Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Awards $1.96 Million to Federation of State Humanities Councils to Support Nationwide Public Humanities Programs on Civic and Electoral Participation

Through “Why It Matters,” 43 Humanities Councils Across the Country and US Territories Explore the History, Importance, and Impact of the American Electoral Process

October 22, 2020 – [Arlington, VA] The Federation of State Humanities Councils (Federation) announces the award of $1.96 million by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a new national initiative, “Why It Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation,” which will explore civic participation as it relates to electoral engagement in a multivocal democracy. Programs will be conducted in 43 US states and territories throughout the course of the initiative. The initiative begins this month and will run through spring 2021.

The “Why It Matters” national initiative will provide free humanities programs conducted by the US state and territorial humanities councils to engage the public in collaborative, accessible, and thought-provoking dialogues on the importance of electoral and civic participation. Programs will explore the history of civic and electoral engagement, highlight and elevate youth perspectives, and bring people together to talk, share, learn, and listen using the humanities to promote understanding through historical context and conversation. Humanities scholarship, journalism, and community dialogue will be central to hundreds of public programs, including two radio programs, virtual online panels and keynote speakers, exhibitions, story circles, town halls, and more.

“The humanities provide much-needed context to understand the roles and impact, today and historically, of the American electoral process and the societal conditions and institutions that help shape civic participation,” said Susan McCarthy, board chair of the Federation of State Humanities Councils. “The Federation, with its network of humanities councils across the country, is uniquely poised to respond to the distinctness of each state and territory and their local communities and to conduct programs that promote informed nonpartisan discussions. We are immensely grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its support of this initiative and the investment in council work it represents.”

“The state humanities councils have a long record of creating and conducting programs that respond to the unique issues and concerns facing their communities and exploring where community priorities diverge and overlap. This initiative will offer spaces to learn about the electoral process, the role and impact of civic participation, and why it matters,” said Phoebe Stein, president of the Federation of State Humanities Councils.

Following is a sample of programs that will launch throughout this initiative:

  • A radio talk show, “Vote Worthy,” produced in partnership with major market NPR stations, will feature noted Kentucky voting scholar Joshua Douglas and a moderator posing and fielding questions to help inform voters about election laws, voting rights, the Electoral College, the future of our democracy, and voting during a pandemic, among others. Guests joining Professor Douglas on “Vote Worthy” include Margie Charasika, president of the Louisville League of Women Voters; Brian Clardy, Associate Professor of History at Murray State University; and Scott Lasley, Professor and Head of the Political Science Department at Western Kentucky University. 
  • A pop-up exhibition, “The Art of Voting,” is designed to inform Kansans of the history surrounding electoral engagement and voter suppression through an artistic examination of the history of voting. The modest-sized pop-up exhibit will connect Kansas residents in six communities with the knowledge of voting history and engage them with deep humanities questions guided by an artistic interpretation of a right-to-vote timeline.
  • A series of public programs hosted by Connecticut Humanities, including “The Electoral College,” “From Suffrage to Election,” and “The Vote,” will explore how civic engagement affects us personally and collectively.
  • An online magazine that will explore the historically marginalized indigenous CHamoru perspectives, with a focus on Guåhan’s lack of voting rights at the national level.
  • A series of discussions hosted by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities entitled “Who Gets to Vote: Conversations on Voting Rights in America,” will feature keynote speakers and a four-part reading and discussion series incorporating programs that examine voting rights, women’s suffrage, historic and contemporary voter suppression practices, and disenfranchisement of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated citizens.
  • A series of four virtual town halls hosted by Humanities Montana on “Political Disenfranchisement in Tribal Communities,” “Montana’s Urban/Rural Political Divide,” and “Youth and Civic Engagement”
  • A panel on public information and the electoral process, a radio program to analyze trends in the November election, and a public program examining persistent gender issues that hamper women from voting and participating in the political process hosted by the Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades (Puerto Rican Endowment for the Humanities)

About the Federation of State Humanities Councils

Founded in 1977, the Federation of State Humanities Councils is the national member association of the US state and jurisdictional humanities councils. Our purpose is to provide leadership, advocacy, and information to help members advance programs that engage millions of citizens across diverse populations in community and civic life.

About the Councils

The state humanities councils are independent nonprofit organizations supporting and creating grassroots humanities programs and community-based activities. Humanities councils were established by Congress in the early 1970s and receive an annual congressional appropriation through the National Endowment for the Humanities, which most councils supplement with state and private funding.