Leslie Vanholten, Director of Grants and Outreach for Humanities Kansas, relishes talking about the humanities. The core of her message is this statement from the Humanities Kansas website: “We believe that stories carry our culture and ideas change the world.”
Defining the word “humanities” is often difficult. Many associate it with a high school or college survey course in literature. But Vanholten broadens the concept, emphasizing that “the humanities help us understand what it means to be human — to seek connections with people and place. As we draw on our diverse histories, literature, ethics and cultures, we see more clearly who we are as people and define ideas that will shape a future worthy of generations to come.”
Humanities Kansas is a non-profit funded primarily by the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). NEH was established in the late 1960’s as a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The Kansas entity was established in 1972. Money from the State of Kansas and from private donations make up the balance of the annual budget.
Humanities Kansas distributed grants to fund a variety of initiatives. The primary criteria is that the humanities needs to be central to the proposal. Many rural communities take advantage of the Speakers Bureau to stimulate ideas among residents. Others use the book discussion leaders provided in the Talk About Literature program. Museum on Mainstreet brings displays from the Smithsonian Institute on the road to small-town Kansas. Collaboration on “Words of a Feather” has brought poetry and art together in a small book that has been placed in hotel rooms and cabins at state parks, on food trays for Meals on Wheels recipients, in local arts centers, and elsewhere across the state.