Sunday, July 6, 2014

Rhode Island Council for the Humanities - 40th Anniversary Report (2013)

Update: I will be speaking at RICH on Wednesday April 30, 2014 as part of the launch celebration of the Digital Library: Special Anniversary Edition. 

For more information, please email Ms. Adrian Moore, Development and Communications Manager, RICH at 

The RICH - 40th Anniversary Report is now available online

My essay on the history and impact  of the experimental NEH state council system of grant making can be found there on pages 5-13, and excerpted here:

"Going the Distance

.....Today, Claiborne Pell, Rhode Island’s longest-serving senator (1961-1997), is best remembered for his advocacy of the so-called Pell Grant legislation that has enabled millions of Americans to attend college. But in 1960, President Kennedy sized up the quirky Pell as “the most unelectable man in America”. Rhode Island voters proved him wrong, thus enabling the path for Pell to sponsor and help enact the 1965 legislation founding both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
Why were the arts and humanities so important that such steps should be taken? The NEH mission statement answers that for us: “The world leadership which has come to the United States cannot rest solely upon superior power, wealth, and technology, but must be solidly founded upon worldwide respect and admiration for the Nation's high qualities as a leader in the realm of ideas and of the spirit.” The public humanities provide the principled perspectives a free people need to go the distance as they collectively confront those proverbial forks in the road.
Pell advocated for the public humanities as an essential component of the American system of checks and balances that our brawling democracy was founded upon as long ago as the Rhode Island Charter of 1663. On the national stage, he championed the outlier idea that the NEH was too important to leave only in the hands of experts in the Academy. Rather, the mission of the new National Endowment for the Humanities would be most fully realized in partnership with a system of affiliated but independent State Councils attentive to community-initiated projects and collaborative idea generation outside of but in partnership with the Academy. Quixotic as it seemed to many at the time, between 1971 and 1976 all 50 states launched an NEH-affiliated, independent State Committee for the Humanities. The Rhode Island senator with a vision catalyzed this unprecedented national experiment in grass roots support for the public humanities.

Making an Impact 1973-2013
The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities (RICH) was founded in 1973 with a kind of home court advantage and a mandate to engage in visionary grant making as a form of civic engagement. Pell had confidence that the smallest state would develop templates for the nation. Curiously, no one has written this history, or adequately conveyed the breadth and depth of the Council’s impact on Rhode Island’s prosperity and progress. It is an astonishing story of achievement that we begin to document here.  For the Council’s 40th anniversary in 2013, a portfolio of grants was selected to exemplify key aspects of this larger history. The grants discussed here and more have been digitized into a new Special Edition 40th Anniversary Digital Archive and organized into three themes to more fully demonstrate grant making impact over time: “The Lively Experiment” and Civic Literacy; Our Stories, Our Rhode Island; and Place Making. This kind of documentation and thematic focus help to measure what public humanities grant making has achieved, as well as the value of civic engagement.

As RICH explores new partnerships and funding sources, there are two compelling conclusions. 
First, Council grant making has helped seed hundreds of local humanities projects that collectively brought together new community partners, new ways of working, and innovative ways of sharing the public humanities. RICH acts as an experienced matchmaker helping coalesce a team of passionate people around a community-generated project. The Council helps identify the broadly defined knowledge experts each project needs for success, and delivers strategic resources to the right people at the right time because of the connective infrastructure laid down over four decades of community networking. 
Secondly, as an institution that is both privately and publicly supported, the Council efficiently delivers federal dollars to local organizations in Rhode Island and has the flexibility and independence to develop new approaches to public engagement. RICH’s sustained involvement over 40 years has had a demonstrated impact on the state’s cultural and economic development. It is a connector, catalyst, incubator, and innovator working for the common good. 
Moreover, the Council’s position at the center of multiple sectors can play an important role in the development of Rhode Island’s post-industrial knowledge economy. .... " [The entire 40th Anniversary Report is here.]

For more on the Digital Library: Special Anniversary Edition, please see here.
The RICH temporary website is hereFollow the RI Council for the Humanities  on Facebook.

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