The Connecticut Humanities, a nonprofit whose mission is to connect the state’s residents to the stories told by organizations like historical societies, museums and libraries, awarded $2.2 million to 150 cultural nonprofits in fiscal year 2021, a 92% jump from the previous fiscal year. Its impact has been felt in free admission for children, operating funds to keep facilities afloat and new projects that provide cultural context to important events in state history.
“We want to make sure everyone’s stories are lifted, everyone’s stories are told, and we are serving all of Connecticut in the process,” Executive Director Jason R. Mancini said.
The organization held a virtual public comment session Thursday for suggestions to continue expanding access to funding for cultural institutions and public access to programming they provide.
Daniel Fitzmaurice, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, asked about making the grant application process easier as some find it time consuming.
“The level of specificity that’s required at times for a small grant is a little bit difficult for some folks at certain levels,” Fitzmaurice said.
Mancini said this concern that has been expressed before, and prompted the organization to streamline the process while still requesting enough information to justify funding.
“We have pulled back on the extent of questions so that we can eliminate all barriers for entry for all organizations,” Mancini said.
Mancini said earlier this week that CTH has seen success connecting people to a wide variety of state resources through its grant awards and partnership with the Connecticut Office of the Arts.
“In the pandemic environment, there was a disconnect between people and the resources that are in their backyards,” Mancini said. “We opened that door to let people know there is a really rich array of resources in Connecticut that you may or may not know about.”
A summer program that allowed children free admission to more than 90 museums was an example of that outreach to the community, according to Scott Wands, manager of grants and programs at CTH. He added the state is unique in just how many offerings it has.
“Here, every community not only has one, but multiple things they can avail themselves to about their town and its past, entertain themselves and educate themselves all at the same time,” Wands said.
CTH and the Office of the Arts collaborated to send $1.5 million to provide operating support for 50 larger nonprofit museums to help get them through 2020 and to start 2021 on good financial footing, Wands said. He added that another $16 million will be dispersed by the end of this year to eligible museums and cultural, humanities, and arts organizations that apply.
The pandemic spurred some impressive projects, Wands said. He pointed to New London Landmarks, which collected photos, writing, videos and visual art exploring how people experienced going through the pandemic. The virtual exhibit titled, “New London Speaks: Voices from a Pandemic,” includes 70 submissions. It gave people a chance to discuss how they felt and document it for future generations, Wands said.
Communities also expressed how they felt about issues surrounding race, Wands said. The Windsor Historical Society, he said, moved a statue of John Mason, the town’s founder, from the town’s Palisado Green to the Historical Society’s grounds, adding interpretive panels to help the community understand Mason’s complicated legacy.
“He founded Windsor, but he also led raids that helped wipe out our Native Pequot communities in the state,” Wands said. “When it’s on the Green, you don’t get that story. The panels will help talk about the contribution he made, but also the things we look back on now with a different view.”
Due to a surge in anti-Asian racism, the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute at UConn is working with the Connecticut Historical Society to provide academic programming and public education to reach a wider audience, according to the group’s annual report.
CTH is seeing more views on the websites that are part of its digital portal – ConnecticutHistory.org and TeachItCT.org. ‘Teach It’ has seen a 59% jump in visitors from fiscal year 2020 to 2021. It provides teachers with activities aimed to bring the state’s history to their classrooms including history focused on Indigenous people. ConnecticutHistory.org has seen a 31% increase.
There is also the ConnTours app, which provides information regarding historic and cultural sites.
Mancini said one of the organization’s goals is to work on connecting school teachers and their students with various cultural groups. CTH will provide support for upgrading technology and expanding digital programming.
“Every community is going to be different but we want to make sure we are seeding that ground,” he said. “It is fertile ground here.”
Over the next two years, CTH will invest $30.7 million, money allocated by the state, to increase equitable access to the resources arts and cultural centers offer, according to the annual report.
Mancini also mentioned that the group’s sights are set on the country’s 250th anniversary, which is coming up in 2026, and beyond.
“We are really aiming at building a more perfect union. We’re not just looking back, we are looking forward,” Mancini said.
A full list of the projects that received funding can be found here.