Cal Humanities

"Part of resilience is finding joy, finding beauty, finding love."

— George Takei, Actor, Author, Director, Activist

"Part of resilience is finding joy, finding beauty, finding love."

— George Takei, Actor, Author, Director, Activist

History of California Humanities – 2015-Present

What were you doing in 1975…1985…1995?

Since California Humanities first opened its doors in 1975,  we have sought to encourage people to:

  • learn more about the complex history of our state and all its peoples
  • to gain a greater understanding of our individual and collective experiences
  • to think about the values, dreams, and aspirations we share so that we can work to create the California we want to see in the future.

This has been and remains at the forefront of our vision of what the humanities should be and can do – connect us all through the human experience.

When we celebrated our 40th anniversary in 2015, we decided it was a good time to take stock of what California Humanities and our partners have accomplished over the past four decades. Organized chronologically by 10-year intervals pegged to milestone events in the wider world, this timeline is supplemented by short stories and illustrative materials related to key programs, projects, and people who have made outstanding contributions to our mission. As you will see, our history reflects our deep commitment to the core values of the humanities while striving for innovation, relevance, and responsiveness to an ever-changing world.

Over time, we will be adding more material and new information to this site. If you are a past grantee, project partner, or program participant, consider sharing your experiences with us here – we’d love to hear from you. We hope you will enjoy this brief excursion through our past and that you’ll join us as we write the next chapter of California Humanities’ story.

Julie Fry
President & CEO

Credits: This timeline was developed by California Humanities staff with support from University of California Public Fellows, Sarah Papazoglakis (UC Santa Cruz, Literature), Cherish Asha Bolton (UC Irvine, History), and Megan Cole (UC Irvine, English). We appreciate the contributions made by other staff members, former and current, and the generosity of all those who shared their stories and impressions with us.

The California Council for the Humanities and Public Policy, one of 56 independent state humanities councils launched by National Endowment for the Humanities, officially began its work in fall 1974 when a group of academic and public leaders convened in San Francisco to confront the challenging task of determining how the disciplines of the humanities might address the difficult practical problems of public life.

In the current decade, the vision for California Humanities has grown to see new leadership, new grants programs, and a strategic focus on education, public engagement, and field-building.

New leadership brought renewed energy and enthusiasm, and fresh approaches to the organization’s work. A new name – California Humanities — signaled the commitment to serve the entire state, matched by expanded communications and outreach efforts. A new suite of grantmaking programs, Humanities for All, was developed to encourage projects in underserved communities, both rural and urban. A unique program, Library Innovation Lab, was designed to support libraries in welcoming immigrants to their communities. Recognizing the importance of engaging the next generation, the organization embarked on a new initiative, Youth Perspective and the Future of California, including new grantmaking and direct programming to reach youth and support emerging journalism fellows at community colleges.

Growing concerns about threats to our democratic system of government and the legacies of racial violence and injustice spurred reflection. They led to programs that encourage reflection, discussion, and dialogue among people of diverse backgrounds and opinions and an organizational focus on equity. Finally, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the organization focused significant resources and energy on supporting the public humanities field, providing immediate relief resources and longer-term recovery and capacity building. These efforts have been rewarded by increased public and private support, including, for the first time, funding allocations in the California State budget.

2015-Present

2015

Julie Fry, President & CEO

Julie Fry becomes California Humanities’ President & CEO

Julie joined California Humanities as its President and CEO in 2015. Previously, Julie served as a Program Officer for the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California. She..Read More

2016

California Humanities Begins Work on its New 5 Year Strategic Goal

California Humanities Begins Work on its New 5 Year Strategic Goal

In the past two years, an organizational refresh, building upon our past work, has provided us with a new framework for strategic thinking to guide us forward. Last year we went..Read More

2016

On the Road

On the Road

The On the Road with California Humanities conversation series was part of the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires Initiative, an extensive collaboration between 46 state humanities councils with funding from the..Read More

2017

California Humanities Launches its “Whats Your California Story?” Organization Video

California Humanities Launches its “Whats Your California Story?” Organization Video

California. A state of almost 40 million people, with millions of stories to share. A state of writers, filmmakers, storytellers and artists. A state of innovators and thinkers. A state of..Read More

2017

Break dancers perform in front of a crowd.

Straight Outta Fresno

When one thinks of hip-hop, the city of Fresno might not be the first place that comes to mind. However, after receiving an inaugural Humanities for All grant from California..Read More

2018

Two people sit in chairs talking.

CA 2020 Initiative–Democracy & The Informed Citizen

California’s 13.5 million residents under the age of 25—a number greater than the total population of 46 other states—don’t always see the issues that matter to them reflected in the..Read More

2019

A large group of people stand in front of the American flag.

1st State Funding

In 2019, for the first time in its 44-year history, California Humanities received $1 million in funding from the State of California. Prior to 2019, California Humanities had relied solely..Read More

2019

An illustration of wildfire.

Second Responders Grants Launch

During the summer of 2019, in the aftermath of a devastating wildfire and flood season, California Humanities announced a new grant focus area for state nonprofits: Second Responders: The Humanities..Read More

2019

A panel of speakers sit on stools. A screen that says youth beat is behind them.

DISPLACED

In recent years, global economic and social forces have brought dramatic changes to Oakland, California. Year after year, rents grow higher, housing becomes scarcer, and longtime residents fear being pushed..Read More

2020

CA CARES Humanities Relief and Recovery Grants

CA CARES Humanities Relief and Recovery Grants

The CA CARES Humanities Relief and Recovery Grants supported public humanities organizations and humanities practitioners that had experienced a decrease or loss of revenue, programming opportunities, loss of paid staff,..Read More

2020

CRIP CAMP

CRIP CAMP

When CRIP CAMP, a documentary film about the origins of the disability rights movement received a 2021 Oscar nomination, it was the first time in the 92-year history of the..Read More

2020

A tree with colorful leaves filled with words.

California Humanities Releases Equity Values Statement

Equity—the principle at the heart of the humanities—is a steadfast commitment, constantly developing and evolving, and never “done.” To honor the centrality of equity, in late 2017, California Humanities began..Read More

2020

Library Innovation Lab Awarded 2020 Schwartz Prize

Library Innovation Lab Awarded 2020 Schwartz Prize

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, most aspects of public life shuttered overnight, and maintaining a sense of community became more important than ever before. That year, ten..Read More