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We’re Listening: California Humanities Embarks on a Statewide Listening Tour

Have you heard? We have embarked on a listening tour around the state to hear directly from the people of California about the humanities and cultural programs that enrich you.

California Humanities is gathering and sharing stories from across our large and diverse state in order to champion the humanities locally and statewide. As the state partner to the National Endowment for the Humanities, we need to know what is happening in all corners of California and how the humanities can be connected across the state.

We already gather feedback every day—through grantee projects, applications, events, and ongoing conversations about humanities experiences in California. But we want to know more.

Specifically, we want to find out:

  • What the status is of the humanities and local cultural programs,
  • How people and organizations creating content and programs are engaging with each other and their communities, and
  • How different methods of engagement can help create a stronger infrastructure for the humanities statewide.

Our listening tour has already made stops in San Jose, Oakland, and Santa Barbara, with more planned over the next several months. At each of the listening sessions, we heard from a wide range of individuals and organizations. Representatives from media organizations, museums, libraries, small historical societies, higher learning institutions, arts organizations, legislative offices, tribes, freelance media makers, and more, all spoke to us about what you’ve learned and observed through your work. We identified unifying themes, picked up distinct ideas, and witnessed passionate yet respectful debates.

The first stop on our tour was at the School of Art and Culture’s Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose. Of many interesting insights, one unifying desire was to make more connections with local higher learning institutions. Participants had creative ideas on how they would want to collaborate with learning institutions: suggestions included having graduate school internships housed at smaller historical and preservation organizations, and following the lead of students to engage and educate the public about local history that is rapidly getting lost amidst redevelopment and the loss of aging community culture bearers.

Our second stop was in our Oakland office in the historic Swan’s Market building. This group saw the importance of networking, and also highlighted the difficulties of formal collaborations locally within the metropolitan East Bay, not to mention the whole state. Similar to the San Jose session, there were voices heeding the need for historical preservation—especially in the face of a rapidly changing city.

Our third stop was at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The larger group split into three small groups, yet ultimately all discussed similar issues and goals: engaging more of the diverse communities in the area. Participants agreed that Santa Barbara, especially within the main city limits, was rich with cultural activities. They also agreed that the key question word for them was, “Who”: Who is providing content and experience? Who is attending programs? Who is not? Who should be the key partners for culturally sensitive events and celebrations? And who would take the lead in reconvening the group in attendance because they knew it was necessary and exciting?

Throughout our first sessions, we have been exploring how local networks can inform connections statewide.  We are looking to determine what methods of statewide network building will produce the most engaging and effective ways of collaborating across the field, advocating for the humanities, and messaging their benefits for communities across the state.

We’re already ramping up for the next few stops on our tour. Want to share your insights and experiences with us? Check out these Listening Sessions in January:

San Diego: January 9, 10 am–12 noon | Point Loma/ Hervey Library

San Francisco: January 28, 2:30–4:30 pm | Northern California Grantmakers

Bakersfield: January 30, 4–6 pm | Beale Memorial Library

Fresno: January 31, 2:30–4:30 pm | Woodward Public Library

Don’t see your area listed? Stay tuned—We will have more sessions that will take us from the Far North and the Sierras through the Central Valley into the various regions of Southern California. Please sign up for our newsletter to get updates about future sessions.

For more information, please contact our Outreach and Advocacy Manager, John Nguyen-Yap.

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