Q&A with Rachel Lappin, executive director, Jacoby Arts Center
“Untold Black Stories: A downtown Alton visual listening tour”
Location: Alton, Illinois
Over the course of 2021, the Jacoby Arts Center partnered with other local cultural, community, and economic development entities to expand upon and engage the public with the “Untold Black Stories” project conducted by AllTown USA and StoryCorps.
Jacoby Arts Center
Founded in 2004, the Jacoby Arts Center is committed to nurturing and promoting the practice and appreciation of the arts through education, exhibits, cultural programs, and community outreach initiatives.
Q1: How do you see the arts/culture/humanities as being essential?
Rachel Lappin: To me, the humanities, culture, and the arts are about humans not just surviving, but thriving and cultivating resilience. The arts and creativity are vital in shaping our community’s future and economic viability. The arts strengthen our social ties, values, identity, and creativity – which all increase economic and emotional investment in our community so that we can all thrive. The arts make all of our lives better, our neighborhoods richer and our community stronger.
Q2: What is the most important thing people should know about your work?
Rachel Lappin: Outreach and cultural programs at Jacoby Arts Center are designed to enrich lives in the Riverbend through art and create opportunities for ALL to explore the arts. Alton’s historic, riverfront charm makes it a great place to live, work, and raise a family, but historically it has also been a quite divided and segregated community. In response to Black Lives Matter, we decided as an organization that we should have a plan in place to show that Black Lives Matter at Jacoby and in the arts. Jacoby Arts Center wanted to do more than make a statement on equality, we wanted to make sure our programming was inclusive, and ensure that everyone in our community could feel welcome and safe exploring the arts. We also wanted to get outside of the Jacoby building and reach more people in the community. One way we did this is by nurturing and promoting Untold Black Stories of Alton.
To celebrate and share the conversations recorded for Untold Black Stories of Alton by StoryCorps, Jacoby Arts Center commissioned large-format portraits of over 30 Alton residents to animate windows along the Broadway corridor with portraits of the participants. Through this listening tour and photography exhibit, we discover a rich and often untold history. We see ourselves in these stories. These are personal stories of family devotion, faith, dedication to hard work, friendship, honor, and reciprocity. They are filled with laughter, humility, and respect. They help us find our way back to one another and imagine a more inclusive society.
Q3: Who makes your work possible?
Rachel Lappin: Untold Black Stories of Alton is a collaboration between Jacoby Arts Center, Alton Main Street, Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau, All Town, USA, and Hayner Public Library designed to catalyze diversity, inclusivity and equity within the downtown Alton historic district and engage the community with these Untold Black Stories of Alton. This program was made possible with support from Illinois Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly. Jacoby Arts Center is partially funded by grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and by its 2021 presenting sponsor Simmons Hanly Conroy Law Firm.
About The Illinois Humanities Grantee Partner Spotlight
Illinois Humanities highlights the work of our Community Grants program partners through our “Grantee Spotlight.” It shines the light on our grantee partner’s work, offering details about the organization and the funded project, as well as a Q&A with a team member at the organization. More: ILHumanities.org/Spotlight
About Illinois Humanities
Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds.