Enews August 2021

Illinois Humanities

Read Time 4 minutes
August 25, 2021

Good morning,

In the midst of the ever-dynamic and devastating pandemic (which really is starting to feel like a Greek trial – Sisyphus, Tantalus, Ixion – your choice), Illinois Humanities is providing free public programming that might be just the thing to help you feel grounded, reflective, and even possibly optimistic:

Image 7 1

This past Saturday, August 21 we hosted the virtual awards ceremony for the 5th Annual Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards. This year’s poems celebrated the bonds of family, friendship, and community while also reckoning with social injustices and national tragedy. You can hear our state’s youngest poets perform their award winning work here, and you can read this year’s winning and honorable mention poems here. The ceremony also included the premiere of “For Young Poets,” an original work by Illinois Poet Laureate, Angela Jackson, which she wrote especially for the event.

If you’re thinking about going on an in-state expedition, check out Voices and Votes: Democracy in America exhibit, opening next in Salem at the Bryan Bennet Library on August 28 and travelling to other towns through spring 2022. Voices and Votes, which was curated by the Smithsonian especially for small towns, is accompanied on its tour by the Illinois Freedom Project, an exhibit that shares stories about the struggles by – and with – African Americans for freedom in Illinois. We’ve developed a state-wide media campaign for the tour and we were excited to see that the exhibitions got picked up by Chicago’s New City as a “must see” destination.

Behind the scenes we’re working through hundreds of COVID-19 emergency relief and recovery grant applications. The richness and diversity of Illinois’ public humanities community is breathtaking… as is the impact of the pandemic on the people and places that hold so much of our state’s culture, history, and memory. As we read through these compelling applications, our team is reminded every day that our best chance of being able to imagine – and implement – alternatives to our status quo relies on the humanities.

In other grants news, applications can be submitted by organizations and individuals for an Envisioning Justice Grant through September 1. Envisioning Justice engages Illinoisians in conversation about the impact of mass incarceration in local communities and invites organizations, collectives, and individuals to use the arts and humanities to devise strategies in creating a truly just society. We are also currently accepting applications for our Activate History micro-grant program (deadline: September 1) and our Community Grants program (deadline: September 15)

On a daily basis we are all weighing decisions, mundane and profound, about the ways in which we live our lives. We have to consider how our personal choices impact our communities. Increasingly we are being told we have to choose which is more important to us – the self or the community. Do we believe that each person is able to progress on their own, through their own efforts? Or do we believe that personal achievements and well-being is derived from shared experiences and mutual support? When we explore what it means to BE human, we are reminded that choices are really not binary; we don’t ONLY have A or B as options; the entire alphabet is available to us. And, perhaps, at a time when change is all around us – visible, constant, unpredictable and transformative – Sysiphus, Tantalus and Ixion may be less helpful than Lauren Oya Olamina, Ocatavia Butler’s protagonist from Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, who in her quest for freedom and liberation focuses on the power of change.

I was introduced to Parable of the Sower when I sat in on the second-year course of the Odyssey Project, which was focusing on the theme of kinship and belonging. As a working mom who is gearing up to get my kids back to school, an Executive Director working to figure out how to keep my team supported, inspired, and aligned in our statewide work, and a community member who doesn’t always agree with my closest neighbors, I’m working to embrace ambiguity – and channel my inner Lauren versus identifying with Sysiphus, and remember, as Butler writes:

“All that you touch You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth Is Change.”

Gabrielle Lyon, Executive Director

Please consider making a donation to help bring free high-quality humanities programs to communities across Illinois.


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.

Learn more at ilhumanities.org and on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube @ILHumanities.