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Our Priorities

Our Grant Priorities

We give precedence to projects that meet the following criteria. If your project fulfills either one of these priorities, you could be eligible to receive extra funding.

  1. The Vote: Exploring voting rights in America: For our fall 2019 Project Grant round and winter Discussion Grant round, we are prioritizing funding programs that explore the many dimensions of voting rights in America using the lens of the humanities.
  2.  Engaging New Audiences: We give precedence to projects that reach communities in Massachusetts whose access to the humanities has been limited due to social, economic, educational, or geographic circumstances. 

The Vote: Exploring voting rights in America

A new grant priority for 2019-2020

To commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, Mass Humanities will prioritize funding public programs in 2020 that use the humanities to explore voting rights in America. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declared that the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of a person’s sex. Ratified in 1920, it marked a major victory in the women’s movement by extending the vote to women.

But with racism and xenophobia on the rise in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many women of color, like their menfolk, could still not vote. Poll taxes and literacy tests effectively barred many African Americans from voting, especially in the South, and Native Americans in 1920 could gain the right to vote only by severing their ties to their tribes. Many states had passed laws making it illegal for noncitizens to vote, and Chinese Americans were barred from citizenship. Clearly the ratification of the 19th Amendment represents a complicated moment in our nation’s history, one that warrants thoughtful reflection on how to commemorate it.

The year 2020 arrives at another pivotal period in our nation’s electoral history. Some states are considering extending the franchise to felons and younger teens, while others have increased the hurdles to voting. As voting rights, voter fraud, and electoral security are being debated across the country, the humanities offer essential resources for deepening our understanding of this moment.

Mass Humanities invites applications for projects that explore the many dimensions of voting rights in America, using the lens of history, literature, philosophy, jurisprudence, identity-based studies, or any other humanities discipline. “The Vote” grant opportunity will be available as part of the fall 2019 Project Grant round and the winter 2020 Discussion Grant round. Click here for more information on these types of grants

Deadlines for The Vote

  Inquiry Form (LOI) Deadline Application Deadline Approximate Notification Earliest Funded Event Date Funding up to
Project Grant September 9, 2019 October 28, 2019 December 16, 2019 Mid-January, 2020 $15,000
Discussion Grant November 6, 2019 December 4, 2019 January 8, 2020 Early February, 2020 $3,500

To qualify for “The Vote” priority

Projects must:

  • Explore the subject of voting rights in America. Mass Humanities especially encourages projects that:
    • Are attentive to the complexity of the subject
    • Situate voting rights within broader contexts
    • Reflect critically on what it means to commemorate achievements like the ratification of the 19th Amendment or the Voting Rights Act
    • Offer multiple perspectives
    • Help the audience to better understand the present
  • Engage humanities fields like history, literature, philosophy, jurisprudence, and identity-based studies.
    • Social science fields like political science and government can be engaged by elaborating on qualitative more than quantitative research and by using methodologies common in humanities disciplines.
    • Artistic projects such as storytelling, theater, or fine arts are eligible if they involve the audience in critical reflection on the arts. Mass Humanities can fund a moderated discussion of a play, for instance, but not the cost of mounting the play.
  • Serve the needs of Massachusetts residents.
  • Have a project scholar with documented expertise related to the project’s content.
    • A Mass Humanities Program Officer can help you find a scholar. It is best to contact us well before a Letter of Intent form (LOI) is due.

Projects may:

  • Focus on Massachusetts. Massachusetts’ role in the history of voting rights embodies some of the tensions evident in the period before 1920: in 1850, Massachusetts became the first state to host a national women’s rights convention and in 1855 was one of only five states in which black suffrage was legal; yet it waited longer than most other states to allow for voting irrespective of income, and in the early twentieth century it was a hub of the anti-suffrage campaign that sought to deny women the right to vote.
  • Explore voting rights in a broader national or transnational context, as long as the U.S. is a point of comparison.
  • Take a variety of formats, including: community discussion forums; lectures and panel discussions; moderated book- or film-discussion groups; exhibits; oral history projects (see criteria); digital media and film projects (see criteria), after-school and school-based programs; and other public-facing humanities projects.

Projects may not:

  • Engage in advocacy. A project that engages in advocacy leads audiences to think in a particular way or to support a particular policy.  Instead, Mass Humanities encourages projects that help audiences see an issue from a variety of perspectives so they can come to their own conclusion.
  • Engage in policy debates. Instead, projects may educate audiences about particular aspects of voting rights – from the perspectives of history, political philosophy, ethics, literary or artistic analysis, etc. – so they can make their own decisions about which policies to support or resist.

Sample frameworks for projects:

How did your community play a role in the history of voting rights?

Example: Exhibit of suffragists from your town that explores the broader social and political contexts informing their work, with curriculum development for visits by 8th – grade civics classes.  The scholar is a historian of the women’s suffrage movement.

Who was left out?

Example: A panel discussion exploring how many people of color were excluded from the vote between the passage of the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, with a facilitated conversation with the audience about how that legacy still shapes communities of color today.  The scholar has expertise in critical race theory and teaches courses that cover these topics.

How do democracies make decisions about who should vote?

Example: A library-based reading group using excerpts of ancient and modern texts about who should have the right to vote and on what basis (age, citizenship status, criminal record, property, etc.)  The scholar is a political philosopher with an interest in these questions.

On what basis did people disagree with each other?

Example: A staged debate, based on speeches and other documents, between historical figures who supported and argued against the passage of the 15th Amendment, which declared that the vote could not be denied on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, followed by a facilitated discussion amongst the audience.  The scholar is a specialist in African American history and Reconstruction.

Engaging New Audiences

Mass Humanities’ strategic objective

In Massachusetts, eye-opening humanities programming is readily available to most members of the public if they seek it out. But many people have neither the tools nor the opportunity to do so, and do not know the humanities may change their understanding of the world, their place in it, and the personal and social empowerment the humanities may bring them. Mass Humanities’ main strategic objective is giving more people better access to the humanities. We call it Engaging New Audiences for the Humanities (ENA).

Through our grant giving and programs, we seek to encourage projects that involve new and larger audiences of people who currently have limited access to the humanities, or make very limited use of humanities programming. Young and working adults are examples, as are prison inmates, teens and nursing home residents. In grant making, we encourage ENA project applications both by offering special incentives and by giving precedence to projects that seek to expand the reach of the humanities.

This is not a simple or straightforward task. We have set a high bar, both for ourselves and for grant applicants, for both the “Engaging” and the “New Audiences for the Humanities” aspects of this objective. However, we have left the specifics open, so that our understanding of Engaging and of New Audiences may be continually expanded in dialogue, within our organizations, with collaborating groups, and with applicants and grantees.

We have set some basic guidelines for ourselves and for grant applicants:

  • In addition to describing a project that would be attractive to a community that is traditionally underserved by public humanities programming, much of the programming we fund, including all programming that is specifically considered under Engaging New Audiences incentives, includes specific mechanisms for actually involving those audiences, for making sure that the program gets to them or vice versa. It is one of the main criteria we use in prioritizing grant proposals.
  • Projects should also be clear on how the “new” audience is in fact underserved by humanities programming. Below are some examples that might help in understanding eligibility for ENA funding. 

What are/are not Engaging New Audiences (ENA) projects:

Q: What are “New Audiences for the Humanities”? Is “new” another word for minority, does it denote specific ethnic or socio-economic groups, or target people from specific areas?

A: There are many reasons why people have limited access to public humanities programming, and among them are the factors mentioned. Someone who lives in an area with few museums, theaters, or institutions of higher learning is geographically part of an underserved audience. Someone who cannot get to a public program (nursing home residents, prisoners) is also. But experience and audience surveys show that humanities programming tends to serve a fairly narrow slice of the population. Many people are not very well served by traditional public humanities institutions and formats (exhibits, lectures, reading and/or discussion projects) for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that such programs often do not engage their attention. Among them are teens, young and working adults, and minority groups. Humanities programming created specifically to engage members of such groups of people is eligible for an ENA grant, as determined in consultation with a program officer.

Q: What do you mean by a “mechanism” to engage a new audience?

A: Projects should describe specific methods by which they will convince the intended audience to participate. In some cases, that may mean collaborating with organizations whose constituent-population is the project’s target. With respect to K-12 students, it may mean using a format or speaking a language they demonstrably understand or are attracted to.

Q: We are planning a history-based play that should bring hundreds of history buffs to our experimental theater. Can we apply for an ENA grant?

A: No, not unless the new people coming to the theater are also new to humanities programming.

Q: Increasingly curricula for K-12 students contain fewer topics in the humanities. Are primary and secondary school children therefore “new audiences”?

A: Not necessarily. Moreover, Mass Humanities funds a limited palette of in-school programs (see Project Grant Guidelines on K-12 projects, p. 4). ENA curriculum proposals should demonstrate that the schools and/or children involved are specifically underserved by extracurricular humanities “enrichment” programming. Example: a theater-in-the classroom program is only ENA-eligible if the proposal demonstrates that the particular schools served are less able than others to bring their students to theater or vice versa.

Q: Is creating an exhibit that should be popular with new immigrants with limited English language skills an ENA project?

A: Not necessarily. However, if the exhibit is part of a larger project that contains a very detailed and inventive outreach plan with mechanisms (such as collaborations or bringing a language class to a bilingual exhibit) to bring recent immigrants with limited English language skills to the museum, it very well could be. The question program staff asks is “if you build it, what will get them to come?”

Q: We are adding history teaching to the programs our nature center offers. Is the project eligible for an ENA grant?

A: It might be, depending on your audiences and programs. If you already serve audiences with limited access to public humanities programming, or audiences (such as teens) less likely to engage in humanities programming, then using your successful “engaging” strategies to also teach the humanities makes your project eligible for ENA funding. However, if you serve audiences who are not demonstrably underserved (for example, adult hikers and local school children), simply adding new humanities programming is not an ENA-eligible project.

Q:  Is a project that uses social media and/or up –to-date communication technology used by large numbers of young people eligible to apply for ENA funding

A: Potentially but not necessarily. The “if you build it, what will make them come?” question applies here. Neither the potential of social media or online programming to be seen or used by large numbers of people, nor the popularity of such media with younger generations constitutes, in and of itself, a mechanism of engagement. However, an innovative Web-based interactive project could be eligible for an ENA grant if it included substantial crowd-sourcing and a feasible and detailed outreach plan for getting people to actively participate and engage the project’s issues. The key is to include enough thoughtfully developed outreach strategies in a proposal.

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