In 1972, South Carolina joined a growing number of states in establishing a humanities council that would, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), expand access to the humanities across the state. Fifty years later, South Carolina Humanities (SCH) is fulfilling its mission to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of the citizens it serves by presenting and supporting exhibitions, festivals, publications, and other humanities programming that directly or indirectly reaches 250,000 South Carolinians each year. “At fifty, it is time to reflect on the dedication of men and women who laid a firm foundation for excellence in humanities programming. As a result, thousands of South Carolinians have come to better understand their state’s history, their neighbors, and themselves,” said Dr. Randy Akers, Executive Director of South Carolina Humanities, of this milestone anniversary.
Since first launching its grants program in 1973, South Carolina Humanities has distributed $10,738,359 in funding to 2,621 projects in the Palmetto State. The council currently awards $200,000 in grants annually across six programs, including Major, Mini, and Planning Grants. SCH’s Major Grants assist humanities institutions— including museums, colleges and universities, and historic sites—in advancing public humanities programs in all corners of the state. In Orangeburg, the Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum used a Major Grant for the “South Carolina Civil Rights Monument Project,” which created four sculptures showcasing the history of civil rights activism in the state.
In addition to its annual grants program, in 2020 South Carolina Humanities began working alongside NEH to support cultural institutions navigating the COVID-19 pandemic through special funding opportunities, starting with Bridge Emergency Relief Grants, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) plan. Bridge Emergency Relief Grants awarded $490,000 to 103 organizations, providing support to 34 South Carolina counties and all seven congressional districts. The next year, NEH and South Carolina Humanities continued efforts to invest in the recovery of the state’s cultural institutions, awarding 78 Growth Grants totaling more than $856,000 through the Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) initiative, once again reaching all congressional districts. Through these programs, grant recipients were able to bring back or hire new staff, produce innovative programming, and develop solutions for future emergencies that impact operations.
South Carolina Humanities is not only a leading funder of the humanities in the state, but a producer of a diverse network of humanities programming and resources, ranging from digital history collections to the annual Governor’s Awards in the Humanities, which, to date, have recognized 98 outstanding South Carolina humanists. Since its founding, South Carolina Humanities has hosted 27 Humanities Festivals, sold 20,000 copies of the South Carolina Encyclopedia, and brought eight exhibitions to 41 communities as part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street initiative, with applications now open to host the 2024–2025 exhibition, “Spark! Places of Innovation.” The Speakers Bureau: Humanities Out Loud is one of the longest running South Carolina Humanities programs, bringing scholars from wide-ranging fields and areas of expertise to share their knowledge with audiences all across the state. Nonprofit organizations and agencies can apply to host a Speakers Bureau presentation with support from South Carolina Humanities, selecting from topics including Gullah Geechee history and culture, historic preservation, the Reconstruction Era, and programs for children, bringing opportunities for education and discussion to learners of all ages.
On March 11, 2023, NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo) joined Dr. Akers, the South Carolina Humanities’ Board of Directors and staff, and guests in Columbia, the state capital, for the 50th Anniversary Celebration, marking five decades of remarkable service to the humanities and people of South Carolina. NEH congratulates South Carolina Humanities on this achievement and looks forward to working together for years to come. To learn more about South Carolina Humanities’ work, including the story of its first 50 years as told in the new book Golden: The First 50 Years of South Carolina Humanities, visit schumanities.org.