscape. Beaver County’s transition away from the steel industry has brought new challenges and opportunities to the region.  Community Heart & Soul® will start in all three towns in February 2020.   Related Content Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities Uncommon Strategic Partnership Advances Applied Humanities Work In PA Community Heart & Soul  

Jan 29, 2020

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) have partnered to co-sponsor arts and culture projects in Williamsport, Meadville, Carlisle, and Upper Chichester. The grants provide $2,000 in matched funds to towns currently implementing Community Heart & Soul®, a humanities-based community and economic development program supported by PHC. The goal is to support resident engagement and uplift local creative assets. The four projects are as follows: Williamsport residents will share their stories and collaborate with Factory Works to create a two pillar public art mosaic at the entrance to Pajama Factory, an iconic local building recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.   Inspired by community ideas and drawings, the Art & Environment Initiative (A&EI) will work with the people of Meadville to create a vibrant relief mural on the Snodgrass Building, which provides housing for residents experiencing poverty. Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul will implement a community-led, outdoor art installation to recognize the over 600 people buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Carlisle, raising awareness about the history of the site.  The Upper Chichester Heart & Soul team will host a series of creative intergenerational rock painting workshops for residents at township parks with the intent to engage a diversity of residents. “We are excited that the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts has partnered with us to champion local creative assets through collaborative public art,” said Dawn Frisby Byers, PHC’s Senior Director of Content and Engagement. “These projects are so wonderfully attuned to the ideas and aspirations of residents because our Community Heart & Soul® towns have worked hard over the past few years to bring together a diversity of voices to unearth shared values.” Projects are already underway and set to be completed in 2020.   Related Content Watch Williamsport residents share their stories of The Pajama Factory and Factory Works Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities Uncommon Strategic Partnership Advances Applied Humanities Work In PA

Dec 01, 2019

In July 2019, the Chester Made team welcomed a group of 25 young leaders from Sub Saharan Africa visiting the US under the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Although past exchanges involved groups from Chicago, IL, Gary, IN and Detroit, MI, this was the first peer exchange that I was a part of where our visiting participants were from outside of the US, though you would never have guessed after seeing the immediate connection between everyone in attendance. The Mandela Washington Fellowship provides outstanding persons from Sub Saharan Africa a trip to US higher education institutions with the goal of honing their skills in one of three fields: Business, Civic Engagement, or Public Management.  Chester, PA was chosen as a site visit for the 2019 Mandela Fellows because of the city’s history and assets, Chester Made’s deep rooted community engagement projects, and the thriving business and arts district. Chester is a city that has seen decline, and residents, artists and activists are taking remarkable steps to rebuild its reputation through civic engagement and art, two things the Mandela Fellows are also responsible for in their work. To me, this demonstrates why exchanges are so important for Chester Made and other projects, businesses and organizations.   The exchange kicked off with a delicious, thoughtfully planned lunch at Brothers Restaurant which is owned by Chester Made Artistic Director, Devon Walls. This meal was the talk of the exchange! We enjoyed jasmine rice, tikka marsala chicken, pepper steak, and maple candied carrots that were to die for! Created by Executive Chef Aaliyah Alamin, she spoke about her passion for making deep-rooted connections through the culinary arts. The meal and words of wisdom fueled our conversations about the ways we communicate about our love for the work we do, the leadership positions we hold in our community, and the legacy we want to leave behind. Chester representatives who live, work, study and play in Chester were also invited to the restaurant to come share about their role in the revitalization of the city. It was exciting to see this group of energized civic leaders talk about their work with pride and relate to each others journeys through struggle, determination and growing success.   A panel discussion--complete with an impromptu “switch-up” of panelists--was facilitated by Chester Made Project Manager Ulysses ‘Butch’ Slaughter. African and American panelists alike learned that they faced similar challenges working in communities where many are struggling with poverty, health and safety issues. When asked how this exchange will influence their work going forward, Fellows agreed that leadership, legacy, and love are indispensable factors no matter where or who you are working with.   “I’ve been really emotional since I’ve been here because I’m in a house of art. And when I’m somewhere where I have paintings on the walls, musical instruments, and artists talking with their hearts, I feel kind of emotional. I do believe that art is the best way to educate people, to develop our creativity and different ways of thinking. I do believe that education is the way to change people--to help them find the best version of themselves...And I do believe that when someone changes to the best version [of themselves], they are able to change the world.” --Janice Soraia Fortes da Graca of Cabo Verde  The one thing that rang true throughout the day was that together, anything is possible. “The African American experience here and the Africa experience back home is like the bridge that we need to connect with. I want to learn from this experience, I want to build that bridge because I’ve been connected to this experience since my early days. I understand the challenges that people face in Africa and the challenges that people face here that are almost similar, and what we have to do is learn from our experiences--take the positive experiences from here and replicate them back home. This is something that Africa can do.” --Desta Mekonen Abreha of Ethiopia  We left Brothers Restaurant to participate in a group painting activity organized by Chester Made Artistic Director Devon Walls, Kenny Hunt, and Damien Parson. Everyone headed to the Chester Made Makerspace, getting a tour of the Avenue of the States and its lively businesses along the way. Once filled, the Makerspace resonated with groovy tunes like Drogba (Joanna) by Afro B, dancing painters, and singing voices. We worked together to create three beautiful murals of African stilt-walkers, chosen to compliment a stilt-making and walking workshop we had scheduled the following month. It was an energetic afternoon that uplifted the Avenue of the States in Chester as a truly international city. To wrap up the Mandela Washington Fellows visit, everyone sat in a circle in MJ Freed Theater, surrounded by vibrant local art. The visiting leaders asked questions about Chester’s history, development, and vision for the future. We responded with hopes of more exchanges like this one, in addition to a sustained connection to this group of humanitarians. The atmosphere was that of a friendly and open community made more rich by the diverse backgrounds of everyone present.  Opinions were shared on socioeconomic growth and local business, embellished with moving personal stories. The Fellows learned about the core values of Chester Made: how arts and culture drives economic and community development. We learned our visitors shared similar values. The event not only felt educational, but thoroughly enjoyable, like the bus dropped off a group of close friends. In a thank you letter to Chester Made partners after the exchange, Trisha Alexy, Administrative Director, Mandela Washington Fellowship, Lehigh University Business Institute, wrote, “While their experience over the six weeks is filled with seminars, business trips and cultural experiences, the lessons they will take with them because of people like you are amazing life lessons. And, the opportunity the Fellows have to interact with someone with your experience is, by far, the most valuable aspect of the program.” By the end of this experience everyone who was involved--from Chester artist to African entrepreneurs--were speaking the same language through art.  View more photos from the exchange here. Past exchanges: October 2016 Chester Made peer exchange in Gary, IN and Chicago, IL November 2017 Gary, IN peer exchange in Chester, PA March 2018 Chicago, IL and Detroit, MI peer exchange in Chester, PA  

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