Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

Welcoming New Program Assistant Kirsten Vega

Name: Kirsten Vega

Title: Program Assistant

Previously: Assistant to Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse and The Edible Schoolyard Project 

Guiding Quote/Tagline: “What you think is the point is not the point at all but only the beginning of the sharpness.” — Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

Currently Reading:Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News by Kevin Young

Favorite moment of California history:

In college, I studied Public History with a focus on the Victorian and Edwardian eras (1837–1910) in New England. When I moved to California, I began visiting public history sites to explore that period on the west coast—sites like Sonoma State Historic Park, Fort Ross, The Sutro Baths, even State Route 1. What captivates me is the relentless simultaneity of massive social changes in early California. Labor unions emerge, photography is invented, gold is discovered, indigenous peoples are brutally marginalized, and all the while land is claimed and then ceded by Mexico, Spain, and even Russia. To consider these sites makes you realize the scope of alternate possibilities… what if Fort Ross had survived as a Russian territory?

What was it about California Humanities that first appealed to you?

Library Innovation Lab (LIL). I was instantly drawn in. I knew firsthand the challenges of launching a new library program for immigrant communities because I had helped start a traveling Spanish language library back in Massachusetts—an endeavor that required a lot of patience, innovation, and buy-in from our entire library staff. I was so excited to see the amazing resources, tools, and knowledge LIL provided to librarians ready to take that on.

What have you been up to in your first month on staff?

So much! During my first week, I spent two days in Los Angeles with our 2019 Library Innovation Lab cohort: twelve public librarians from across California who will spend this year developing new programs for immigrants in their community. This meeting was their first of three, and what was remarkable was to watch the instant, deep bond between the librarians just embarking on this process and the mentors from last year’s program.

I was also thrilled to attend opening night of CAAMFest at the Castro Theater. The film kicking the festival off was CHINATOWN RISING, a project supported by our California Documentary Project (CDP) grant.

Two weeks later our entire staff convened for a board meeting at the Los Angeles Central Library, hosted by City Librarian John Szabo who actually sits on our board. We were lucky to have NEH Chairman Jon Parish Peede join us for the morning session—he is an excellent public speaker. I keep thinking about something he said: that we must “be equal to our ambition at its greatest level.”

What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

Grantmaking is cyclical and some grant periods last multiple years, like the CDP Production Grant. In this coming year I’m excited to work on all six grant lines at nearly every stage—the application period, awards, program evaluation. Secondly, visiting grantees! To attend their events and visit their communities is to truly travel the entire state of California.

And, as a lifelong ballet dancer, I am holding my breath for this fall when the Mariinsky Ballet will bring its famous production of La Bayadere to Cal Performances.

At California Humanities, we strongly believe that the humanities are a relevant and meaningful way to connect us to each other. How do you see this coming across in our everyday lives?

Saul Bellow said, “People don’t realize how much they are in the grip of ideas. We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.” To me, the humanities are how we explore the ecosystem of ideas in which we live.

Tell us one thing that you would like people who don’t already know you to know about you?

I grew up in a Puerto Rican family of amazing dancers. My aunts and cousins are mesmerizing when they dance Puerto Rican styles like plena, bomba, salsa, los seises. Whenever I visit, we all go dancing.

What is your hidden talent/superpower?

Memorization! I can recite a dozen poems from memory. I still remember the first poem I memorized in second grade: Snowball by Shel Silverstein.


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