Author Archive

From the Director: Taking Care of Local Treasures

Humanities Programs in Focus | December 20, 2018 | By:

From the Director Dena Wortzel

Responding to a natural disaster isn’t the WHC’s stock in trade. We are best known for giving grants to organizations that create programs like walking tours, museum exhibits and face-to-face community discussions. But last summer, when I started getting reports about torrential rains causing unprecedented flooding in the southwestern parts of our state, I worried about the organizations in those rural communities. A few phone calls and conversations revealed that libraries in La Valle, Ontario, Norwalk, Rock Springs and Viola all needed help. 

The WHC hadn’t worked with any of these libraries before, but in each of these small towns, the library is treasured.  In Rock Springs, at word of impending flooding, community members worked furiously to get everything out of the library before the rising water rendered their building unusable.  Today, that library is temporarily housed in a church basement.  Libraries in Ontario, Norwalk and Viola didn’t suffer quite as badly, but needed to replace lost items and make repairs. 

Fortunately, the WHC is an organization poised to help. Generally, we respond to community members who want help bringing their ideas for humanities programs to fruition, and we can provide expertise and funding. In this case, the real need was to keep these little libraries open! What they needed was money for books, shelves, carpets, and other basics.

I was in La Valle, population 367, last week to visit their library. The WHC has provided money to replace items that were damaged when water filled their building, covering the lower three shelves and destroying their entire children’s collection. I was thrilled to learn from Becky and Cindi that the La Valle Public Library, founded in 1903, plans to re-open soon.

Libraries are a critical source of information and of connection to the rest of the state and to the world.  Especially in rural communities. I’m so grateful to our donors, whose regular contributions meant that the WHC could instantly offer help when and where it was most needed.  Thank you on behalf of Becky and Cindi in La Valle,and all the other librarians and library supporters we are able to help.

Here’s wishing you a joyful holiday season and a new year rich in the humanities!

Becky, Cindi, and Dena at the La Valle Library; December 2018.



How to talk without fighting

Humanities Programs in Focus | September 12, 2018 | By:

Do you avoid talking about politics with someone in your family, for fear of conflict?  Have you clashed with a friend over an issue, and sadly found that more conversation made you both dig into your positions more deeply?  Read More


Immigration in Wisconsin: We Need the Humanities

Our Working Lives Project | August 15, 2018 | By:

Miguel Hernandez, pictured here, chooses to return to his hometown in Mexico after many years as a loyal and much-needed worker on a dairy farm. Los Lecheros is a short film that reveals the complexity of the current situation and the tension around Wisconsin dairy farms and undocumented workers.
Photo credit: Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Since the day he announced his candidacy, the President’s statements on immigration have provoked intense reactions, both for and against.  It’s pretty emotional.  But how familiar are you – or are most Wisconsinites — with the people the President is talking about?  With immigrants living in communities throughout Wisconsin today, or with the laws that govern their lives, the jobs they hold, or the measurable as well as unquantifiable effects their presence has on all of our lives? Read More


When a visionary director takes inspiration from a visionary artist

Humanities Programs in Focus | October 26, 2017 | By:

Heritage Days offers the “chance to overcome generations of mistrust and create passionate young historians who will keep history alive and relevant to our lives.”  

Driving north on highway 13, just before you get to the town of Phillips in northern Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Concrete Park is hard to miss.  More than 200 sculptures, made of concrete and studded with colored glass, depict giants, winged angels, figures of history and legend, menageries of wild and domestic animals, and various scenes of ordinary men and women in daily life.  Read More


What is the right response to hate?

Voices from the Field | August 17, 2017 | By:

Years ago, a friend of a friend was telling a story about a local horse deal, when she said something that took me aback.  Describing the deal, she said she had been “jewed down.”  Not only had I never heard a neighbor make a reference to Jews in any context, I had never in my life heard someone standing right in front of me say something anti-Semitic. 
 
Puzzling over it later, I was sure of two things:  1) that the person who used it was unthinking in her incorporation of an ugly stereotype into her vocabulary, and thus at some level into her worldview, and 2) that if she were asked to think about what it meant for Jewish people like me for such a phrase to be used, she would see the darker significance and gladly stop using it. 
 
When I saw reports of white supremacists with Nazi flags marching in Charlottesville, Read More


The day the boys came home

Humanities Programs in Focus | August 3, 2017 | By:

 

For many veterans of the Vietnam War, coming home was not about waving flags, proud friends and relatives, and open arms, as it was for the two veterans of Iraq who I helped to welcome home.  Vietnam vets often felt, and were indeed treated, like pariahs even by family and friends.  As Wisconsin veteran Bruce Canny told me recently, “Back then it was more or less to your advantage to keep it secret.”  He recalls being shunned by one of his wife’s relatives, though they later became close.

It has been fifty years since Dow Chemical, the producer of napalm, was driven from the UW-Madison campus by the war’s opponents while, from towns across Wisconsin, men like Canny were being shipped to Vietnam – destined to come back changed, or not at all.  Read More


From the Director: Looking for Leadership

Humanities Programs in Focus | January 25, 2017 | By:

American flag in a fieldIn 2010, Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, finished his first year on the job and a 50-state “civility tour.”  Today, when aggressively hyper-partisan politics leave the nation feeling more deeply divided than ever, the idea of a federal agency leader preaching civility can seem weirdly idealistic.  But Leach had spent 30 years in Congress prior to the NEH, which might damage a person’s idealism, but should hopefully add to their realism – at least about what we should ask of the federal government. Read More


A Black Police Officer Tells His Story

Humanities Programs in Focus, Our Working Lives Project | November 17, 2016 | By:

Corey Saffold presents ShopTalk in Waukesha

What is it like to be a cop, and black?

When a white state trooper pulled over a black off-duty Madison police officer, Corey Saffold, what did the trooper assume about the man with dreadlocks and a gun – officer Saffold’s service pistol – on the passenger seat?  What did the trooper do next? Read More


Welcome to Five New Board Members!

Humanities Programs in Focus | June 3, 2015 | By:


Every June, the WHC welcomes new members to our board – and says good-bye to departing members.  Most of the great people leaving us served two three-year terms.  That’s a lot of time and a huge contribution.  This year we gratefully thank Jasmine Alinder, John Savagian, Jarett Fields, David Hankins and Bob Cook for all they brought to the WHC.

And this summer we welcome five new folks who bring with them a wonderfully diverse array of talents and backgrounds. Read More


Money goes to Eleven Wisconsin Projects

Humanities Programs in Focus | March 18, 2015 | By:

Grant_Awards_Map_March2015

We are pleased to announce that Major and Mini-grants have been awarded to eleven remarkable public humanities projects. As you can see from the map, our successful applicants are located around the state. Those dots represent good ideas, community engagement, and impressive dedication to enriching community life on the part of your fellow Wisconsinites.

What we cannot show you on this map is the diversity of these projects. As you read the descriptions below, you will find some efforts that have been evolving over years, and others that are fresh and innovative. Read More