The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson, are legends in the world of radio. The Peabody Award-winning sisters are also legends here at California Humanities. When they received their first planning grant in 1978, they were among the first grantees of the “California Council for the Humanities and Public Policy,” the original name for the newly-formed organization. They proposed to “plan a series of taped documentaries, focusing on the social and cultural history of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito counties,” Nikki Silva laughs as she reads from the original $1,500 proposal. The following year they went on to receive a five-year matching grant for $12,500 for the project that led to a series of radio documentaries.
They spent much of those five years documenting and justifying shifts from their original proposal through progress reports. With nearly 40 years of hindsight, those reports reflect the organic, creative process involved in telling rich, compelling stories for which the sisters are famous. Reflecting on their history with California Humanities, Silva says, “I think so much of what California Humanities did for us was to really focus and discipline what we knew we wanted to do in our hearts.” Of one mind and one heart, it is not uncommon for the sisters to speak as one. Asked to reflect on their importance in the history of California Humanities, Davia Nelson finishes a sentence that Silva started, calling themselves “pioneers across the prairie of the humanities.”
Their role as pioneers is nowhere more evident than in Lisa Morehouse’s current California Foodways radio project, which explores the intersection between food history and culture county-by-county throughout California. “It was a Kitchen Sisters story that made me want to do radio,” says Morehouse, Project Director for the multi-year project. Both Morehouse and the Kitchen Sisters cite storytelling as the most basic human need next to food. Calling the projects made with the support of California Humanities the “gold standard” for storytellers throughout the state then as well as now. Silva asserts, “California Humanities has a huge job to do right now, which is to perpetuate values and encourage scholarship, research, and thought.”