In September 2021, Illinois Humanities granted $1.4 million in support of cultural groups across the state of Illinois suffering the enduring challenges posed by Covid-19. Among these 254 grants were some 44 project grants supporting specific cultural initiatives. We recently talked with six of the folks leading a handful of these projects and wanted to share out just a little of what we heard about those involved as well as updates on the projects they are leading. Collectively these projects reveal the wide, and vibrant, realm of public humanities projects taking place across the state of Illinois. This is exciting work, and there’s much more to come!
Jodi Wortsman is a teacher-librarian at Medinah Middle School in Roselle, in DuPage County to the northwest of Chicago, where she’s been for 5 years. Jodi previously had a very different career at the Federal Reserve, but after having kids decided to return to school for a master’s degree in library science. She enjoys being in a small district: “I know every kid by name, even what books they like,” she says. The school received support for a project called “Empathy through Literature.” After spending more than a year in relative isolation due to the pandemic, Jodi’s students really struggled to communicate and maintain healthy relationships with their teachers and peers upon returning to school. This project allowed them to create shared experiences by reading and discussing books together. All 220 6th to 8th graders chose one of three books, reflecting their own life experiences (a book as a ‘mirror’) or helping them to relate to the lived experiences of others (a book as a ‘window’). All students received their own copy of the book, read it together in small groups facilitated by a teacher, and met with the author over Zoom. This first-time program was supported with an Illinois Humanities project grant. “When I saw the grant notice, I was inspired to create this program to help our kids through a rough time,” Jodi said.
Catherine Game, executive director at the Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, located just west of Deerfield, is also heading up a project that centers on youth. The work of Brushwood, which centers the belief that nature and art have the power to heal, extends across Lake County. Prior to Brushwood, Catherine, an artist, was at Chicago Wilderness as well in the City of Chicago’s Department of the Environment. Brushwood began the “Our Future: Youth Voices on Climate Justice and Healing” project working with area youth to explore their perspectives on nature and the environment; this work evolved into a partnership with Clean Power Lake County, which is leading a campaign for the safe closing of a coal plant in Waukegan.
Brushwood produced a coloring book telling the story of Eddie Flores, a 2020 graduate of Waukegan High School who became civically involved after learning of the high asthma rates in his community, which is adjacent to the plant. The coloring book, designed by illustrator Diana Nava and produced in both English and Spanish, has a print run of 1,500 copies and is also available brushwoodcenter.org/ejcoloringbook.html.
Maggie Catania, executive director at the Calumet Collaborative, on the opposite end of the extensive Chicago area, is leading a compelling community-based humanities project focused on local wellbeing, called “Calumet Conversations: Historic Outsider Economies / Just Economic Futures.” Maggie brings an extensive background in urban planning, youth development, and museums, and has an acute sense of how conversations focused on the humanities can contribute to community development. The Collaborative is partnering with history teachers at Washington High School, as well as far South Side and South Suburban history organizations, to research micro-economies, i.e. where people who haven’t been served by the dominant economy have taken an alternative path. For example, the partnership is currently researching the site of a South Chicago farm, the Urban Growers Collective, that 120 years ago was the site of a Red Light District. This exploration into history, and grassroots solutions to economic survival, will culminate in public programs to be led by local youth to take place at a farmer’s market this summer.
Jeanne Long, executive director at the Chicago Collections Consortium, which consists of more than 60 museums, libraries, and collections that share archives on the subject of Chicago history, is also leading a project involving multiple agencies. The goal of the “Digital Exhibits Curriculum Guide” initiative is to create educational resources in tandem with Chicago Collections’ digital exhibits that explore specific chapters in Chicago history. This initiative is in partnership with collections of its members such as the Chicago Cultural Alliance and others. Located here, this exciting project has already led to a guide featuring stories on immigration, another on the city’s urban ecology, and one on the 1963 school boycott.
Jamila Wicks of the Illinois State Museum Society shared how the Society has been using its project grant funding to support the Illinois State Museum’s work with tribal leaders to draft a land acknowledgement statement. Additionally, the project grant supports the work of the Museum with Native American leaders to incorporate Native languages into its exhibitions at the Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewistown, Illinois. The project is titled “Indigenous Illinois.”
Antonio Ramirez, an associate professor of History and Political Science at Elgin Community College, is leading an Illinois Humanities grant-funded project meant to collect oral histories from suburban Latinx immigrants. Ramirez, who has been at the ECC since 2014, was previously a historical research consultant for the National Park Service, before getting his PhD from the University of Michigan on the migration of Latinx residents to suburban Chicago.
The “Chicagolandia: Oral Histories of Chicago’s Latinx Suburbs” will include a public-facing website featuring some of the project’s more than 30 oral histories and to be launched in the fall of 2022.
We will share out more on the extensive projects that Illinois Humanities funded as part of this work as projects come to fruition. Below is a full list of the 44 projects funded through this initiative.
- 6018North, “RAISIN: Panel Discussions, Performances, Events” (Chicago)
- A Gift of Love Charity, Inc., “Art Racial Reconciliation Documentary Project” (Carbondale)
- Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, “Testimonios as Journalism and Storytelling” (Chicago)
- Barrington History Museum, “Applebee One Room 1900 Schoolhouse and Grandmothers and Grandfathers Historic Trunk Program” (Barrington)
- Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods, “Our Future: Youth Voices on Climate Justice and Healing” (Riverwoods)
- Calumet Collaborative, “Calumet Conversations: Historic Outsider Economies / Just Economic Futures” (Chicago)
- Center for Racial Harmony, “Racial Harmony Peace Festival” (Belleville)
- Chicago Collections Consortium, “Digital Exhibits Resource Guides” (Chicago)
- Chicago Humanities Festival, “Musical Legacies of the South Side” (Chicago)
- Chicago Public Library Foundation, “Connection, Reconnection, and the Power of Place: The 2021 One Book, One Chicago Program” (Chicago)
- ConTextos, “Ways to Tell – Community Events, dissemination and Engagement” (Chicago)
- Crossing Borders Music, “Celebrating Juneteenth” (Chicago)
- Edwardsville Public Library, “3rd Annual Edwardsville Book Festival” (Edwardsville)
- Elgin Community College, “Chicagolandia: Oral Histories of Chicago’s Latinx Suburbs” (Elgin)
- Front Porch Arts Center, “Westside Story Walk” (Chicago)
- Governors State University, “Creating Compassionate Communities with Mike Wiley mini-residency” (University Park)
- Heritage Ensemble, “Memorializing the Work of Glenn Burleigh” (Peoria)
- Hyde Park Arts Center, “Refuse/Reuse/Rot: Culture Change in the Age of Climate Change” (Chicago)
- Illinois State Museum Society, “Indigenous Illinois” (Springfield)
- International Children’s Media Center, “WorldScene/Global Girls Immersive Media Arts Residency” (Chicago)
- Kuumba Lynx, “Read Aloud (R.A.W.)” (Chicago)
- Lewis University, “Science and Faith Series” (Romeoville)
- Looking for Lincoln, “Looking for Lincoln Stories” (Springfield)
- Lorde, Rustin & Bates, “2021 Fahrenheit Chicago: LIVE, WERK, POSE!” (Chicago)
- Madison County Historical Society, “Historical Driving Tour App for Madison County, Illinois” (Edwardsville)
- Medinah School District 11, “Building Empathy and Strengthening Connections Through Literature” (Roselle)
- Millikin University, “Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre 2021-2022 Season” (Decatur)
- My True North Artistry, “Self Care Saturday” (Urbana)
- National Indo-American Museum, “E/merge: Art and Identity of the Indian Diaspora Programming” (Chicago)
- Northeastern Illinois University Foundation, “Discovering Identity through “Los Consejos”’ (Chicago)
- Ray Bradbury Experience Museum, “Ray Bradbury: Waukegan Students and the Local Experience” (Waukegan)
- Rockford Art Museum, “Public Programs for ‘My Way: Black Art from the American South’” (Rockford)
- Route History Institute, “Junior Historian Program” (Springfield)
- Savanna Historical Society, “Streets of Savanna” (Savanna)
- Staunton Public Library, “Permanent Story Book Walk in the Park” (Staunton)
- Stickney-Forest View Public Library, “One Community, One Conversation-Catalyzing a Community” (Stickney)
- Storycatchers Theatre, “Changing Voices” (Chicago)
- The Climate Economy Education Inc, “The Local Cultural Impact of 2021 Resilience Fairs in Southern Illinois” (Makanda)
- The House Theatre of Chicago, “The Tragedy of King Christophe Audience Conversations” (Chicago)
- The Peoria Art Guild, “Understanding Arts and Culture Around the World” (Peoria)
- The Voices and Faces Project, “The Stories We Tell” (Chicago)
- Ukrainian National Museum, “Storytelling and Dioramas” (Chicago)
- Waukegan Park District, “Waukegan’s Ray Bradbury Literary Walk” (Waukegan)