What is it about California that excites the imagination of people around the world? We are expansive in many ways: we have the sixth largest economy in the world, driven by the agriculture, technology, aerospace, tourism, and entertainment industries, our population is one third larger than that of the next most populous state, Texas, and we are often cited as the most diverse state in the country. We are a hotbed of new ideas brought to glorious Technicolor life, led by artists, scientists, scholars, and more. And therein we find the answer to what is compelling about the Golden State: our people. For the past forty years, it has been a privilege – and a challenge – for California Humanities to fulfill our role as the only nonprofit organization that makes grants and delivers programs across California that connect people to each other through the public humanities, through our partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities. In a state that is expected to grow and diversify further in the coming years, we need to make sure that what we do responds to this shifting landscape and the work we support reflects the people, histories, cultures, and stories of California, a role we have taken seriously for over four decades.
Under new staff and board leadership, a transformation is underway. 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 on a statewide listening tour and talked with Californians in a variety of ways, and as a result of what we heard we developed a new strategic goal: Because the humanities are essential to a vibrant democracy, our 5-year strategic focus on education, public engagement, and field-building will amplify our impact and make the humanities even more valued, more visible, and more deeply embedded in the lives of individuals and in our communities.
Through careful consideration of the input we received, and looking at lessons learned over the years, we decided upon three major components to develop over the next five years: 1) engaging the next generations through humanities education; 2) responding more deeply to community needs through grantmaking and programs, and 3) field-building for greater collaboration and impact among those engaged in the humanities. It is critical that the three components interact and intersect in various ways, and help inform and build upon each other. At the intersection of all three components lie communication, collaboration, and convening. As the only state-wide humanities organization in California, we are uniquely situated to both bring people and organizations together through the humanities, and help to shed light on why the humanities matter to all of us.
We are now engaged in further developing and implementing the framework, and are continuing with some current programs (California Documentary Project and Literature & Medicine) while introducing a suite of programs that includes our newest grant program, Humanities for All. The long-time Community Stories grant program is evolving into a more accessible open grants program for locally-initiated public humanities projects that respond to the needs, interests, and concerns of Californians; involve more Californians in humanities programs; and promote dialogue and understanding among our state’s diverse peoples. This will include a Quick Grant option for small, short-term projects (launched September 2016) as well as a larger Project Grant option, which we will announce in the coming months, along with other grants and program updates.
People. That’s what California is all about, and that’s who we are keeping at the front and center of our work.