We Are the Humanities

What are the humanities, why do they matter, 

how have they made a difference in your life?

To celebrate our 40th year anniversary of grant making, programming, and partnerships that connect Californians to each other, we invited a group of prominent Californians to explore what the humanities mean to them. 

We invite you to watch, listen, and read as they dig into the deep importance of the humanities in shaping their lives and understanding the world. We are sharing what they have to say every week via our website, and social media channels, and invite you to tell us why the humanities are important to you!

Check back every week for more video, audio, and written releases!

Scroll down for more interviews.

Teddy Cruz, Architect & Professor 

 Cruz is an architect and professor at UC San  Diego, and his work has been exhibited at  internationally known venues including the  Tijuana Cultural Center. Based in San Diego,  Cruz and his team, in collaboration & with  community-based nonprofits, explore new  visions for affordable housing, in relationship to  an urban policy more inclusive of social and  cultural programs for the city.

Vicki Ruiz, Professor and Author

 Recipient of the 2014 National Humanities  Medalist for her contribution as a historian, Ruiz  is an author and Distinguished Professor of  history and Chair of Chicano/Latino Studies at  UC Irvine. In 2012, she became the first Latina  historian inducted into the American Academy of  Arts & Sciences. She is currently president-elect  of the American Historical Association.

Tracy Fullerton, Game Designer

 Fullerton is an award-winning game designer,  educator and author. She is currently Director of  the joint USC Games Program, which is a  collaboration between the School of Cinematic  Arts and the Viterbi School of Engineering.

John Cho, Film & Television Actor

 Cho is an American film and television star. Born  in Seoul, South Korea, Cho moved to California at  a young age, obtained an English degree at UC  Berkeley before pursuing an acting career.  Starring as the first Asian to play a romantic male  lead in a television series, Cho continues to  inform about Asian stereotypes in the American  media.

Alice Waters, Owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant and Founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project

 “The principles that guide my life’s work are all rooted in  the humanities. Through farming, food and cooking we are  brought into an understanding of what it means to be  human and we can share in a common experience that  connects everyone on the planet – young and old.”

 -Alice Waters

 Photo Credit: Amanda Marsalis

Janice Mirikitani, Poet & Activist

 Mirkitani is an American Sansei poet and activist.  Together with her husband, Reverend Cecil  Williams, Mirkitani founded Glide Memorial  Church, a San Francisco-based Church and  Foundation providing refuge and services to  people of all backgrounds.

Jill Tarter, Astronomer

 An astronomer, whose major scientific work has  focused on the search for extraterrestrial life,  Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI  Research at the SETI institute in Mountain View,  California. Her work has brought her wide  recognition in the scientific community, including  the Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in  Aerospace.

Michael Govan, Director, LACMA

 Govan is the current director of the Los Angeles  County Museum of Art. Under his guidance  LACMA has expanded its collection, and built  permanent public installations, transferring a  regional institution into a renowned cultural  experience. Prior to LACMA, Govan was was the  President and Director of Dia Art Foundation.

L. Frank Manriquez, Artist, Writer, Activist

 L. Frank Manriquez is a Tongva/Ajachmem artist,  writer and tribal activist. Her paintings have been  featured in galleries and museums nationally and  internationally. L. Frank is the co-founder of  Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival  and serves on the board of The Cultural  Conservancy.

Craig Watson, Director, California Arts Council

 Watson was appointed as the Director of the  California Arts Council in 2011, a state-wide  agency whose mission is to advance California  through the arts and creativity. Watson has an  extensive background in the private, public and  nonprofit sectors.

Father Greg Boyle, Author, Activist, Founder of Homeboy Industries

 Boyle, a Jesuit priest, New York Times bestselling  author, and subject of Academy award-winning  documentary G-Dog, is the founder and Director  of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest  gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry  program in the world.

Malcolm Margolin, Author and Publisher

 Margolin, author of eight books, is also a  publisher, and the founder of Heyday Books, an  independent nonprofit publisher and cultural  institution in Berkeley.

Janet Napolitano,  President, University of California

 Napolitano, a distinguished public servant with a  record of leading large, complex, organizations at  the federal and state levels. Former secretary of  Homeland Security and Governor of Arizona,  Napolitano is currently the president of the  University of California.

Peter Walker, Landscape Architect 

 Walker has designed hundreds of projects,  taught, lectured, written, and served as an advisor  to numerous public agencies. The scope of his  concerns is expansive—from the design of small  gardens to the planning of cities, with a particular  emphasis on urban-regeneration projects,  including co-designing the 9/11 memorials in  New York City. Two gigantic voids – in the  footprints of the Twin Towers – and a  surrounding forest of oak trees form the core of  the rebuilt World Trade Center and provide a  place for contemplation and remembrance.

Luis Rodriguez, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles

 Luis Rodriguez is an American poet, novelist,  journalist, critic, and columnist. Author of 15  books, Rodriguez was the 2014 Los Angeles Poet  Laureate. He is the founding editor of the Tia  Chucha Press and co-founder/president of the Tia  Chucha’s Centro Cultural Bookstore in the San  Fernando Valley.

Julie Su, California Labor Commissioner

 Nationally recognized expert on workers' rights  and civil rights, Su has dedicated her  distinguished legal career to advancing justice on  behalf of disenfranchised communities. A  MacArthur Foundation “Genius,” Su was  appointed by Governor Jerry Brown and assumed  the position of California Labor Commissioner,  ensuring a just day's pay in every workplace in the  State and promoting economic justice through  robust enforcement of labor laws.

Susan Straight, Author

 Straight, a native Californian, is an award-  winning author who still resides in her hometown  of Riverside. There she co-founded the Master of  Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Writing for the  Performing Arts program at University of  California, Riverside, where she is currently a  Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing and  the director of the graduate program.

Eugene & Emiliano Rodriguez, Los Cenzontles

 Eugene Rodriguez, a Grammy-nominated  musician and community leader, founded Los  Cenzontles Mexican Cultural Arts Center, where  he and his son Emiliano amplify Mexican roots  across the Bay Area and beyond in this music  academy, community space for youth and  families, and hub for Latino artists.

Governor Jerry Brown

 As both the 34th and the 39th Governor of  California, Governor Brown is the longest-serving  governor in state history. Brown has devoted his  life to Californians through both his legal and  political careers.

George Takei, Actor, Author, Director, Activist

 Takei is an actor, director, author and activist,  best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu, in the  classic TV series Star Trek. In addition to being an  actor, Takei has become a proponent of LGBT  rights and a political activist.

Héctor Tobar, Author and Journalist

 Tobar is a Los Angeles author and journalist,  who, while working for the Los Angeles Times as  a city reporter, was part of a team of reporters  that earned a Pulitzer-Prize for their coverage of  the 1992 L.A. riots. Winner of numerous literary  awards and author of four books, Tobar was  named one of the 100 most influential Hispanics  in the United States by Hispanic Magazine.

Larry Kramer, President & CEO of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

 Former Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and  Dean at Stanford Law School, Kramer is currently  the President & CEO of the William and Flora  Hewlett Foundation. At Stanford, Kramer was an  entrepreneurial leader, pushing changes at the  law school that included new joint degree  programs and a bigger focus on public service as  well as hands-on legal training. This approach is a  natural fit for the Hewlett Foundation,  celebrating its 50th anniversary. This leader in  philanthropy is known for taking on issues of  significance, including democracy, global  development, the environment, education, and  the performing arts.

 Angela Glover Blackwell, President & CEO of PolicyLink

 Blackwell started PolicyLink in 1999 and  continues to drive its mission of advancing  economic and social equity. Blackwell is a  national authority on poverty issues, and received  national recognition for pioneering a community  building approach to social change through in -  depth understanding of local conditions,  community-driven systems reform, and an  insistence on accountability.

 Betty Reid Soskin, U.S. National Park Service Ranger

 Born in Detroit, raised in New Orleans and  making California her home for the majority of  her life, at 95 years of age, Soskin, the great -  granddaughter of a slave, is the oldest US  National Park Ranger. For the last 10 years she  has served as an interpretive ranger at the Rosie  the Riveter WWII Home Front National  Historical Park in Richmond, California.

 Luis Valdez, Film Director, Producer, Writer, & Teacher

 From the migrant labor fields to Hollywood, Luis  Valdez remains true to his original vision…  performance that addresses the Chicano  experience in America in a context meaningful to  all Americans. Valdez’s credits include founder &  artistic director of the internationally renowned  El Teatro Campesino, recipient of the 2015  National Medal of Arts, and founding member of  the California Arts Council.

 Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California

 Cantil-Sakauye is the 28th Chief Justice of  California. The first Asian-Filipina American and  the second woman to serve as the state’s chief  justice, Cantil-Saukauye has served for more than  20 years on California appellate and trial courts.  She has been appointed or elevated to higher  office by three governors.


 Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Poet, Dancer, Playwright

 Originally from New York, Bamuthi is the Chief  of Program and Pedagogy at Yerba Buena Center  for the Arts in San Francisco, one of the nation’s  most innovative contemporary art centers. He is  the artistic director of the 7-part HBO  documentary Russell Simmons presents Brave New  Voices and an inaugural recipient of the United  States Artists' Rockefeller Fellowship, which  annually recognizes 50 of the country’s “greatest  living artists."

 Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate

 The son of migrant workers, Herrera is a poet,  performer, writer, cartoonist, teacher and activist.  Educated at UCLA and Stanford University,  Herrera has published more than a dozen poetry  collections, written short stories, and young adult  novels and was named U.S. Poet Laureate in  2015.

 William "Bro" Adams, NEH Chairman

 Adams was nominated by President Barack  Obama as the 10th Chairman of the NEH. A  native of Birmingham, Michigan and son of an  auto industry executive, Adams earned his  undergraduate degree in philosophy at Colorado  College and a Ph.D. from UC Santa Cruz in the  History of Consciousness Program. Adams is a  committed advocate for liberal arts education and  brings to the Endowment a long record of  leadership in higher education and the  humanities.

 Isabel Allende, Author

 Allende, a journalist and author was born in  Lima, Peru, and was the granddaughter of  Salvador Allende, the first socialist president of  Chile. Allende's life was forever changed when  General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup in  1973, toppling Salvador Allende's government.  Allende has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area  since 1987, and became a U.S. citizen in 1993.  Allende's novels are often based upon her  personal experience and historical events and pay  homage to the lives of women.