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 in the Aftermath of Natural Disasters. The Second Responders focus area was available to applicants through the Humanities for All grants that were affected by natural disasters in California between 2014 and 2020. Each grant award was “intended to assist California communities in recovering and healing as well as to raise awareness about natural disasters such as wildfires, floods, and mudslides.”

Through a Chairman’s Grant, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) provided funding for the Second Responders focus area, which was matched by California Humanities. The budget was earmarked primarily for distribution through Humanities for All Quick Grants (HFAQG), small funds between $1,000 and $5,000 distributed three times annually for small-scale, year-long, standalone public humanities projects.

This competitive application process was open to any natural disaster-affected library, museum, colleges, university, or other cultural and historical institutions in California that were actively working “to preserve heritage, tell stories, and support recovery” in the wake of such devastating events. During 2019 and 2020, Second Responders grants totaling over $70,000 were awarded to organizations across the state.

One project supported by the Second Responders HFAQG was “World on Fire: A Public Panel and Dialogue Program,” organized by the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock (CFAER) in Los Angeles. In spring 2021, CFAER presented the combined public panel and visual art exhibition, which featured interdisciplinary artists and biologists discussing the impact of fire and climate change on flora, fauna, and habitats across Southern California and beyond. “The World on Fire” exhibition made available through video projection on CFAER’s historic building, documentary footage, and online, spotlighted original artworks by members of the Los Angeles Printmaking Society and special guests, responding to the twin crises of extreme fire and climate change.

With the support of a Second Responders HFAQG, “World on Fire” was able to highlight how the “humanities can help California understand, recover from—and potentially prevent—natural disasters in the future,” said Project Director Melinda Ann Farrell.

“[World on Fire] explored the impact of extreme fires in California to help audiences respond to these overwhelming catastrophes,” said Farrell, “and engage in a science and humanities-based path forward.”