Past Projects

Beyond PA Humanities’ core programs, we often branch out and offer our support and resources when other projects and events share our values. From festivals to reading programs to speaking engagements, we’re always open to exploring new ways to advocate for the humanities and the power of storytelling. Check out some of the ways in which we expanded our impact and shared tools across the state.

Penn Veterans Upward Bound

We know that the humanities can change the lives of many different kinds of learners. The University of Pennsylvania’s Veterans Upward Bound program is helping to prove this point, showing how powerful a part the humanities can play in the experience of adult students. The program serves Philadelphia-area veterans seeking to regain learning skills and prepare for college-level studies. The goal is to increase the rate at which these individuals—particularly low-income, first-generation college attendees—go on to complete post-secondary degrees.


As part of the national Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which became law in March 2020, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) received funding to distribute to humanities-based nonprofits that were financially impacted by the coronavirus. PA Humanities received a portion of these emergency relief funds to grant to the statewide public humanities community. Called PHC CARES, the goal of this fund was to help sustain Pennsylvania’s cultural infrastructure by supporting humanities organizations during this unprecedented time.

Pop-Up Grants for Cultural Producers

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 wanted to quickly give them the support and visibility they need to champion their big ideas. Our 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.

Democracy and the Informed Citizen

How do journalists, historians, grassroots organizations and residents all contribute to telling a community’s story and motivate meaningful change? What are the challenges communities face in sustaining a sense of place while also welcoming new members and exploring new opportunities in ways that are inclusive of our differences and shared humanity? Our community engagement partners Chester Made and Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul addressed these questions and more in 2018-2019, telling A Tale of Two Cities through a series of programs and activities as part of the national Democracy and the Informed Citizen initiative.

For 2020-2021, PA Humanities worked with Teen Reading Lounge sites in West Philly and Aliquippa to develop youth-led videos. We’ll share more about these projects soon.

What Now?

All eyes were on Pennsylvania as it captured the national spotlight during the 2020 Presidential election. From the surge of mail-in voting amid a pandemic to accusations of fraud to a deadly insurrection in the Capitol, it was a contentious electoral season that challenged the foundations of our democracy. In a partnership with WHYY, PA Humanities explored questions including how the election season changed voters’ faith in our government and media, what we learned from it, and how to heal and move forward. WHYY news columnist and host Solomon Jones and a diverse panel of political experts gathered for “What Now?”, a statewide, interactive discussion about the election and its aftermath, including ways Pennsylvanians can promote decency, dialogue, and informed civic engagement.

What’s Next?

In another partnership with WHYY, “What’s Next?” explored 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 such as safety in schools, infrastructure repairs, and clean water are often decided at the local level, and solutions can transcend the national rhetoric.

Reimagining Community Engagement

Professionals from across Pennsylvania, representing non-profits, government, arts, culture, humanities, and library services, attended Reimagining Community Engagement, a virtual event presented by PA Humanities in partnership with the Office of Commonwealth Libraries during the summer of 2020. The three-part series created a statewide network to learn and build humanities-based and equitable practices for the future of community engagement in our changing world.

Penn State Reads Partnership

Each year from 2013 to 2016, PA Humanities partnered with Penn State Libraries, Schlow Centre Region Library and the Penn State Center for Arts & Humanities to invite students across the university to read a single book. We then presented a public event in which the author of the Penn State Reads selected novel spoke about their work and engaged students and residents in meaningful dialogue.

Commonwealth Speakers Bureau

From 1980 until 2015 we produced the Commonwealth Speakers series as a way to share powerful stories and explore big ideas. Communities all across Pennsylvania gathered for Commonwealth Speakers presentations to discover something new about history, the arts and the world around them. While speaker presentations were incredibly diverse in terms of topic and format, they all shared a common feature—the opportunity for audiences to come together and learn from each other.

Pittsburgh Humanities Festival

For the second Pittsburgh Humanities Festival in March 2017, PA Humanities produced a discussion of humanities, arts, and equitable community development and co-sponsored a pre-festival panel on diversity in ballet. As part of the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival’s Core Conversations series, we presented “More Just Communities: From Stories to Action” with Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust on March 25 at the Harris Theater. Panelists and audience members explored storytelling, conversation, artmaking and art viewing as intentional processes that bring people together to take action and build a better shared future.

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