PHA Honoree Alyson Thompson Leads Community Investment
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April 1, 2023
Marshall Public Library—helmed by 2023 Public Humanities Award winner Alyson Thompson—has been selected to receive a $300,000 grant from the Tourism Attractions and Festivals Grant Program from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) as part of a $22.5 million investment for nearly 90 local tourism festivals and attractions across Illinois.
Thompson, who has served as Library Director since 2014, is deeply involved in Marshalls’ literary and archival circles, building and maintaining local collections dating back to the Civil War and promoting their accessibility to the Marshall community.
A longtime Illinois Humanities grantee partner, the library sought DCEO funding to acquire and enrich the local, but diminishing, Clark County Genealogy Library which has been impacted by the need for substantial repairs, limited funds, and limited staffing. As part of its revitalization efforts, the library’s goal is to not only restore and enhance the collection by providing a safe space for it but to also become a community center that features local heritage as a tourist attraction.
“We are honored to be selected as a recipient of the Festivals and Tourism grant from Governor Pritzker’s office. We look forward to providing genealogy tourism to our community and surrounding communities with the installation of an ADA elevator and dedicated space for genealogy collections,” Thompson said.
The library’s efforts demonstrate the role humanities organizations can play in helping their communities by providing connection and learning, giving practical help, and fostering community rootedness as well as serving as economic engines.
“Alyson encapsulates what community-based humanities organizations do so powerfully in their communities. Not only do they enable human connection and bridge divides, they also deeply understand community needs,” Illinois Humanities Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon said.
“Alyson spearheaded efforts in Marshall to become designated as a first-responder site during the arrival of COVID-19 and she is still leading community improvement. Her efforts investing in expanding local genealogical resources and archives ensures that people can connect with their histories – and contribute to a local archive for future generations.”
Thompson is also Director of the Marshall Area Public Library District, Friend of the Library, and Local Coordinator for IRS Tax Aide assistance. Her professional work includes publications to library journals, educational workshops, building renovations, and host to nationally acclaimed exhibits.
“We’re about embracing and preserving local history so that we can further educate our public and that’s really at the heart of our mission. Most good things start with really humble and simple beginnings and what we believe is that there’s always a story that can benefit someone somewhere and we have some other personal community stories that really make that evident,” Thompson said.
Thompson will be recognized at the Public Humanities Awards on Wednesday, May 17 in Chicago, Illinois alongside Chicago radio producer, journalist, and teaching artist Stephanie Manriquez and Rebecca Ginsburg, Director of the Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Co-Founder of the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison. The Beacon Award will be presented to Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of the American Library Association.
About the Public Humanities Awards
Established in 1984, the Public Humanities Awards celebrate people who have made an indelible impact on our state through their work in and support of the humanities, honoring them with the Public Humanities Award. This event is Illinois Humanities’ most important annual fundraiser and enables us to provide grants and free public humanities programs throughout Illinois.
Launched in 2020 as part of the Public Humanities Awards Ceremony, the Beacon Award honors an individual or organization that has been a champion for – or investor in – the humanities in Illinois, elevating the work of humanists in ways that have improved the quality of the state for its residents.