NAME: Julie Fry
TITLE: President & CEO of Cal Humanities
PREVIOUSLY: Program Officer, Performing Arts Program of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
GUIDING QUOTE/TAGLINE: “Eventually, everything connects – people, ideas, objects.” – Charles Eames
CURRENTLY READING: Cass Timberlane by Sinclair Lewis, Nora Webster by Colm Toibin, and Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities by Martha C. Nussbaum
FAVORITE MOMENT OF CALIFORNIA HISTORY: I have always been fascinated by the tenacity of those who faced the hardship and promise of traveling to California in the mid-1800s.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT CAL HUMANITIES THAT FIRST APPEALED TO YOU?
I’ve known Cal Humanities since I first moved to San Diego in 2000, after spending the previous nine years living in England. It was an organization that helped me learn about my new state, and touched upon many things that have been important to me throughout my life – literature, the arts, education, history, civil society, diverse cultures. My conversations with the organization in my early years in California were about the real intersections between the arts and the humanities. Over the years my appreciation for the depth and breadth of the organization’s work in illuminating the human condition around the state and beyond has grown.
AS THE NEW LEADER OF CAL HUMANITIES, WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS YOUR MOST
IMPORTANT ROLE? HOW DO YOU FEEL THIS ROLE WILL EVOLVE?
I am here to help guide Cal Humanities’ incredibly knowledgeable and passionate staff and board to ensure that the humanities are an integral part of California’s future, while understanding, respecting, and building on its past. We are one of California’s few statewide grantmakers, and we’ve been doing this for 40 years as an independent non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. We have an opportunity to take what we have learned over time and hone it and make it even more accessible and relevant to the people of California. As one example, how can we ensure that the next generation of Californians have an education infused with the humanities, no matter where they live in the state? Over the next several months we want to talk to grantees, partners, and communities to see how we can best engage with them in meaningful, authentic and perhaps unexpected ways as California continues to evolve.
WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU’RE MOST EXCITED ABOUT IN WORKING WITH CAL
Only one thing? Okay, I’ll try to narrow it down. I’m excited about the deep meaning behind one sentence. It deserves repeating, often: To connect Californians to ideas and one another in order to understand our shared heritage and diverse cultures, inspire civic participation, and shape our future.
I’m proud to be part of an organization with such a powerful and relevant mission that seeks to serve this entire great state. Connecting, understanding, inspiring, shaping – these are transformational goals.
AT CAL HUMANITIES WE BELIEVE THAT THE HUMANITIES ARE VALUABLE AND
NECESSARY. HOW DO YOU SEE THIS COMING ACROSS IN THE LIVES OF
My answer to this complicated question is a simple one, and not just about Californians: the humanities are part of everyone’s lives. They allow us to discover what brings people together, not what divides us. They encourage us to follow our natural curiosity, and to better understand ourselves and each other, our past and our future. They give us opportunities to have conversations about ideas that matter. Practically speaking, they inspire a creative workforce that is critical to the economy. And, in a way that often brings tears to my eyes, they make visible and palpable the stories we didn’t even know existed.
QUITE OFTEN, PEOPLE LUMP THE HUMANITIES TOGETHER WITH THE ARTS; YOU
YOURSELF HAVE EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE WORKING AND VOLUNTEERING WITH ARTS-
BASED ORGANIZATIONS AND ENDEAVORS. IN YOUR OPINION HOW CAN WE
DISTINGUISH THE HUMANITIES FROM THE ARTS? SHOULD THEY BE
Ideally, I would like us to continue to remove the silos between fields and become more fluid in how we partner and leverage resources and create impact. The humanities are not just about academic discourse, after all. I don’t believe that we should spend a lot of energy focusing on the differences, but rather in building on the similarities. Arts and the humanities? Yes – these are fields that are interconnected and mutually interpret and fortify each other. Technology and the humanities? Another yes – technology offers amazing tools for people to participate in the humanities, and let’s face it, there is plenty of scope to bring human connection to this networked world. Our libraries prove this point: in courageously reinventing themselves, they have become community centers, not just because of the access to technology they provide, but also for all of the other ways they bring people together. Let’s look even further into other fields – business, education, social justice, the environment. Our programs have always touched on these areas, so how can we all benefit from finding more ways to work together?
LASTLY, TELL US THE ONE THING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE PEOPLE WHO DON’T
ALREADY KNOW YOU, TO KNOW ABOUT YOU.
I grew up with a strong arts and humanities education in a town of 2,000 people in central Wisconsin, surrounded by cranberry bogs and paper mills, and that upbringing has been an important part of my life. I still love to spend time figuring out a Chopin Nocturne on the piano…but you’re just as likely to find me in the mosh pit at a rock concert, singing along with Gabriel and Isabel, my college kids.
For Julie’s full bio, please click here.