Blog Article

“We’ve survived natural disasters… but nothing like this”

IH Grants Support Cultural Organizations in Time of Extreme Need And Adaptation

Illinois Humanities is announcing today the first round of emergency relief grants, and the recipients reflect the local champions of the humanities that we work with and appreciate across the state: historical societies, museums, architectural preservationists; arts and culture hubs; a social-justice oriented media education outfit; a local writing initiative that celebrates area authors; a cultural center that features local ethnic diversity; a Native American educational museum, and a center dedicated to the life of a renowned African American dancer and anthropologist.

In very different ways, each contributes to the lifeblood of their communities.

But as a result of COVID-19, they are postponing or canceling programs and exhibits, field trips, museum tours, festivals. They’re scrapping fundraising plans. Foregoing salary. And in some cases digging into valuable cash reserves to pay monthly bills – rent, utilities, insurance – that don’t take a break. Those who are fortunate enough to have endowment funds are starting to eye them as a last resort.

In response, however, these groups are also partnering with area community colleges and high schools on internships. They’re digitizing collections. They’re building virtual Easter Parades. They’re looking at how to create virtual programs that – while not replacing the power of in-person engagement – can reach far larger audiences. All in response to the pandemic.

In short, the COVID-19 pandemic is already wreaking havoc on statewide cultural organizations, but the response is equally remarkable. Illinois Humanities, founded in 1973, is a nonprofit that in its own way is reeling but also adapting to a changing climate. With a long history as a philanthropic supporter of groups throughout the state, we are announcing the recipients of a first round of COVID-19 Emergency Relief Funds. (See list of 24 grantees below.)

Take three cases.
The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, in Evanston, scrambled the night before the stay in place order to get its exciting new exhibit on repatriation (the “Reclaiming Cultural Treasures” exhibit and program, a partnership with the Chinese American Museum of Chicago and the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, as well as the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and the Field Museum) up and ready. Final prints of didactics had to be picked up, before getting hung, the night before.

“Henry Red Cloud was going to come to the museum on his way back to the reservation to receive his ancestor Chief Red Cloud’s war bonnet, returned from Washington College,” says executive director Kathleen McDonald.

That global exhibit now sits, awaiting the public, in a shuttered building.

Typically, Mitchell leads 5,000 students a year in docent-led tours. It features educational presentations by American Indian scholars, artists, attorneys and scientists. It hosts craft activities, exhibits, fine art market days.

But Mitchell is adapting. Even though it has lost income from admissions, gift shop sales, cancellation of school tours, even from the stock market, the museum is taking action in response.

The Museum is converting its donations website to WordPress, to be able to make updates remotely. It is developing a social media campaign to keep followers informed on news from Indian Country. It is going to reintroduce Bingo Adventure as a walking tour supported by Vamonde software. And it is partnering with Tribraining, Inc., to develop e-learning museum tours with supporting curriculum and lesson workshops for teachers to use online; the goal is to pilot this with teachers before the school year closes and to launch fully in the fall as an alternative to and in addition to in-person field trips.

“This will help middle school classes too far away from the museum and those without a travel budget to see the museum even after the pandemic ends,” says McDonald.

And then there’s the Western Illinois Museum.

Located in Macomb, WIM is a participatory museum that nurtures area history and culture. It fosters engagement by creating authentic social engagement through programs like “Our Front Porch” and “Blind Swine Speakeasy.” In 2020, it had planned an unprecedented 74 programs. It has had to cancel most programming.

WIM is pivoting by repackaging content for social media channels, moving aggressively to create online videos to tell the history of the area. It is teaching people how to do their own oral histories to tell the stories of this current moment. And interns are creating scavenger hunts to have people find historic sites in the county.

“If you receive a renewal notice, or would like to become a member for the first time, we hope you will do that,” says WIM director Sue Scott in a YouTube video. “While we are a nonprofit, we really are a small business, that is dependent on people who use us.”

“We believe that these are historic times,” continues Scott, “and that our museum has a responsibility in helping our community members heal from the social disruption and stay connected to one another.”

Finally, there’s the Hub – Arts and Cultural Center.

Created “as a pipe dream” in Rushville (an hour east of Quincy) only five years ago, the Hub fosters a connection to the arts, rural culture, and local communities through exhibitions and educational experiences.

The recent exhibit ‘Arts Kuba’ helped highlight connections with Rushville’s growing African immigrant population. The current exhibit, ‘Midwestern,’ by poet and photographer Justin Hamm, celebrates rural life. Other programs consist of hands-on arts programs but also explorations into local history.

While it receives generous support from the Tracy Family Foundation, Dot Foods, and anonymous donors, the Hub looks with envy at the funder communities in big cities. “We’re in a no-man’s land of grants,” says founder and executive director Erin Eveland.

“Program revenue and in-person fundraising are 35% of our budget,” explains Eveland. While closed, utilities and other expenses continue. “The loss of revenue for two months or more is simply crippling our organization.”

In response, the Hub is exploring ways to ramp up fundraising. “We will do whatever needs to be done to make sure that people in our community have access to the arts and cultural opportunities we provide,” says Eveland.

As another local cultural leader said, “We’ve survived natural disasters – flooding, tornadoes, but nothing like this. But we know we’ll come out stronger than ever.”

Illinois Humanities was able to pull together the funds to issue a special Emergency Relief Grants offering, and created an online application form, conducted outreach, and read proposals in far less time than normal. Below are the recipients of $2,500 general operating grants in a first round of Emergency Relief Grants. More COVID-19-related Illinois Humanities grant opportunities will be announced on Monday, April 27.

The organizations in this round include:
• 1820 Col. Benjamin Stephenson House (Edwardsville)
• Aurora Historical Society (Aurora)
• Bishop Hill Heritage Association (Bishop Hill)
• David Davis Mansion Foundation (Bloomington)
• DeKalb County History Center (Sycamore)
• Ethnic Heritage Museum (Rockford)
• Gallatin County Historical Society (Shawneetown)
• Gen. John A. Logan Museum (Murphysboro)
• Glidden Homestead and Historical Center (DeKalb)
• The Hub Arts and Cultural Center (Rushville)
• Katherine Dunham Centers for Arts and Humanities (East St. Louis)
• LaSalle County Historical Society (Utica)
• Livingston County Historical Society (Pontiac)
• Midwest Writing Center (Rock Island)
• Mitchell Museum of the American Indian (Evanston)
• Old School Museum (Winchester)
• P.A.S.T. of Union County (Jonesboro)
• Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home (Dixon)
• Shabonna-Lee-Rollo Historical Museum (Shabonna)
• St. Clair County Historical Society (Belleville)
• Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (Urbana)
• Washington County Historical Society (Nashville, Ill.)
• Western Illinois Museum (Macomb)
• Williamson County Historical Society (Marion)