Late last year, when Illinois Humanities began work on our report, On Wisdom and Vision: Humanities Organizations in Illinois during COVID-19, we were unprepared for what we learned.
Humanities organizations across the state not only have been offering continued access to the humanities during the pandemic, but also are using the humanities to support some of our state’s most vulnerable and hard-hit communities in rural and urban places, support beyond the humanities. We also learned about the extent to which many of our grantee partners operate in parts of our state in which households struggle to make ends meet, and in which COVID-19 has had a devastating, and disproportionate, impact.
We had some sense of the diversity of innovative and community-centered programs public humanities organizations were offering before the pandemic — but we did not anticipate the ways in which these organizations would be serving as places of trust, belonging, and resilience. Humanities organizations are helping people reflect, heal, and imagine.
Our grantee partner Artists ReEnvisioning Tomorrow in Peoria partnered with Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum to create art kits for kids; each included three lesson plans, materials for the three projects, and a booklet with additional ideas or cultural connections. The Chicago-based Puerto Rican Arts Alliance likewise created virtual programming and sent art supplies to the homes of participating students. The Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, in Riverwoods, produced more than 1,200 mask-making kits as part of its Art Supply Exchange. Kits in both Spanish and English were distributed to Lake County hospitals, clinics, assisted living centers, and families.
Illinois’ humanities “ecosystem” reaches every county and, in some cases, has been documenting and preserving history and community narratives for more than a century. We remain committed to ensuring this ecosystem is stronger, more inclusive, more accessible, more resilient, and more visible.
From left, Dawoud Bey and Tonika Lewis Johnson
On May 20th, we will celebrate this public humanities ecosystem and honor Tonika Lewis Johnson and Dawoud Bey, two Black photographers/activists who help build community resilience, who inspire, who teach. Tonika and Dawoud are powerful visual storytellers; they cross media boundaries in ways that bring diverse audiences and stories together. The awards to these humanists underscore the power of the arts and humanities to lead our communities toward a more just society for all, particularly for communities of color, and they honor Tonika and Dawoud for their powerful contributions to our communities, their fields, and the humanities.
Post-pandemic recovery and ongoing racial justice work in Illinois will absolutely require the humanities, and the work and visions of humanists of every kind and in all corners of our state.
Please join us on May 20th for the Illinois Public Humanities Awards, to celebrate Tonika Lewis Johnson and Dawoud Bey, and to support the public humanities in Illinois.
I look forward to seeing you then,
Gabrielle Lyon, Executive Director
P.S. Celebrate the humanities in Illinois with us on May 20 at the Public Humanities Awards Luncheon, honoring Dawoud Bey and Tonika Lewis Johnson. #2021PHA