Media Alert: Illinois Humanities to Release Landmark Covid-19 Report

For Immediate Release: April 24, 2023Contact: Sarah Sommers at | 773-251-4772

Press Releases
Sarah Sommers

Read Time 7 minutes
April 24, 2023


The event, co-hosted by Forefront, will premiere key findings from History is Happening: The State of Humanities Organizations in Illinois During COVID-19, a cumulative report three years in the making of how humanities organizations’ responses to the pandemic can equip Illinois to forge an equitable and a more livable state for all. The discussion will provide perspectives from journalists and representatives across the economic development and cultural sectors.

Members of the press are invited to attend to learn firsthand about these findings and their implications on Illinois’ humanities landscape and economic recovery.

CHICAGO, APRIL 24, 2023 

On April 27, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. CDT, at Impact House (200 W. Madison St. FL 2, Chicago, IL 60606), Illinois Humanities will host the Breakfast and Report Release of History Is Happening: The State of Humanities Organizations in Illinois During COVID-19, a report describing the context for the nearly $2.4 million in relief and recovery grants Illinois Humanities distributed to 359 organizations in response to COVID-19. In the most essential way, the grants succeeded in providing relief and enabled organizations to “get back to business.” However, relief funding brought to light the significant “public goods” that humanities organizations provide to their communities: well-being, social cohesion, bridge building, and civic engagement — essential building blocks of an equitable recovery.

Utilizing data collected from grantee partners in conjunction with state demographic, health and economic information, and national findings on attitudes about arts and culture, History is Happening’s findings illuminate the state’s humanities’ ecosystem and point to exciting opportunities for Illinois to support a thriving cultural infrastructure that can strengthen the livability of the state for all residents, especially for some of the most vulnerable in our communities.

The breakfast release event, co-hosted by Forefront, features an overview of findings presented by Illinois Humanities Executive Director and report co-author Gabrielle H. Lyon, followed by a panel discussion featuring leaders in the economic development and cultural sectors; Irene Romulo, an award-winning journalist and co-founder of Cicero Independiente; O. Victoria “Vickie” Lakes-Battle,  IFF executive director of the Chicago Metro Region; Mónica Félix, executive director of the Chicago Cultural Alliance; and moderator John Bracken, executive director of the Digital Public Library of America. Panelists will discuss the report, their perspectives on the findings, and ideas for how cross-sector collaboration can strengthen the statewide cultural infrastructure. Copies of the report will be available in print and PDF formats, and attendees will have a chance to ask questions during the program.

Registration for the event is available on Illinois Humanities’ website.

History Is Happening: The State of Humanities Organizations in Illinois During COVID-19 will be published April 27 at


Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community, and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds. Stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @ILHumanities.


Gabrielle is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader, educator and author experienced in launching and scaling community-based and cross-sector organizations. She joined Illinois Humanities in June 2019. Prior to that, she served as the Vice President of Education and Experience at the Chicago Architecture Center and as a senior researcher at the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has led organizations that level the playing field of educational opportunity – particularly in science, technology, design and civic engagement. She was the founding executive director of Project Exploration, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the face of science for youth and girls of color, which was recognized locally and nationally, including with a Presidential Award for Excellence. Gabrielle is the founder of the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative and the Chicago Architecture and Design Education Network, two community-driven initiatives that work to address inequities for youth of color in out-of-school time. Gabrielle received her BA and MA in History from the University of Chicago and her PhD in Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago.


John Bracken is the executive director of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Previously John worked for nearly two decades as a philanthropic investor in digital media, media policy, and innovation. He most recently served as vice president for technology innovation at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, where he oversaw the Knight News Challenge, Knight’s Prototype Fund, and other efforts to improve the creation, curation, and accessibility of information.

John previously managed technology and civic innovation programs at the MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation. He has a master’s degree from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. from Pitzer College. He serves on the board of the Illinois Humanities Council.


Irene Romulo has been organizing to end deportations and the criminalization of people of color in Chicago for the past 11 years. Most recently, Irene has turned to journalism as a way to elevate local organizing, shed light on injustice and build power in her community.

Irene is an award-winning journalist and co-founder of Cicero Independiente, the only bilingual, independent news organization serving the people of Cicero and Berwyn, IL. She’s a past Ida. B Wells Investigative Reporting Fellow and was named a Leader for a New Chicago in 2022.


Vickie Lakes-Battle has been at the forefront of commercial and mission-based lending for over 30 years and has developed a recipe for equitably serving communities: time + proximity + authentic partnerships. On a mission to invest, redevelop and empower low-income communities to activate their visions, Vickie became IFF’s first-ever Executive Director for the Chicago Metro region. She oversees IFF’s full-range of services including lending, real estate consulting, and the community strategies program where she is adept at targeting and cultivating opportunities that support IFF goals and objectives. In this role, Vickie understands the necessity of cooperative engagement and active partnerships that expand the resources available to serve low- and moderate-income individuals and communities. She is a trusted thought partner to community-based organizations, the broader community development sector, and philanthropy.

Vickie’s ability to innovate at every turn–economically, socially, and organizationally–has been recognized throughout the Chicagoland area and nationally. Vickie challenges others to look at community development finance through an equity lens and is willing to ask and wrestle with the tough questions. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Illinois Public Health Institute, Arts Alliance Illinois, Cook County Land Bank Authority, AMPT: Advancing Nonprofits and is on the Steering Committees of Elevated Chicago and We Rise Together. Vickie’s track record positions her as a success benchmark for leaders in the commercial and mission lending and equitable community development space. Learn more about IFF at


Mónica Félix has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Chicago with specializations in German and Russian literature and a B.A. in German and Linguistics from Lawrence University. She began her career in public humanities with her role as the Museum Director of the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center in Chicago. To support new programming for diverse audiences, she formed partnerships with fellow Alliance organizations to plan an International Game Night, secured funding for genealogy resources, and greatly expanded the museum internship program to draw students from across Chicagoland.

Mónica’s nonprofit leadership experience continued when she stepped into the role of Chief Administrative Officer of the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA), the principal learned society in the United States for scholars whose work involves several literatures and cultures. As the ACLA’s first CAO, she oversaw multi-year planning of the organization’s 3,000-attendee annual meeting, implemented strategic planning, founded a development committee, established a new digital infrastructure, and overhauled the membership management structure.

With the Chicago Cultural Alliance’s dedicated Board of Directors and staff, she is helping to bring about the next generation of professional development programs, knowledge exchanges between centers, and impactful programming.