Posts Tagged ‘Public Humanities’

Wisconsin and the opioid crisis

Humanities Programs in Focus | January 17, 2018 | By:

Our Road to Recovery: Going beyond the headlines on opioid addiction

by Meg Turville-Heitz

It’s in the headlines: A state health crisis. A national health crisis the White House recently said cost half a trillion dollars in 2015. It confounds communities. It’s a disease that leads to crimes: of opportunity, of hope, and of despair. It’s a disease that captures those in high places and low.

It’s a subject that cries out for the humanities. As we’ve seen so often, the humanities are what help us understand and make relevant the impact of current events on human lives. Understanding can help us heal. Read More

When friends come together, this is what happens!

Voices from the Field | April 13, 2017 | By:

img_2564-croppedWe believe in the power of face-to-face conversation and we value community. This comes through in our programs, which forward our mission to use history, culture and conversation to strengthen community life. And so when we moved into our new office space last summer, we knew it was a good excuse for a party.

Last week, we welcomed friends new and old to our Regent Street office. Our cozy space was filled with music, food, conversation, and lots of good energy.  Now in our 45th year, WHC ties and friendships are deep and strong.  Thank you to all who were with us!

You may know that federal support for the humanities goes back to the founding of the National Endowment for the Humanities 1965.  You may not know this fun piece of American history that Dena Wortzel, WHC director, shared at our party.  Until the founding of the United States Postal Service in 1792 with the Post Office Act, postal service in countries around the world was created for and used by nations’ elites.  Our founding fathers believed a literate populace was the key to sustaining democratic institutions. They thought the way to achieve this was to circulate newspapers to every American.

After independence from England, the new government created a system of routes and established that all newspapers could be mailed at the same low rate. This set off an explosion of new newspapers from all sorts of political viewpoints. The post office was the main way, sometimes the only way, people got information. From this initial and fundamental structuring of a system to provide access to news and differing viewpoints, our democracy grew.

The WHC takes pride in its 45 year history of partnerships and friendships with people, communities, and organizations around the state. Federal support, and therefore our future, is uncertain.  We are grateful for your support, and all that you do to keep humanities conversations vibrant.

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Thank you for contacting your members of Congress to ask for his or her support for full funding of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Federal/State Partnership, which funds the Wisconsin Humanities Council. To find your representative, click here.


$62,195 in WHC grants awarded in 2017Listen to WI Life Radio Essays about WorkRequest for Proposals to the WHC


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Announcing November Mini Grant Awards

Humanities Programs in Focus | December 8, 2016 | By:

2016 WHC Grant AwardsWe’re pleased to award $12,061 in Mini Grants to projects around the state that reach all ages, covering topics from race and ethnicity to immigration, and from literature to local history.

Congratulations to these seven organizations! These projects tell Wisconsin’s stories and bring communities together to explore important themes and reach groups often overlooked. We welcome you to be a part of the story and see these projects and events.

Inspiration starts here!

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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

Announcing Major Grant Awards

Humanities Programs in Focus | October 20, 2016 | By:

2016 WHC Grant AwardsWe’re pleased to award $49,921 to five incredible projects that tackle everything from race and ethnicity to a look at past, present and future water infrastructure explored via a mobile video game.

Congratulations to these five organizations! These incredible projects tell meaningful stories about Wisconsin and bring communities together to explore important themes. We welcome you to be a part of the story and see these projects and events.

Inspiration starts here!

Read More

Announcing our latest Mini Grant Awards

Humanities Programs in Focus | August 31, 2016 | By:

2016 WHC Grant Awards

It is Back-to-School time and our latest round of Mini Grants are going to support a handful of stellar public humanities projects to benefit schools and students. A couple we have supported in years past (the Prescott School District’s immersion program and the state-wide Project Citizen) while others are new and timely.

Congratulations to these five organizations! Please take a moment to be inspired by all the hard work you and your colleagues engage in around Wisconsin. And if you have the chance, we encourage you to be in touch with each other, share stories, and get out to see these projects and events

Sharing the best of the public humanities. Inspiration starts here!

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Dialing Into the History of La Crosse

Humanities Programs in Focus | July 28, 2016 | By:

Hear Here sign in downtown La Crosse

“[O]ur heritage is complicated and nuanced. New forms of history include more voices, which means acknowledging more aspects of our past and present and taking into consideration the narratives of both the winners and the losers.” -Ariel Beaujot, Project Director for Hear, Here, an interactive oral history of La Crosse

Hear, Here is the first project of the new Public and Policy History Major in the UW-La Crosse Department of History. When the Project Director and Associate Professor of History, Ariel Beaujot, pitched her interactive oral history idea for a Major Grant to the WHC in 2014, she wrote, “This is street level history.”

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When is it time to consider your mission?

Humanities Programs in Focus | April 13, 2016 | By:


There is a lot going on these days. We are all busy with the hard work of the public humanities. It is impossible to slow the onslaught of daily details. In the routine of ‘getting things done,’ we sometimes fail to pause long enough to take in the big picture.  But to provide meaningful programs within an ever-changing landscape, we have to attempt to understand our place in that landscape. A former board member, who led the WHC through many rounds of strategic planning, called this “changing the tires while the car is moving.”

Who do you serve? What are the needs of this group, and these individuals? How do you serve these needs?

In other words, what is your mission? If we’re to continue to do good work, all of us have to check in regularly with our reason for existence. Why? Because needs change, for all sorts of reasons.  Read More

What Is(n’t) Oral History. Or, the Rise of the “Oral History of [Fill in the Blank].”

Tips for Grant Writers, Voices from the Field | November 18, 2015 | By:



Troy Reeves works as an Oral Historian for the UW-Madison Archives, which is a part of the UW-Madison Libraries. For over ten years,  Troy has been keeping an eye on where and how the term ‘oral history’ pops up on the internet. It turns out that not all of the claims meet his professional criteria for best-practices in recording, preserving and archiving personal stories. 

After arguing for the power and the value of Oral History in a previous Humanities Booyah article, he suggested it might be useful to address the common use of the term for those of us working in the public humanities. Troy’s love for pop-culture doesn’t mean he wants to see the work of Oral Historians go completely rogue, at least not entirely.

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Art and/or Humanities: What’s the difference?

Humanities Programs in Focus, Voices from the Field | September 23, 2015 | By:

For many of us, the arts and the humanities go hand-in-hand. Our experiences in both life and in our work illustrate how the things we call The Arts (like theater, dance, music, and visual art forms) are influenced by, and intertwined with, the the things we call The Humanities (like history, philosophy, literature and folklore). And vice versa. 
Is it sometimes helpful to tease apart the differences? Is it meaningful to articulate the differing methods each employs, in order to better appreciate what each brings to the human experience? 
For example, over many years consulting with people interested in applying for grant money from the WHC, I found myself building fences around The Arts and The Humanities, then explaining where the openings could be found and best accessed. When I keep it simple, I say that The Arts are the doing part; The Humanities are the talking about it.
This feels particularly useful when the goal is to make the mission of the Wisconsin Humanities Council’s grant program understood. However, all of us on staff concede that, happily, nothing in the real world is so black-and-white. The strongest community driven projects are generally those that do not try to build fences of any kind.
For us, this topic is extremely relevant because of our unique mission and a unique role in the state.  So relevant that our current issue of ON is dedicated to Art, with a focus on some WHC-funded projects that demonstrate how The Arts and The Humanities support each other, walk the fence line together, and intermingle naturally.
How relevant is it in the work that you do? We have opened up the conversation by asking some people whose work in the state often lives in the grey area between The Arts and The Humanities. We hope that by hearing the complexity of the responses from these cultural professionals, we all learn a bit more about how The Arts and The Humanities engage us in meaningful ways, and how they are essential to our existence.
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In your work, how do you see the connection, or overlap, between the arts and the humanities? When or why do you ever find it useful to make distinctions between them?

“Art and the humanities go hand in hand. Art illustrates the humanities, while the humanities translate and interpret the illustration.” -Walter Sava
Walter Sava has led a number of community service organizations, including La Casa de Esperanza, Centro de la Comunidad Unida, and Latino Arts, Inc. and is a Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters Fellow, as well as a member of the WHC board.
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“In my life, cross-pollination defines the relationship between the arts and humanities.  They work in tandem, one feeds the other. The harder question is the chicken and egg dilemma. As we engage in the making or appreciation of art, we employ the reflection, the ideas and understanding we think of as the humanities. Does contemplation of experiential culture(s) lead to the expression of vision in the arts?  Or does the intuitive creation of beauty through art lead to thoughtful or “studied” exploration of human experience? In my own practice as artist and humanities scholar, the two are mutually supportive and invariably intersect.  I consciously pry them apart sometimes when I ask students to first study and analyze the work of a writer and then try their own hand at the creative act.  But even then, they do neither in a void.  Maybe the arts and humanities are like Donne’s compass legs, always creating the circle together.” -Kimberly Blaeser

Kimberly Blaeser is the 2015-2016 Wisconsin Poet Laureate. She is the author of three acclaimed poetry collections and works as Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she teaches Creative Writing, Native American Literature, and American Nature Writing.

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“In making documentary films, my work by practice must overlap with the humanities. My work begins with research of social histories and involves elements of oral history. It is informed by or understood via the lens of the humanities. And like most who work across genres, I am always learning through dialogue with humanists how to show connection, belonging-ness, and credibility so that the subject attracts the support and respect it deserves. I find that if I describe my work as conceptual or experimental, it seems to imply that it is too revisionist to be believed. I see the separation [between the arts and the humanities] only when my work becomes less conventional, more literary. ” -Portia Cobb
Portia Cobb is Associate Professor, Film, Video, Animation and New Genres at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is also a former member of the WHC Board and recently worked with Arts@Large to produce a documentary film called “Milwaukee Freedom Summer Pilgrimage, 2014.” 
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“The beautiful wigwassi jiiman (birchbark canoe) that Ojibwe artist Wayne Valliere created with  ENVISION students from Lac du Flambeau represents art.  The lessons we learn from looking at and talking about the through-line of centuries of Ojibwe culture that the canoe represents and how tradition can carry culture, represents the humanities. ” -Carol Amour                                            
Carol Amour is the Community Outreach and Special Projects Coordinator for the Lac du Flambeau Tribe and she works to bring generations together to share and celebrate traditional arts.
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“In my work, the arts and humanities are deeply connected because Wisconsin Life seeks to not only show what our state’s residents create but also to ask why they do it and what it means to them in the stories we tell. It’s that association – between the doing and the talking – where we discover what it means to be human, and particularly for me, a human in Wisconsin.” -Erika Janik 
Erika Janik is an historian, freelance writer, and radio producer for Wisconsin Life, which celebrates the rich stories of Wisconsin on both Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.
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“The arts and humanities are complementary practices that exist in a shared space and that do the work of making sense of human experiences.  In my work programming public education in music and dance, I want to offer participants as rich an experience as possible, and I think of arts techniques and humanistic inquiry as two mutually informing tools to do that. For example, one class may teach blues guitar chords while another may teach the history of the genre. Ideally a curious student gets some of both, and each one draws on and feeds into shared culture.” -Jessica Coutier
 Jessica Courtier is the Program Director in Music and Performing Arts at UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies.
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“As an editor, I tend to think of the humanities in literal terms; that is, humanities as the intellectual and physical pursuit of the essential elements that make us human. Visual and performing arts reflect these essential elements, as do literature, history, and the applied and theoretical sciences. Where I work, at the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, we explore the intersections between the disciplines, those “hot spots” in between them where friction leads to the conflagration of ideas. But these ideas are only useful if applied to the betterment and understanding of life. It is in this application that the humanities are found.” -Jason Smith
Jason Smith is the editor of Wisconsin People and Ideas Magazine and communications director for the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring the issues, ideas, and people that shape Wisconsin thought and culture.
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“Years ago, I was reviewing a job application for a position in our English department, and I was struck by how the applicant described why teaching in the humanities was important to him. He wrote that humanities education is important because we must understand how forces in the world seek to dehumanize us. As an English professor, I focus on how language has developed to define and confine our humanity in a fashion that often escapes our awareness. The arts expand the possibilities for our humanity, expand our consciousness in so many directions, but for me their deep value is in how they inspire new ways of perceiving relationships. These are the connections that are unimagined or impossible or undesirable because of how meanings become dominant in society, a kind of mental shorthand for making sense of the world. The arts raise us from the grooves of those facile meanings and believe in our potential as human beings for more and for better.” -David Shih

David Shih is a professor in the English department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, holds a PhD in Creative Writing, and blogs about racism at


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“The arts are part of the humanities.  The humanities are part of the arts.  They are mixed, mingled, and gloriously interdependent.  The historian who creates a turn of phrase that perfectly captures our relationship to our past is an artist.  The actor who sits in a bar after a show and dissects the audience’s reaction to the performance is a humanist.  I don’t know how useful it is to draw a distinction between the two, but I do know that it is essential to celebrate both.” -Ron Scot Fry
Ron Scot Fry has been the Artistic Director of Milwaukee’s Optimist Theater for over 20 years and produces a one-man show called “Shakespeare Here and Now” in schools and libraries around Wisconsin.

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Keep Reading…the latest issue of ON: Art here.

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Over $7,500 was given in grants recently. Read about the funded projects here!ShopTalk launches this fall! Learn what it is and why we want to talk about work!We are lucky to be working with the HRK Foundation to offer grant money to organizations serving northern Wisconsin. Learn more!