In September 1972, five energetic Indiana citizens worked alongside the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to establish a state grant-making affiliate aimed at focusing federal NEH funding on local grassroots humanities initiatives. A half century later, Indiana Humanities is still making impactful grants that reach Hoosiers across the state and has expanded its mission to producing its own original humanities programs, resources, and media, and events that encourage communities to “think, read and talk.”
Since 1972, Indiana Humanities has awarded millions of dollars to cultural and educational organizations in the state. Over its fifty years of operations, the humanities council has offered grant opportunities to meet the moment, creating new programs and updating others to fund projects relevant to the communities they serve. Current programs with 2023 deadlines include INcommon Grants, which fund projects that use the humanities to explore subjects related to race and ethnicity, and Action Grants, which support humanities-based projects that help people learn new information, consider different perspectives, and share ideas that lead to greater connection and understanding. In the summer of 2021, the Cedar Lake Historical Association and the Hesston Steam Museum received an Indiana Humanities Collaboration Grant for “Steam Through History,” a one-week program of educational history tours on a restored 1915 steamboat. As passengers enjoyed a ride on the scenic Cedar Lake, they learned about the history and science of steam power, the community’s history as a resort destination for Chicagoans in the 1920s, and the role of the steam engine in the economic and cultural development of the Calumet region. Through its funding for this project, Indiana Humanities was able to support civic partnerships and boost tourism in the area, which was especially valuable as the cultural sector recovered from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the success of the “Steam Through History” program’s inaugural season, the award-winning partnership continued between the Cedar Lake Historical Association and the Hesston Steam Museum, with steamboat tours offered in 2022 and again this year.
In addition to its annual grant opportunities, in 2020 Indiana Humanities and NEH began working together to support the state’s cultural and educational institutions as they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, distributing more than $550,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief funding to 80 organizations. These efforts continued into 2021, when nearly $850,000 in funds from NEH’s Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant program were distributed by Indiana Humanities, reaching 78 organizations across all nine of the state’s congressional districts. “In supporting this funding, the U.S. Congress has sent the message that the humanities are essential to our recovery from the impact of COVID-19,” said Keira Amstutz, president and CEO of Indiana Humanities. “These funds allow us to put much-needed resources into Indiana communities, where they can be used to strengthen humanities organizations and the programming they provide to Hoosiers.”
Indiana Humanities work extends well beyond grantmaking, with the organization maintaining a diverse roster of programming for Hoosiers of all ages to engage with the humanities and one another. Over the last fifty years, Indiana Humanities has offered impactful and innovative programs including Wordstruck, the Indiana Festival of Books held in 1991, 1993, and 1995, Food for Thought, a two-year program held in 2010 and 2011 that celebrated food as a defining feature of the state culture, and This Far by Faith, a traveling exhibition telling the story of African Americans in Indiana from the early nineteenth to late twentieth centuries, launched in 1982. Today, Indiana Humanities programs range from trips down the White River in Indianapolis as part of its popular Campfires program, which brings together literature and outdoor adventure, to INconversation, public dialogs held between a moderator, the audience, and featured guests from across the country, including celebrated authors, journalists, and more. Since 2008, under the leadership of Keira Amstutz, Indiana Humanities has developed multiyear thematic initiatives to guide programming. Currently, Unearthed is inviting “Hoosiers to discover and discuss their relationships with the natural world,” with programming including the Liminal Film Tour, the How to Survive the Future podcast, and an Environmental Humanities Speakers Bureau, bringing dynamic lectures to communities across the state.
As the council celebrates this historic milestone in 2023, it will host the annual National Humanities Conference, which brings together humanities practitioners from across the country to examine approaches to deepening public engagement with the humanities, focusing on the theme of “Crossroads” (a nod to the state’s motto as the “Crossroads of America.”) NEH congratulates Indiana Humanities on fifty years of service and support for the humanities in the Hoosier state. To learn more about Indiana Humanities’s first fifty years, view the complete organization timeline here.