For nearly 20 years, October has been championed throughout the country as National Arts and Humanities Month (NAHM), when communities and organizations come together to understand important concepts of human nature seen through the arts.
According to Americans for the Arts, NAHM is the “largest annual celebration for the arts and humanities in the nation – a coast-to-coast collective recognition of the importance of culture in America. It is designed to encourage all Americans to explore new facets of the arts and humanities in their lives and to begin a lifelong habit of active participation in the arts and humanities.”
To further elaborate, “The arts and humanities give people and communities opportunities to explore and share their cultures and heritage in tangible ways, sparking conversation that connects each of us on a deeper level to better appreciate one another and the intertwined experiences we share,” said Jennifer Goulet, president and CEO of ArtServe Michigan. “To create a better future, we must understand each other and where we have been.”
NAHM is a great time to focus on the programs and initiatives taking place around Michigan, not just in October, but year round. Perhaps the biggest champion for arts and humanities programming in the state comes from the Michigan Humanities Council (MHC). The goal of MHC is to help community members identify the diverse histories and cultural perspectives they contribute, and through arts programming, work to transform communities through a shared appreciation and celebration of those diversities.
Timothy Chester, chair of the Michigan Humanities Council Board of Directors, explained that overall, MHC programming is centered around getting people together to spend time talking about the bigger things in life: who we are, why we are the way we are and who we want to be. MHC’s most popular programming, the Great Michigan Read, Poetry Out Loud and PRIME TIME Family Reading Time, are all discussed at length in this edition of Creative Impact Michigan.
Chester stressed that awareness of the humanities will allow Michigan to become a creative state. “We need to be able to engage in conversations in order for Michigan to progress,” he said.
While MHC does support large programs and initiatives, it also frequently awards grants of a much smaller nature to individuals working on projects of smaller scales. Chester cited the recent example of a teacher in Pinckney, Mich. After reading Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age with her class (a past Great Michigan Read; read more about the program here), she requested $500 to hire a bus driver to take her students to the neighborhood in Detroit where the house featured in the story is located. The class then visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and stopped at a soul food restaurant, where the students were able to experience dishes referenced in Arc of Justice.
MHC receives its broadest support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which supports the work of cultural institutions across the countries in two ways: through direct grants to individual scholars and institutions who apply to NEH’s 30+ grant programs and through NEH’s support of state humanities councils, which assist local humanities programs and events.
“NEH is about the democratization of ideas, providing broad and equal access to advances in knowledge and to the nation’s rich cultural heritage,” said Paula Wasley, public affairs specialist for NEH.
Some of the initiatives in Michigan recently funded by the NEH include: The Henry Ford’s teacher workshops on America’s Industrial Revolution; Michigan State University’s preservation of the long-running television series American Black Journal (nearly 1000 videotapes of the program are being preserved and a set of DVDs will be provided to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit); and a new facility in downtown Marquette that will feature children’s classrooms, a large reception area and artifact storage and display space.
While the above examples are by no means a comprehensive list, they do showcase the range of projects the NEH supports.
“NEH and its state affiliates are able to work together to bring the humanities to broad audiences across the country, reaching deeply into communities big and small, urban and rural,” Wasley said.
And Michigan is no exception with its own rich, diverse history contributing to its identity and the landscape of the state’s industries, communities and residents’ personal experiences.