Illinois Humanities Releases Landmark Covid-19 Relief and Recovery Report

History is Happening: The State of Humanities Organizations in Illinois During COVID-19, underscores organizations’ critical roles as vibrant community anchors.

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May 4, 2023

History is Happening: The State of Humanities Organizations in Illinois During COVID-19, underscores organizations’ critical roles as vibrant community anchors.

CHICAGO, MAY 4, 2023 — Illinois Humanities’ landmark report, History Is Happening: The State of Humanities Organizations in Illinois During COVID-19, finds the state is positioned to build a thriving cultural ecosystem that can contribute to equitable recovery and improve livability for residents.

History Is Happening – which describes the context for the nearly $2.4 million in relief and recovery grants Illinois Humanities distributed to 359 organizations in response to COVID-19 – utilizes data collected from grantee partners in conjunction with state demographic, health, and economic information, and national findings on attitudes about arts and culture, to underscore the ways in which access to the humanities improves overall quality of life, especially for many of the state’s most vulnerable communities.

Public humanities organizations and institutions – theaters, art centers, libraries, museums, and news outlets to name a few – are in every one of Illinois’ 102 counties, and all of them were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinois Humanities’ COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Grants were distributed from 2020-2022 to support humanities organizations impacted by the pandemic in the wake of a calculated $24.3 million in collectively lost revenue and more than 4 million lost interactions with community members.

Report findings show:

  • 60% of grantee partners serve communities that were under health and economic duress before the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Nearly a quarter of grantee partners provide programming in a zip code with more COVID cases than the statewide average.
  • Two in three grantee partners operate in areas without reliable access to broadband internet.

To accompany the report, Illinois Humanities created an interactive map and a directory of the organizations that received relief funds, spanning 78 Illinois counties and every congressional district.

“Arts and cultural amenities are ranked the fourth most difficult to access after housing, transit, and job opportunities for communities of color and adults living on low incomes. When you consider the way residents benefit from access to the humanities – in terms of health,
well-being, the ability to participate in our civic democracy – it becomes increasingly hard to see the humanities as anything less than a necessity,” said Gabrielle Lyon, executive director of Illinois Humanities and one of the report’s lead authors.

Illinois Humanities premiered its findings at a breakfast release event co-hosted by Forefront featuring a cross-sector panel moderated by John Bracken, executive director of the Digital Public Library of America.

Behind every point on the statewide map issued by Illinois Humanities, there is a community whose lives are being positively impacted by public humanities organizations. Panelist Mónica Félix, executive director of the Chicago Cultural Alliance, emphasized the role of these organizations. “Each organization [was] already supporting a constituency of immigrants, marginalized communities, community elders, opportunity youth, and others, when the pandemic arrived.”

“One of the things [the report] made me do is really reflect on the ways that my own life has been impacted by the humanities. I came to those spaces out of necessity and out of love,” said release event panelist Irene Romulo, an award-winning journalist and co-founder of Cicero Independiente.

“[In our grantmaking we] prioritized humanities organizations with budgets of a million or less, and we allocated 50% of the dollars we had outside of Cook County,” explained Lyon. “Distributing funding gave us a unique opportunity to start to understand the landscape of humanities organizations… All of these organizations [in the report] used the humanities to deliver on their mission, and they also, in some cases, served as first responders. So they were distributing food. They were sharing information sometimes in languages in which information was not otherwise available. And they were trusted. They’re community anchors.”

Panelist O. Victoria “Vickie” Lakes-Battle, IFF executive director of the Chicago Metro Region, stressed the importance of recognizing the humanities as essential, noting the shift during the pandemic of humanities workers being “finally seen and recognized as key contributors to our society.”

In History is Happening, Illinois Humanities stresses the need to not only look back at the impacts of the pandemic on the humanities but to also use the lessons learned to connect across nonprofit, private, philanthropic, and government sectors to ensure access to the

“We need a bigger vision,” said Lyon. “We need to think about an ecosystem, about our entire landscape. And we absolutely can create an equitable, statewide cultural infrastructure that keeps our residents creative, connected, and in community.”

History Is Happening: The State of Humanities Organizations in Illinois During COVID-19 is now published with an accompanying Executive Summary, an Interactive Map of Grantee Partners, a Grantee Partner Directory, and links to previous COVID-19 reports 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.