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Reading Frederick Douglass Together at UMass HFA

The first reading of 2024 took place on Douglass’s chosen birth day.

Each year, Mass Humanities organizes and funds free public events where communities gather together to read and talk about Frederick Douglass’ influential address, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” We began 2024 with a shared reading at the UMass Amherst College of Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA). Fittingly, the gathering took place on February 14, Douglass’s chosen day of birth.

“Reading the speech together, and especially having numerous people read the speech and put their individual voices into Douglass’s words—literally breathing life back into his words—to me that’s just a really powerful way of pushing back against efforts of silencing,” says Cara Takakjian, associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion at UMass HFA. “[It’s about] raising a communal, a collective voice, to remember and continue to pay attention.”

Stories of immigration depict a city’s transformation.

On January 28, 2024, the Framingham History Center (FHC) debuted “Framingham’s Collective Journeys: Stories of Immigration, 1960-Present.” Approximately 100 people attended the grand opening at Edgell Memorial Library & Village Hall on the Common. The exhibit was produced by FHC and funded by an Expand Massachusetts Stories grant.

Through oral histories, interactives, and artifacts, the exhibit reflects the historical and contemporary demographics of Framingham and features individuals from numerous places of origin, including Brazil, El Salvador, Haiti, and China.

“This was the first exhibition in the town’s history that is multilingual,” said Anna Tucker, executive director of FHC. “This reflects the growing diversity of the town, and many of the contributions to the exhibition were made by and with the community directly.”

One of the exhibit placards reads: “A lot of time you walk in and you’re wondering if you belong, and you see a room full of white students and it takes one person to say, ‘No, I see you, and you’re welcome here.'” — Henri St. Julien, Haiti.

“Framingham’s Collective Journeys” was curated by FHC’s humanities advisor, Cheryl Hamilton. Patrick St. Pierre served as the exhibition’s artist co-curator.

A video message from Brian Boyles

Mass Humanities was founded in 1974. Since then, we have championed storytellers throughout the Commonwealth through our grant making and program offerings. In this video, Executive Director Brian Boyles shares an overview of the many exciting events and projects we have in store to commemorate five decades of helping the humanities thrive in Massachusetts.

Commentary from the exhibit curators and a photographer.

Stories of Resilience from Somerville’s Padres Latinos” is an interview and documentary photo project and a community-centered museum exhibition. It was funded funded by a 2022 Expand Massachusetts Stories grant.

Padres Latinos explores and shares the stories of members of “Padres Latinos de Somerville Public Schools,” a volunteer group of over 200 Spanish and Portuguese-speaking parents that organized more than a year ago to support each other during the pandemic regarding questions on education, housing, healthcare, and more.

“The center of the exhibition is a Somerville Hispanic Kitchen, which is the heart and soul of most families’ homes,” reads an exhibition placard. “It is surrounded by portraits of each family – studio portraits by [Iaritza] Menjivar and domestic and outdoor scenes by [Mario] Quiroz – and a wall of personal family photographs from local Hispanic and Brazilian immigrants.”

“When they are here, you know, they have suffered a lot. They have lived through a lot of things. But we make all of these to celebrate that they arrived. They made it. And in this fight that they were pushed out for different reasons. They are creative. They have survival skills. And still, despite the circumstances, they can thrive in this country.”

— Ivan Abarca-Torres, curator

“…for me, it was important to show them in this…powerful stance…when you walk into a museum, sometimes you see these gold frames and how these people are remembered. And I wanted to show that with them, to show them in this…new life that they have built here.”

— Iaritza Menjivar, exhibit photographer

“…within this group there are so many different backgrounds, abilities, and sometimes those abilities also are being taken away…we have parents that come with degrees with professions within their country. They were successful people because of the their chances in life. They had to leave their countries…Most of the time generally people don’t want to leave their country, but they are forced to and they are raised here with a lot in their baggage, a lot of things that they could offer to the society and they cannot give it because [of] bureaucracy, because…their degrees, if they have degrees, cannot be validated here. And these are lost in reality because we need those professions, we need those abilities, we need those people that could be bridges between the arrivals, the new arrivals, the new arrivals and the established people here. And we are losing all that human capital.”

— Marta Fuentes Rodriguez, curator

Watch our recap video from the celebration at the State House.

Creative Sector Advocacy Day was part of a weeklong series of events designed to foster support for arts, culture, and creativity in Massachusetts. Mass Humanities was a co-host of Creative Sector Advocacy Week, along with:

  • Dunamis
  • Massachusetts College of Art and Design
  • MASSCreative
  • Mass Cultural Council
  • Mass Humanities
  • Massachusetts Music Educators Association
  • Metropolitan Area Planning Council
  • The Network for Arts Administrators of Color/ArtsBoston

“Our cultural sector strengthens communities and brings more voices into the Massachusetts story,” said Brian Boyles, executive director of Mass Humanities. “At this pivotal time, increased funding for humanists, artists and our grassroots organizations can help us imagine and build a more equitable commonwealth. Mass Humanities is honored to partner with Mass Creative, Mass Cultural Council, and our legislative champions for this day of celebration and advocacy.”

A call for stories about impact and solutions.

By Brian Boyles.

Massachusetts is a coastal state with islands, beaches, and a storied fishing industry. The farms of western and central Massachusetts are bountiful economic drivers. Our great institutions of higher education and, increasingly, our state government are invested in developing green technologies and cutting-edge strategies to address the impacts of climate change around the globe. In the coming years, the nation will depend on the ideas generated in Massachusetts, just as it has during advances in biotechnology and education. 

Yet any effort to fight climate change depends on people. From dried out lawns to scorching sidewalks, the daily consequences of a warming planet continue to redefine our lives. The flooded fields of the Connecticut River Valley and the inundated streets of East Boston call on us to renew our responsibility to our neighbors and our businesses. Because climate change impacts all of us, every resident deserves access to information and avenues to participate in building solutions. 

The humanities belong at the center of climate change policies and decisions. Together, we must imagine, evaluate, and choose the most ethical pathways for our hometowns and our state. The stories and wisdom generated through public engagement with the humanities offer essential data as we calculate risks and develop mitigation strategies. We need more opportunities to talk about what may be lost, what must be saved, and how our lives will change. 

The humanities enable us to connect our own lived experiences with the experiences of our ancestors and our communities. These connections will be invaluable as we adapt to the changing landscapes of Massachusetts.  

At Mass Humanities, we believe that storytelling and shared learning give us unique tools to change the world. We believe that policymakers and scientists can learn from the contexts and truths that emerge when local residents explore the past and envision the future. And we believe that the greatest potential for Massachusetts lies in building more inclusive structures to usher in a more equitable commonwealth. 

That’s why our 2024 Expand Massachusetts Stories (EMS) grant-making initiative includes a funding opportunity for projects about climate change.   

Climate change can feel immense and complex. The humanities connect the local to the global. We can read about annual summits and ways to build new barrier islands, but the effects on everyday life often go unchronicled or give rise to hopelessness. We need new narratives that integrate perspectives from communities too often overlooked in the climate conversation. We need to understand the work of Massachusetts residents to revolutionize sustainable practices and reduce emissions. Our colleges and universities can partner with grassroots humanities organizations to better understand societal impacts. Our community historians and tribal leaders, our poets and artists, our recent immigrants and our librarians all belong at the climate table.  

Applications open Feb. 5 and the deadline to apply is May 31. We welcome the stories that reside in our diverse network of humanities spaces, and we hope to meet new partners from other sectors that can help us grow the intersectional field of storytelling that is thriving in Massachusetts today.  

While this climate initiative is new, our focus on grassroots organizations is part of the changes we’ve made to our grantmaking in the last three years. In 2023, 64% of our Expand Mass Stories grantee partners had annual budgets of less than $300,000; 57% of funded organizations were 1st time grantees; and more than 67% of the projects were led by people of color. Support from Mass Cultural Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Barr Foundation sustain these grants and the work of our talented staff to better serve non-profits working with limited resources.  

We acknowledge that we have more work to do, and we welcome your ideas on how and where we can show up and listen.  

I hope you’ll share this opportunity with people and groups in your part of Massachusetts. We believe the humanities belong on the street corner, in the classroom, and at family gatherings. They also belong in the laboratory, inside city hall, and along the shoreline. Each of us can take part in the decisions that shape our future. The solutions and insights that emerge from Massachusetts will benefit every resident as we take on this challenge. Together.  

Brian Boyles 
Executive Director 
bboyles@masshumanities.org  

Mass Humanities establishes a new storytelling grant focused on climate change projects.

Photo of people engaging with exhibit materials at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refure.

Mass Humanities is thrilled to announce upcoming opportunities for its 2024 grant season. Application materials for Expand Massachusetts Stories (EMS) grants are now available on our website. The application window opens February 5.

EMS grants support projects that collect, interpret, and share stories about the Commonwealth. Special consideration is given to humanities programming, events, and creative works that emphasize the voices and experiences of residents that too often go unrecognized, or have been excluded from public conversation and public history.

This year, Mass Humanities is offering a new grant track for projects that explore different aspects of climate change. Applicants are eligible to receive up to $20,000 for projects that illuminate community knowledge, experiences, and values in response to the climate crisis. Organizations interested in applying for a grant can now choose between the Climate Change Track, Advancing Equity Track, and Open Track.

“We believe that the humanities are crucial to confronting the complex challenges facing every human and every community,” said Brian Boyles, Executive Director of Mass Humanities. “At this pivotal time in our nation, Mass Humanities supports storytellers and changemakers who bring people together to listen, share and imagine a better future. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2024, we look forward to hearing their ideas and celebrating their work.” 

People look at a display board at a forum event.
American Civility Forum

Mass Humanities launched the EMS initiative in 2021 with the support of Mass Cultural Council and the Barr Foundation. Since then, Mass Humanities has distributed more than $1.8 million to projects across the state that included audio tours, documentary films, oral histories, public events, and archival research.

“Every creative community has a compelling story to tell,” said Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council. “Today’s EMS grant recipients are about to inspire us all through these conversations. I cannot wait to experience, learn and engage with them. Mass Cultural Council is proud to partner with and support Mass Humanities in this effort, which ensures these types of important dialogue happen in Massachusetts.” 

In 2023, Mass Humanities awarded $751,357 in EMS grants to 42 cultural nonprofit organizations from Cape Cod to the Berkshires. The majority of funds went to organizations receiving their first Mass Humanities grant, while people of color lead 67% of the supported projects, and 65% of the organizations had annual operating budgets of less than $300,000.

Learn more about our grant programs.

We asked our colleagues at Mass Humanities to share the experiences that moved them this year, including films, concerts, journeys, and their work with humanities organizations across the commonwealth. We hope you enjoy the list and wish you a Happy New Year.

Photo: Commonwealth Murals, Springfield

Raeshma Razvi, Program Officer, Expand Mass. Stories

  • Ferrying to Block Island and biking around was a perfect way to spend one summer day in the northeast.  
  •  Poverty in America, a book by Matthew Desmond was an illuminating and morally bracing look at how US policies do ‘so much more to subsidize affluence than to alleviate poverty.’  
  • My first family member born in New England, my cousin’s baby Rehan is officially the cutest and sweetest person in our whole extended family 
  • A double-decker bus tour of the vibrant public murals in Springfield, led by Britt Ruhe of Commonwealth Murals, a Mass Humanities grantee. 

Jill Brevik, Director of Development

  • Sigur Rós with Wordless Music Orchestra, Wang Theatre, Boston: This tour marked the release of Átta, the first new studio album from Sigur Rós in ten years, and it was my first opportunity to see a band that has stuck with me since high school. These Icelandic masters of instrumental, atmospheric post-rock would have topped my list on their own, but this tour was even more staggering as they were accompanied by the 41-piece Wordless Music orchestra. Wordless Music was created to bring audiences together by breaking down the boundary lines between classical and contemporary instrumental music. Stunning all around. To get a glimpse, check out the Átta Film Experiment here.
  • Floaters by Martín Espada: This collection of poems hits hard from the beginning, making it very clear why Martín Espada is a well-known icon at the intersection of poetry and social justice. Spanning heart-wrenching accounts of otherness and hate as in “Death Rides the Elevator in Brooklyn” to soft but still wrought love poems like “Love is a Luminous Insect at the Window” to childhood reveries inextricably woven with racism as in “Asking Questions of the Moon”, Espada covers so much ground. I can’t wait to read more of his work in the coming year.
  • Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine by Hannah Moushabeck: Written by Amherst-based author and activist Hannah Moushabeck, this book has been in my kids’ bedtime rotation for months and has offered a means of grounding their understanding of the world in a foundation of appreciation for cultural diversity and storytelling. My daughter and I got to hear Hannah read this story at the Forbes Library in Northampton recently, and she signed my daughter’s book with a directive: “Tell your story!” It is a reminder that understanding, retaining, and sharing our personal histories shapes the way we will have an impact on the world.
  • Tour of the Robbins House, Concord: I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a tour of the Robbins House, a Mass Humanities grantee and Reading Frederick Douglass Together host partner. Built in the 1820s, several early African American families supported themselves by sharing the house and land. The tour guide walked our staff through the many narratives of Robbins House occupants, illustrating how these generations of free African Americans in Concord actively contributed to the antislavery movement and abolitionist causes. The house itself, which was saved from demolition in 2010, now stands as a symbol of self-determination and prompts discussions on race and social justice. They are currently featuring an exhibit on Caesar Robbins’ granddaughter, activist Ellen Garrison, and you can also see the Mass Humanities-funded Family Tree project on display.

Katherine Stevens, Director of Grants and Programs

  • B.C.U.C at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke – One of the best live shows I have been to. Ecstatic, with the sense of danger you might expect at an underground punk show but somehow channeled into care and togetherness—and a lot of dancing. Part of the first “Secret Planet” season in the Connecticut valley, B.C.U.C. also stopped by the Fabulous 413 for an interview and “unplugged” set. 
  • “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield” at the Museum of Fine Arts. –The size and weight (all meanings) of the clay jars in this exhibit took my breath away. Large and forceful as monuments, but also intimate, inscribed with subtle poems by their maker, Dave. Seeing it as part of the Clemente course visit to the MFA, and reading Kyera Singleton’s exhibit commentary about enslaved New England artisans, made the experience all the more special. 
  • Holyoke Fish Elevator – So many things I love combined in one: a literal window into the wonders of nature, municipal infrastructure, local history, conservation efforts, and enthusiastic tour guides. I took every visitor I had in May to see it. 

Gina Ocasion, Clemente Course Coordinator

  • Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maggie Mortimer.  
  • Gather. A documentary on Indigenous food practices  
  • Clementinos, forthcoming in 2024 from University of Massachusetts Press. A collection of essays and poems by Clemente scholars in Massachusetts.  

Diane Feltner, Development Manager

LaToya Bosworth, Program Officer, Reading Frederick Douglass Together

  • Being honored in May by the Pioneer Valley Women’s Conference with the Goddess Award which goes to a woman who personifies the three distinct traits that are reflective of a women’s contribution towards the creation of a stronger local community: She embraces life’s challenges with optimism and bravery; she tests traditional thinking to initiate change; and she ventures beyond herself to empower and collaborate with others. 
  • In September, I experienced the Hartford Bubble Run 5k with two of my close girlfriends. 
  • Watched High on the Hog, Season Two (Netflix), and felt so connected to my roots.  
  • The entire National Humanities Conference presented multiple opportunities for me to engage in the Humanities from the perspectives and lived experiences of African Americans historically and present day.

Brian Boyles, Executive Director

  • Easily Slip Into Another World: A Life in Music by Henry Threadgill. The memoir by the Pulitzer-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist carries us along through his Chicago youth to his tour in Vietnam to his intrepid, groundbreaking role in redefining the boundaries of jazz. Read if you’re into adventurous spirits and musical genius. 
  • Big Thief at the Pines, Northampton. My partner and I hadn’t been to a concert by ourselves since January 2020, and Big Thief’s music was one of the things that pulled me along through the pandemic (I could cite Zach Bryan, Curren$y, and Courtney Barnett here, too). The performance was alternately ferocioius and shy, and threaded with stretches of artistic intimacy. I loved the way the audience—at one of western Mass—seemed to carry singer Adrianne Lenker through vulnerable, uncertain moments, much as songs like “Masterpiece” held me up the last 3+ years.  
  • Conrad Tao at the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown. There’s an emerging vision in the performances the museum hosts that’s well worth celebrating and signing up for their newsletter. Placing Tao at the center of the 50th anniversary of the Manton Research Center gave the night a future-facing urgency beyond commemoration and well in line with the Center’s significance. Playing a composition by Patrick Higgins, Tao confronted the audience with a furious dexterity and presence I admired. Glad I had the chance to tell him so after the show.  
  • National Black Doll Museum pop-up at the JMac in Worcester. Mass Humanities was fortunate to support Debora Britt just as she and her one-of-a-kind collection of more than 7,000 dolls were forced out of their space in Mansfield. An exhibit at Wheaton College in 2022 was followed by this February show in Worcester, organized by our board member and Worcester Black History founder Deborah Hall. At the opening, Britt gave a stirring account of a life spent collecting and advocating for dolls that reflect centuries of artistic innovation too often neglected by major toy companies and museums.  
Literacy Volunteers of Greater Worcester

Local organizations receive year a second year of funding.

Communities around Massachusetts have important stories to tell and vital issues to discuss. In 2022, Mass Humanities committed to provididing sustained support for two iniatives, the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street program and the 2022 Staffing Grants. In fall 2023, partner organizations in these initiatives received a second year of funding to continue their work.

The grants total more than $280,000.

“We want to help the staff at these organizations continue to serve their local communities,” said Brian Boyles, Executive Director of Mass Humanities. “We see this second round of funding as essential for the ideas and programs launched over the last year.”

We are proud to share our second-year grants for the following organizations:  

Museum on Main Street Grantees

These partners hosted “Crossroads,” the Smithsonian traveling exhibit, in 2022-23. A second grant of $10,000 will help sustain the conversations and audience outreach in six small towns over the next year.

  • Hull Lifesaving Museum will support a series of events on women in marine industries, inspired by conversations held during their Museum on Main Street tour. 
  • Essex Historical Society & Shipbuilding Museum will create a “Builders without Borders” program series, inspired by the Shipbuilder’s Roundtable held during the Museum on Main Street tour. Funding is made possible by New England Biolabs Foundation.
  • Friends of the Great Falls Discovery Center will host programs on the theme of “Food, Farms, and Factories,” inspired by the community response to Museum on Main Street. 
  • Rutland Free Public Library will create new programs with its Museum on Main Street partners, including conversations about Rutland’s role in the history of public health and contemporary challenges to community wellness.
  • Bushnell-Sage Library will build on the success of its Museum on Main Street program by continuing its community conversation and story-sharing series, digitizing the “Voices from the Field” oral histories, and maintaining partnerships with Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center and Sheffield Historical Society.
  • Athol Public Library will continue successful partnerships with Harvard Forest Museum, Swift River Historical Society, Athol Historical Society, and the Starrett Company Museum; build on its community conversation series to address rural conservation and main-street renewal; and give residents opportunities to contribute to a new “Changing Faces of Our Rural Community” project.
Hull Lifesaving Museum

Staffing the Humanities Grantees

Our two-year commitment to these partners continues our support for staffing at grassroots organizations. These grants were made possible through our partnership with Mass Cultural Council.

  • The Jar will support its Director of Programming to connect people through conversations about art and performance, and to build accessibility into all of The Jar’s programs. 
  • Shirley-Eustis House Association will support their Programs Coordinator to strengthen new partnerships with community organizations, and build a more inclusive story of Roxbury’s past and present.
  • Literacy Volunteers of Greater Worcester will support staff in developing programs that enable English Language Learners to build their literacy skills while engaging in conversation about culture and civics.
  • African Cultural Services Inc. will support staff to continue its K-12 educational programs on African/Ugandan culture, with an increased focus on the history and traditions behind music, dance, and fashion.
  • Andover Center for History & Culture will support staff in building K-12 partnerships by developing tools for K-12 teachers, focused on Andover history.
  • Blues to Green, Inc. will continue and expand its Legacy Education Project, which brings acclaimed Black and Afro-Caribbean musicians into majority Black and Latinx public schools to use historical Black and Afro-Caribbean music to teach students music, US and world history, and literature. 
  • Old Colony Historical Society will support staff to develop modules, case-studies, and additions to its website highlighting collections related to silver manufacturers Reed & Barton.
  • Everyday Boston will support a coordinator for “The Bridge Project,” which enables formerly incarcerated people to develop the communication skills and sense of belonging they need to succeed in the community. 
  • Guerilla Opera will support staff to continue its community programs, making opera accessible to audiences through multi-sensory learning experiences, and its library-based community conversation programs.
  • The History Project: Documenting LGBTQ Boston will support a Program Coordinator to expand its Out of the Archives community programs, sharing stories of LGBTQ+ history and presence to build connection and combat isolation.
  • BAMS Fest, Inc. will support staffing to coordinate its ARTDACITY program and build sustained community partnerships.
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Last month’s Governor’s Awards in the Humanities event was our most successful to date.

More than 200 guests joined us at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on September 28, 2023, to celebrate the public humanities and the accomplishments of our honorees Elizabeth Bacon, Margaret Burnham, Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, and Kumble Subbaswamy.

Thanks to our incredible sponsors, board, and community of supporters, we were able to exceed our fundraising goal, raising $205,000 to support our grant initiatives and programs across the state, helping to create a strong foundation as we enter our 50th year.

It’s taken me, today, to questions of redress and reparation, how we talk about, appreciate, and recover the past. Law alone will not get you there, you need the humanities to answer the large questions about how we deal with our past. You need philosophy, you need religion, you need art, you need music, you need drama, you need it all.”
-Margaret Burnham, 2023 Governor’s Award recipient

Do you know a local humanities leader? We are currently accepting nominations of individuals whose public actions are grounded in an appreciation of the humanities and who have acted to enhance civic life Massachusetts. Please submit the name of the nominee, and any other information you wish to provide, to Diane Feltner at dfeltner@masshumanities.org before December 1.

“Crossroads” exhibit attracts new visitors, volunteers, and partners.

A new report from Mass Humanities details the experiences of residents in six rural towns that hosted the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit in 2022-23. More than 23,000 people attended free public events during the tour of “Crossroads: Change in Rural America.”

Museum on Main Street (MoMS) is a Smithsonian outreach program that engages small town audiences and brings revitalized attention to underserved rural communities. The Smithsonian partners with state humanities councils, like Mass Humanities, to bring traveling exhibitions, educational resources and programming to small towns across America through their own local museums, historical societies and other cultural venues. The 2022-23 tour marked the first time that Mass Humanities partnered with the Smithsonian.

“This report captures the spirit and hard work that we witnessed over the last year in these small towns,” said Brian Boyles, Executive Director of Mass Humanities. “Librarians, town officials, museum directors, volunteers, and sponsors worked together to build capacity for local institutions and spark conversations about their histories and their shared future.”

“Crossroads” launched in Essex in September 2022, moving on to Hull, Rutland, Turners Falls, and Sheffield before closing in Athol in June 2023. Prior to the start of the tour, Mass Humanities and the Smithsonian engaged staff from all six host institutions in workshops that included trainings on exhibit content, publicity, and conversation facilitation. Mass Humanities provided $10,000 grants to each partner site to prepare for the tour and produce at least six public events. Each partner will receive a second Mass Humanities grant to sustain the programs and partnerships begun during the tour.

The new report includes an introduction by Linda Dunlavy, Executive Director of the Rural Policy Advisory Commission, which helped select the host communities and co-hosted four legislative receptions with Mass Humanities. An essay by tour scholar Dr. Leo Hwang explores the unique relationships and landscapes of rural Massachusetts. Former Mass Humanities Program Officer Jen Atwood coordinated the 2022-23 tour and created the report.

Highlights from the report:

130 – Number of free public events hosted during the tour

57% – Percentage of 23,000 event attendees who visited the host library or museum for the first time

2,000 – Number of students who viewed the exhibition, including home school groups and field trips

67 – Organizations that partnered to support the host sites

405 – Volunteers engaged with events and tour, including 69% who volunteered for the first time

The MoMs host partners convened community conversations on a range of local issues, including access to health care, changes in farming, development and conservation, and changing demographics. Mass Humanities plans to distribute the report to state and local officials to inform policymakers of the challenges facing residents in rural Massachusetts.

Mass Humanities thanks our partners at Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum; The Hull Lifesaving Museum; Rutland Free Public Library; Great Falls Discovery Center, Turners Falls; Bushnell-Sage Library, Sheffield; and Athol Public Library. We are grateful for the support of sponsors including the National Endowment for the Humanities, Big Y, New England Biolabs Foundation, Essex County Community Foundation, Greenfield Savings Bank.

A new Museum on Main Street tour will reach the state in 2025. Mass Humanities will announce a call for applications in spring 2024.

Partners collaborate with grantees in Western Mass. to create pilots of audio documentaries resonant to their communities.

Mass Humanities, public media organizations PRX––one of the world’s top podcast publishers and public radio distributors––and New England Public Media (NEPM) based in Springfield, Massachusetts, today announced the Mass Humanities Audio Storytelling Project. The program has recently begun, equipping four teams with four months of training in aspects of creative story development and audio production, provide for recording space and equipment at NEPM’s state-of-the-art facilities, and a stipend to help produce a pilot of an audio documentary relevant to their local communities. 

The Mass Humanities Audio Storytelling Project is supported by Mass Humanities, dedicated to creating opportunities for the people of Massachusetts to transform their lives and build a more equitable Commonwealth. At this critical time for local media, the program aims to build resources for individuals to tell stories that are meaningful, resonant, and representative of their communities. 

“Storytelling builds a sense of belonging and connection for residents seeking to better understand our past and meet our contemporary challenges,” said Brian Boyles, Mass Humanities Executive Director. “Our partnership with PRX and NEPM merges their expertise and platforms with the wisdom, research, and grassroots outreach of humanities organizations in Western Massachusetts. In a time of polarization and miscommunication, we look forward to collaborating to amplify the courageous work of these truth seekers.”

Since 2021, Mass Humanities has funded more than 110 projects through its Expand Mass Stories initiative, which supports new narratives about the people and ideas that shape Massachusetts. 

PRX will lead the following teams through a curriculum driven by human-centered design, in order to produce audio pilots for 88.5 NEPM, New England Public Media’s news and talk station: 

  • Local Access to Valley Arts is a community arts and humanities space, arts incubator, and black box theater in downtown Greenfield. Local Access to Valley Arts is focused on providing a space where all artists’ voices are heard. 
  • Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association has been preserving and interpreting the multi-cultural history of the Connecticut and Deerfield River Valleys since 1870 through the Memorial Hall Museum, the Deerfield Teachers’ Center, and the Old Deerfield Craft Fairs.
  • Doctorbird is producing Faces of Medicine, a documentary series centered on the paths of Black female physicians in the United States.
  • Erika Slocumb is a scholar who continues to collect, archive, and share the stories of communities in cities and towns including Holyoke, Hadley, and Northampton. 

“NEPM is dedicated to serving all the people in Western Mass; storytelling and journalism are core to our mission of nurturing community, civility, and curiosity,” said Matt Abramovitz, President of NEPM. “We want to continue to leverage our resources and reach to advance the mission of strengthening our community.” 

With roots in Massachusetts, PRX is also the founder of the PRX Podcast Garage in Boston, a community space and studio for audio creators of all experience levels. The content development team at PRX has led podcast training programs in partnership with Google for a global podcast accelerator, the Knight Foundation for a U.S. journalism podcast incubator, PBS KIDS, Serrapilheira in Brazil, and the Baraza Media Lab in Nairobi, Kenya. PRX also recently embarked on the Gateway Cities Audio Project across Massachusetts, focusing on the significance of telling local stories. 

“There’s a groundswell of consciousness gaining national momentum that underscores the need to invest in how stories are told and shared,” said Gina James, Vice President of Strategic Development at PRX. “We’re inspired by work being undertaken across the U.S., by coalitions such as Press Forward, that invigorate communities with powerful stories while reassessing what lens they’re told through. PRX is proud to be a catalytic connector working toward that future with partners as crucial to the fabric of Massachusetts as New England Public Media and Mass Humanities.”

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