Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

A woman, who is wearing a pink tank top and black running shorts, running up a hill with a city and the ocean below her.

Announcing the May 2020 Humanities For All Project Grant Awardees

Sixteen new public humanities grantees will receive funding through the latest round of  the Humanities for All Project Grant program, at a total of $301,735. They include the development of a new performance and dialogue project in Santa Monica exploring the experience of refugees and asylum seekers, a retrospective exhibition in San Diego featuring the work of Chicana artist Yolanda López, and a year-long series of community conversations in Oxnard highlighting the people, places, and perspectives surrounding homelessness. Every project in this round of grants contributes to a rich portrayal of California’s culture, people, and history. Two respond to our Youth Voices special focus area*.

Check out our calendar here and subscribe to our eNews to stay tuned for updates about events in your region.

Our Project Grant program, a branch of our Humanities for All grants, offers funding (from $10,000 to $20,000) awarded twice a year for larger public humanities projects of up to two-years duration from the award date. Programming formats include but are not limited to interpretive exhibits, community dialogue and discussion series, workshops and participatory activities, presentations and lectures, conversations and forums, and interactive and experiential activities.

Grants Awarded in May 2020

Both Eyes Open
Musical Traditions, San Francisco
Project Director: Paul Dresher

Both Eyes Open, a new chamber opera created by First Look Sonoma, with adjoining visual/oral histories drawn from community outreach activities, will explore a pivotal moment in U.S. history: the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during and after World War II. This history resonates today, as seen in the growth of anti-immigrant sentiments and fears related to cultural difference between ethnic groups resulting in conflicts. The project team includes many with immigrant backgrounds, including some whose family members experienced the internment. With performances planned in the Bay Area as well at several historic sites where Japanese Americans were interned in California, the project aims to reach a broad diverse audience across the state, including young and old, performing arts devotees, Japanese Americans with direct knowledge of the internment, and individuals of all ethnicities, in order to promote historical awareness and the need for greater equity within our society.

Chinese in the Richmond
Western Neighborhood Project, San Francisco
Project Director: Nicole Meldahl

Chinese in the Richmond is a collaboration between two community-based historical organizations, the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) and Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP), that illuminates the lives of Chinese Americans in San Francisco’s Richmond District from the community’s point of view. This project will continue and extend the work begun with the CHSA’s earlier exhibition, Chinese in the Sunset, in 2017, to explore and document the migration of Chinese families to the west side of the city. By weaving together recorded oral history interviews with primary resources, Chinese in the Richmond will produce a traveling interpretive exhibition with associated programming as well as an archive of bilingual transcripts. Potential venues include community centers, libraries, and ephemeral gatherings including street festivals and markets.

CLOSE TO HOME: A year-long community conversation spotlighting the people, places and perspectives surrounding homelessness
Oxnard Performing Arts Center, Oxnard
Project Director: Carolyn Mullin

Ventura County is being severely impacted by the state’s homeless crisis, with thousands of people living on the streets (including many near the Center), in vehicles or encampments, in shelters within the city, or temporarily staying with family and friends. As Oxnard prepares to open its first 24-hour, year-round shelter, the time is ripe for dialogue. CLOSE TO HOME: A year-long community conversation spotlighting the people, places and perspectives surrounding homelessness seeks to engage the community (residents, students, artists, businesses, nonprofits, government) in exploring this layered topic through an open, thoughtful, and humanistic series of activities and events: presentations and discussions, film screenings, an exhibit of photography and artwork created by homeless people, and storytelling. Through these means, the Center aims to bring those with and without homes together – under its roof – and find common ground.

Compassion and Self Deception
Los Angeles Poverty Department, Los Angeles
Project Director: John Malpede

This multidisciplinary public humanities project will explore the conflicted responses to homelessness in the City of Los Angeles through a community-generated performance, exhibition, and conversation series that will draw upon the experiences of people working and living in Skid Row. Tracing the evolution of public sentiment regarding homelessness since the 1980s, Compassion and Self Deception seeks to address these fundamental questions of human rights and moral values by creatively lifting the voices, experiences, and histories of people living and working in Skid Row, to create a context for public dialogue that addresses the powerful role of affect—such emotions as compassion, fear, guilt, and anger—in compelling action. Utilizing the engagement and research strategies, as well as the performative and artistic practices established across LA Poverty Department’s (LAPD’s) 35-year history of work embedded in the Skid Row neighborhood, Compassion and Self Deception showcases the ways people in living poverty, and those working in Skid Row have agitated for the rights of the poor and unhoused, how they have translated compassion into activism, and successfully ignited change in perception and policy.

Exhibition to Commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case
Thai Community Development Center, Los Angeles
Project Director: Panida Rzonca

A unique partnership between the Museum of Social Justice, located in LA’s historic El Pueblo district, the Thai Community Development Center, and a California State University, Northridge design class, the project will produce an multilingual interpretive exhibit, website, and publication in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the landmark El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case. In addition to raising awareness of the prevalence of human trafficking of foreign nationals into the United States for sexual exploitation or the performance of slave labor, both then and now, the project will tell the inspiring story of the Thai garment workers, from their recruitment, trafficking, captivity, and enslavement to their liberation, activism, and personal transformation. It will also raise awareness of the important role this California story played in sparking garment industry reforms, creating legislation to protect worker rights, and launching a global movement against human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Glendale Tree Stories
City of Glendale, Glendale
Project Director: Katherine Williams

Glendale Tree Stories is a public story-sharing project that seeks to elevate, celebrate, and archive residents’ shared histories and relationships to their city’s urban forest. Connecting to urban nature is not only personally enriching; it is a way for communities to share their landscape, values, and vision for protecting and preserving these natural resources for future generations. Through an extensive outreach effort, involving public programming and multiple partners, the project team will invite residents to share a story about their favorite tree. Over the course of a year, the team will collect and transform these stories into a visual illustrated history which will be re-presented to the public via the City’s social media channels, public exhibits, interpretive maps, and at the City’s annual Arbor Day celebration. At the conclusion of the project, these stories will be collected in an online, interactive gallery website that will serve as a permanent record of the city and its residents love for their trees.

Home in the Bay
Aunt Lute Foundation, San Francisco
Project Director: Joan Pinkvoss

Home in the Bay will be a three-part reading series and publication honoring the different experiences of and relationships to the concept of “Home” in the Bay Area. Through online reading events, Aunt Lute Books will elevate marginalized voices, spotlighting the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry of those most impacted by the Bay Area’s housing crisis, as well as issues of homelessness, gentrification, colonization, and immigration. Selected writings will be published in a chapbook and E-book. This project will bring together different Bay Area communities, including poor, indigenous, immigrant, elderly, and people of color, united by the shared effort to create a home in this complicated landscape. In addition to forging cross-cultural connections, this project aims to empower historically underserved peoples in the region by providing them a platform from which to speak and be heard.

Humanities Beyond Bars: Incarceration, Visibility, and Humanization
CSU Bakersfield Auxiliary for Sponsored Programs Administration, Bakersfield
Project Director: Michael Burroughs

Despite high rates of incarceration in California’s Central Valley, the realities of imprisonment and the voices of those incarcerated are often unseen and unheard, resulting in a lack of understanding regarding the scale of incarceration and, importantly, the life experiences of those incarcerated. This project aims to increase the visibility, and, in turn, understanding, of incarceration and the human condition of those incarcerated. Through a series of public-facing activities and events including lectures, a documentary screening, and community conversations featuring formerly incarcerated students, professionals serving currently and formerly incarcerated student populations, and incarceration scholars—the project will increase public engagement with the humanities and foster understanding between formerly and non-incarcerated populations. Through these means, as well as a compilation website, will enable the project to reach the campus community as well as a diverse audience of greater Kern County community members.

The K.N.O.T: Knowledge to Nurture our Traditions*
California Indian Basketweavers Association, Woodland
Project Director: Rebecca Tortes

The Knowledge to Nurture Our Traditions (The K.N.O.T) Program is designed to increase basketweaving knowledge in the California Indian community, with an emphasis on connecting tribal youth to culture bearers, and increase public appreciation, knowledge, and support for California Indian basket weavers. The program format will include six intergenerational basketweaving workshops and two panel presentations with master level, elder basketweavers and culture bearers from Southern, Central, and Northern California tribal populations. Workshops will provide participants with a hands-on opportunity to work with traditional basketweaving materials while panel presentations will provide education on the unique history, cultural traditions, and weaving styles of the presenters’ tribal area. The overarching goal of the program is to increase the number of California Indians engaging in traditional basketweaving practices and continue to grow connections between California Indian basketweavers and individuals, organizations, tribes, and community institutions to help preserve and perpetuate this unique art form.

Sounds of California – Boyle Heights
Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Fresno
Project Director: Amy Kitchener

Produced by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts in partnership with the Community Power Collective, Sounds of California-Boyle Heights is a collaborative recording, composing, and community engagement initiative that cultivates stewards of place by engaging residents from the historic Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles to explore, analyze, create, and share the local soundscape, focusing on themes of anti-displacement and belonging. Part of a statewide series, this hybrid arts-humanities project will engage neighborhood sounds (music, stories, poetry) to create new songs about Boyle Heights and residents’ ongoing struggle to stay rooted there. Over the course of two years, the project will present a series of online public humanities events and a public festival that will reach people in the neighborhood and beyond, and enable project-created content to be shared, explored, and celebrated through performance and interactive activities.

SPACES: Oakland
Downtown Oakland Association, Oakland
Project Director: Simón Adinia Hanukai

This project will weave together storytelling with theater, dance, music, and multimedia to create a performance that is place-specific, as it is created and presented with and for the community of Oakland, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the US. At the heart of the project are real-life stories of local residents. Through storytelling workshops and events, community members will be invited to share personal and collective stories about the place they call home. During this process, residents who are willing to share their stories will be identified; they will work with the project team to jointly determine the themes that will be the unifying elements behind the narrative. In parallel, local artists will generate creative content that draws from the residents’ stories. Ultimately, a series of performances over consecutive weekends at the Oakland City Hall and the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza will portray the present-day diversity of Oakland residents in the course of re-inhabiting their public space. By reflecting on their shared history and features, the project will invite Oaklanders, both participants and audience members, and enhance their sense of belonging in a common community.

Tell Our Stories: Artifacts from the Assyrian Genocide
California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock
Project Director: Erin Hughes

This project will create an interpretive exhibit documenting the causes and impact of the Assyrian Genocide that took place in the former Ottoman Empire(1895–1924), and the subsequent experience of Assyrians resettling in California, at California State University Stanislaus’s Art Gallery, from June through August 2021. The project will invite members of the Assyrian diaspora community to participate in developing the exhibit by sharing personal histories and artifacts, and help build a collective narrative of genocide and survival. A companion speaker series will feature scholars of migration and Assyrian history along with descendants of survivors, to provide additional perspective. Aiming to reach the Assyrian community in California, students and scholars, and the general public, the project will acquaint the larger California community with the experiences of people who settled in our state, and further an understanding of our shared heritage and diverse cultures. The exhibit and programs will be free and open to the public.

Theater Across Borders: Resilient Migrant
TeAda Productions, Santa Monica
Project Director: Ova Saopeng

TEADA PRODUCTIONS, a theater arts organization with a long history of innovative community participatory theater work, will collaborate with the Program for Torture Victims, a nonprofit organization that supports the recovery and health of torture survivors, to offer a series of weekly storytelling circles for migrants and asylum seekers. Drawing from content shared in the workshops, the company will produce a series of free public readings and discussions throughout the Los Angeles area. Venues will include galleries and coffee shops or (possibly) virtual spaces. The poems and short stories shared in the story circle sessions will be published in a compilation book that will be made available to the public online.

Tu voz importa / Your Voice Matters
Migrant Clinicians Network, Chico
Project Director: Jillian Hopewell

Tu voz importa / Your Voice Matters is photovoice project with youth and women in Latino farmworker families in Northern California. The project will amplify the unique voices of youth and women, by fostering their abilities to tell their own stories through guided photography and storytelling workshops. The anticipated outcomes are a series of evocative images and narratives about issues that matter most to them that will create pathways for dialogue and action, mobilize change-makers, and promote understanding of the needs of the community. As part of the process, participants will determine a culminating activity aimed to reach a variety of audiences locally and beyond. Project goals are to create a safe space for youth and women in the Latino farmworker community to share their stories and build their networks of support; and contribute to building a stronger and more resilient community in which all voices are heard.

Voices of our Story*
Nevada City Community Broadcast Group, Nevada City
Project Director: Betty Louise

This multifaceted project will promote greater awareness about the experience of homeless people through in Nevada County residents, connecting young people, homeless folks, and the general public in effort to increase empathy, understanding, and compassion. Dialogue and story-sharing activities using a variety of formats and media, many led by high school students with the support of experienced facilitators, and involving members of the homeless population as cultural guides and experts, will provide opportunities for learning, exchange, and connection between residents of the Sierra region, both housed and unhoused.

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego – Downtown, San Diego
Project Director: Jill Dawsey, PhD

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) will present an original exhibition centered on California artist Yolanda López that will delve into the artist’s impact as one of the earliest and most important Chicana feminist artists working on the West Coast. The exhibition will present a compendium of López’s work from the 1970s, when she created a vivid body of work exploring the representations and roles of women within Chicanx culture and mainstream society. A series of public programs will complement the exhibition, including lectures and panel discussions as well as special tours and events centered on the artist and themes in her work. Aiming to reach a broad and diverse audience of San Diegans, those who travel across the border from Mexico, as well as national and international tourists to the region, the project will also focus on engaging engage young people (museum admission is free for anyone under age 25) and students, staff, faculty, and alumni of the University of California, San Diego community, of which the artist is herself a member. All didactic materials, object labels and wall texts will be bilingual to promote greater access for audiences.

Click here to see the list of Humanities for All Project Grant projects funded to date. Visit the Humanities for All Funding webpage for more information.

California Humanities supports humanities programming that will reach and engage the next generation. These projects involve teens as primary program participants or audiences and address topics or subjects of interest to them (denoted by “*”).


California Humanities, a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, promotes the humanities—focused on ideas, conversation and learning—as relevant, meaningful ways to understand the human condition and connect us to each other in order to help strengthen California. California Humanities has provided grants and programs across the state since 1975. To learn more, visit or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.



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