Press Release

Illinois Humanities Announces First Activate History Grants to Promote Local Exhibits Diverse Projects Cover Civil Commitment, American Indians in Chicago, Gender, and More

Photos of Washington Park in the 1980s, the Documented History of Civil Commitment in Illinois & Other Projects Funded Through First Round of “Active History” Microgrants

Chicago, April 3, 2020—Illinois Humanities has approved its first round of “Activate History” microgrants, established to allow groups with important and diverse local collections to host creative exhibits. The six grants to a group of community-based organizations will support exhibits ranging from the history of civil commitment in Illinois to Chicago’s American Indian community to documentary photography of Washington Park and more.

“The catalyst for these grants is that we are learning more and more about fantastic local collections and the professional or volunteer historians who steward them and are looking for opportunities to make them better known,’ said Mark Hallett, program manager, grants for Illinois Humanities. “This grants opportunity is meant to be really accessible, and is open to organizations and individuals too.”

Groups and individuals may apply, and a grants advisory team, hosted by Illinois Humanities, considers the proposals. Grants of $500 are made to groups to allow them to move forward with their ideas.

Black and Pink Chicago, one of the projects approved in this first round, is working on the first community-based research project on civil commitment in Illinois. The group has compiled hundreds of pages of documents: written testimonials, grievances filed, drawings of prison cells, self-published pamphlets, and more. In addition, last year the group surveyed 200 people detained at Rushville Treatment and Detention Center to better understand civil commitment and the experiences of those committed. Ultimately, the hope is to create an interactive, public digital archive and website to accompany its research publication.

“[We’re] working on a community research and archiving project that aims to preserve and share the testimony of incarcerated LGBTQ+ people in civil commitment,” said Rebecca Valeriano-Flores, a civil commitment researcher and archivist with the organization. “The practice of civil commitment keeps people incarcerated indefinitely after they’ve served their sentences under the guise of treatment.”

Two other projects involve engagement with the Johnson Publishing Archive and Collections at the Stony Island Arts Bank: Brandee Ross aims to host text-based discussions on gender roles, and Terri Owens will host text-based discussions on the history of lynching of women and girls.
Other archival engagement projects approved in this first round include: 40 years of photographs by, and of, Chicago’s American Indian community (American Indian Association of Illinois); the Al Raby Foundation Family Chat Series (Katanya Raby); and, documentary photography of Washington Park in 1987 (photojournalist Rose Blouin).

The next “Activate History” microgrants deadline is Sept. 1, 2020. For more information, visit

Image: “Washington Park, Chicago, circa 1980s” Photograph by: Rose Blouin


About: Illinois Humanities activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community and strengthen civic engagement.