The governor’s proposed budget, now under consideration by the Connecticut General Assembly, would eliminate state support of the Connecticut Humanities Fund, a competitive grant pool that supports public programs and initiatives that tell our state’s stories, illuminate our history and enrich the lives of people of all ages across the state.
Should this proposed cut go forward, its ripple effect would resonate loudly, as every dollar awarded is matched by in-kind services, leveraged corporate and foundation money or federal dollars. It would be a travesty for all who care about and benefit from the humanities in its multiple forms – history, preservation, literature, expression and debate, and the understanding of civics that keeps our democratic institutions strong and vital. Further, eliminating the Humanities Fund would shut off the only source of support for hundreds of the state’s heritage, cultural and humanities organizations.
Connecticut Humanities not only supports high-profile cultural treasures like the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, Long Wharf Theatre and the Yale Peabody Museum, but equally important smaller initiatives such as Quiet Corner Reads, short plays at the New England Air Museum and a literacy program at Connecticut River Academy in East Hartford.
The fund is administered by the Connecticut Humanities Council, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Connecticut Humanities supports heritage organizations and museums, works closely with libraries on reading programs, encourages adult and student engagement with literature and poetry, and provides forums for the constructive exchange of ideas.
The council enlists the help of volunteer scholars and other subject experts to carefully assess and award competitive grants from the fund. In the past two years alone, these grants have enabled 225 organizations to produce exhibits, programs and forums serving more than a million people in every Connecticut town. Over the past 20 years, this state investment has been matched more than one to three, generating a total investment of more than $54 million in cultural and heritage initiatives.
This investment is not frivolous. On the contrary, this is very much an economic development issue, tied directly to the attraction and retention of talent in Connecticut, people who highly value our state’s vibrant culture and events at museums, libraries, schools and other community settings. It is fundamental to the state’s quality of life – why it remains worthwhile to live and work here.
As important, Connecticut Humanities provides lifelong education for people of all ages who are seeking leading-edge, 21st Century knowledge. Here are a few tangible examples of what the fund supports:
- History Day in Connecticut, a competition for Connecticut students in grades 6-12
- Connecticut Explored, the state’s history magazine
- The Connecticut League of History Organizations, a statewide network of historical societies and heritage nonprofits
- ConnecticutHistory.org, the state’s online history resource, which attracts close to 50,000 unique visits per month from scholars, teachers, students and history buffs looking for timely, reliable information on Connecticut, its people and institutions
- “Teach It,” designed to support the state Department of Education’s new social studies guidelines in public schools, which will bring local Connecticut history to life in classrooms statewide
- “Poetry Out Loud,” a recitation competition that involves thousands of Connecticut’s high school students
- A new, online serial novel for children — The Great Connecticut Caper — being created this spring by 24 Connecticut authors and illustrators
- STEPS-CT, a best-practice resource that helps nonprofit groups, especially smaller historical societies, tell local stories and preserve heritage through unique collections and images
- Book Voyagers, a program that engages children with literature and builds an early love of reading that is a proven stepping-stone to academic achievement and economic success
These programs, supported by the Connecticut Humanities Fund, encourage people to stay invested, personally and professionally, here in Connecticut. People who care about where they live are more engaged with each other, their communities and their government.
Connecticut Humanities demonstrates, every day, why Connecticut remains a special place, one blessed with a rich and deep history, with ready access to cultural experiences that simply don’t exist elsewhere.
I encourage you to reflect on these issues, and consider helping us make our case to the state legislature to preserve state funding for the humanities. Now is not the time to abandon the state’s long-term investment in heritage and culture. For information on how you can help the cause, please visit CTPlacesMatter.org.
Douglas G. Fisher is the executive director of the Connecticut Humanities Council.