Wisconsin: One out of 56

I’m not a Wisconsinite by birth, but I play one at work. I was born in Ohio but have lived for twelve years in Wisconsin, eight and a half of which I’ve spent working for the Wisconsin Humanities Council. At this point, I claim the state as home.

Every year I represent Wisconsin at a national conference with my peers from the state humanities offices around the country. This year, we were hosted by the Georgia Humanities Council in Atlanta and spent three days discussing the value and importance of the humanities in a thriving democracy. 

I am always proud to share what the Wisconsin Humanities Council has been doing. The states are all so different—in size, population, history and culture—and I’m amazed by the diversity of programs offered.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council, like the sister offices in all 50 states and six territories, is a unique organization. We receive seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which keeps our doors open, our phones working, and funds the projects we support through grants to libraries, schools, museums, historical societies, and others groups around the state.

The Wisconsin Humanities Council works to support and create programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.

President Obama recently announced his intent to nominate Jim Leach as the new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Leach has served as a respected member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa for 30 years. For the state council offices, the appointment is important because the Chairman of the NEH makes decisions that affect how much money each state has to use for grants, literacy programs, teacher workshops, and other initiatives that fulfill the missions of the councils.

The final session of the conference was about programming for youth. A representative from Alabama talked about a week-long summer course in literature, history, and writing for African American high school seniors to improve their chances of attending college. Another person, from North Carolina, explained a social mixer for 20-30 year olds in Greensboro funded by the state council where philosophical ideas were dramatized in hip, creative ways. In California, we learned, filmmakers and humanities professors worked with kids under age 18 to create documentary films about their experiences growing up in California.

I am coming home to Wisconsin with these ideas percolating, thinking hard about what it means to serve “everyone in Wisconsin.” Kathleen Mitchell, who represents the state councils at the National Endowment for the Humanities, charged all of us at the meeting to use our talents and resources for the youth of our states. After all, as the mission of the NEH says, our democracy depends on it.

In 2010, Wisconsin will be the proud host of the annual meeting for Program Officers from the State Humanities Councils.

Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs for the Wisconsin Humanities Council

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