“On the Road” to Collaboration

February 18, 2014

While state humanities councils maintain a close relationship with the Federal/State Partnership Office of the NEH, we can sometimes feel disconnected from the rest of the agency. That was why I very excited to take part in a recent training for the NEH’s On the Road exhibit series. The wonderful NEH exhibit “House & Home” has been on display at the University of Mississippi Museum in Oxford. The exhibit, which explores changing architectural styles and living patterns in American homes over the years, has proven so popular that it is booked well into the future.  In early February, representatives from nineteen different small museums slated to host “House and Home” converged on Oxford from around the country to see the display and learn about how to manage and program for the exhibit. Chrissy Cortina, a Senior Program Officer at NEH who helps oversee the NEH On the Road exhibits, invited me to attend the training to speak to the group about the work of state humanities councils.

I arrived in Oxford from the Mississippi Humanities Council office in Jackson just in time for a workshop on developing public programming in connection with the exhibit. As we broke up into small groups to brainstorm how to draw audiences to the exhibit, I heard many laments about small (or nonexistent) program budgets. Thus the ground was set when I was later formally introduced to the group. While each state council is different, I informed them that most offered grants for the sort of programs they had just discussed. In Mississippi, we have a speaker’s bureau of presenters who can address several different themes and topics raised by “House and Home.” Many other state councils have similar programs. While about half of the audience had experience working with their state council, a good number had not, and will hopefully approach them to help support innovative public programming when the exhibit comes to their town. NEH On the Road presents a perfect opportunity for the state councils to work with the Endowment to bring outstanding educational programs to smaller communities around the country.