Setting out on a Listening Sessions tour around California is a lot like entering a bookstore. There are amazing stories from infinite voices in each nook. Where do you start? There are newly published books with the crisp scent from the printing press. There are the longtime favorites that are still so valuable to read. And then there are the gems that you have yet to learn about but have enriched the libraries of so many others. It is an exciting experience, albeit challenging.
When we launched our tour in October 2019, we thought that we would have racked up some miles, filled notebooks, learned more about the far corners of our state, and completed the tour by now. Of course, we did not have the foresight to predict a global pandemic. Like others, we have now shifted our efforts to widen our support to the people and the organizations that help the humanities thrive in California. What that means for the Listening Sessions tour is that it will continue, but it will look and sound different.
In January, 2020, we hit the ground running in the new decade. We visited four cities and delved into distinctive conversations in each.
In San Diego, we heard a running theme related to infrastructure and the rapidly changing environments that were impacting the sharing of human stories and culture, and the difficulties in launching meaningful and desired collaborations despite the depth of humanities outlets in the area.
In San Francisco, we heard from many experienced humanities providers discuss infrastructure as well, distinctly in terms of supporting media-makers to connect with each other through sharing of opportunities, skills, and guidance.
In Bakersfield, we heard the need for humanities in the community to not only tell the stories that are rarely heard, but to also infuse those stories to uplift, unify, and energize the participant’s desires for a safe and just community that is inclusive of, among many things, immigration status, race, and sexual orientation .
In Fresno, we heard that the desire for collaboration across communities, cultures, and institutions is strong, and, for the most part, exist because the pillars of humanities providers, both individuals and institutions, are listening to each other.
A few weeks ago we launched the next leg of our Listening Sessions as a virtual experience. We have substituted the wonderful hum of a discussion in a small room for headphones and a small group of faces on webcams. We are still engaging in the same core dialogues about the status of the humanities locally, the networks helping to enliven humanities experiences for the public, and ideas to build up the impact of the public humanities across the state.
COVID-19 could be considered the “elephant in the room,” but in the sessions we have had in the past few weeks there has been no shying away from talking about the pandemic’s impact on the field. Remote working, program cancellations, and the need to protect each other’s health have certainly added strain to our humanities partners. Yet, we continue to hear the hope, the innovation, and the passion to bring people together through illuminating our shared and unique experiences and stories that were shared pre-COVID. As we know, the work to provide humanities experiences for the public is always a beautiful challenge even in “normal” times.
Want to join us at the upcoming online sessions? We will have Listening Sessions focused on:
Stockton: July 1, 1-2 pm
Sacramento Metro Area: July 13, 1-2 pm and July 15, 1-2 pm
Orange County: July 20, 1-2 pm and July 22, 1-2 pm
Inland Empire: July 27, 1-2 pm and July 29, 1-2 pm
Far North: August 3, 1-2 pm and August 5, 1-2 pm
For more information, please contact our Outreach and Advocacy Manager, John Nguyen-Yap.