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Staff Picks for 2023

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.  

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