Departing from the job I love and the colleagues I cherish is an occasion for reflection. These past sixteen years at Humanities Texas have brought both continuity and change, as I inherited the leadership of a prestigious statewide organization that had been established three decades before my arrival. James F. Veninga, who directed this humanities council for twenty-two years, and nine former board chairs thoughtfully shared their wealth of experience with me. So did the creative men and women who were my counterparts in other states. Likewise, Esther Mackintosh, the veteran president of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, was always a source of wise counsel and experience. Yet, most essential of all has been our Deputy Director Yvonne González, whose tenure at Humanities Texas spans thirty years. She has been my invaluable source on our past and an indispensable guide to the future; the true north of Humanities Texas's compass.
But change has characterized these years more than continuity. Board members' term limits and the natural attrition of staff members make some change inevitable. Innovation also flows from different NEH chairs' initiatives, while the flexibility of being a nonprofit with a broad mandate invites change. In my case, the impulse for change has also come from experience. My thirty-one years as a National Archives employee encouraged much more innovation than one would imagine. During the first two of those decades, I benefited enormously from LBJ Library Director Harry Middleton's restless imagination and a slice of his foundation budget. During my twelve years in DC as the Director of the Center for Legislative Archives, I was on a long leash and had a mandate for innovation.
The following are my reflections on a few of the most significant changes and developments that have occurred during my time at Humanities Texas.
Maceo C. Dailey Jr., who chaired the board of directors that hired me in 2003, had an idea. He thought Humanities Texas needed a more centrally located headquarters, one that would not only increase our visibility but could also serve as a venue for programs. Our office condominium adjacent to a freeway, five miles south of downtown Austin, had provided stability after a series of moves from one rental to another; its purchase had also enabled the organization to build equity. Yet virtually no one knew who we were, where we were, or what we did. Our location provided little more visibility than a post office box.
Maceo's idea, however, had to wait at least a year while we reinvigorated the largely stewardship board of directors with prominent civic leaders who were also experienced fundraisers. To accelerate this process, the by-laws were amended in October 2005 to expand the board's size from twenty-one to thirty directors and to allow for the election of new board members at any meeting throughout the year. Among the new additions were Ellen Temple, Julius Glickman, Adair Margo, Bill Ratliff, Janie McGarr, Joe Krier, Mickey Klein, Nancy Cain Marcus, and Bettye Nowlin. Such prominent academic leaders as Juliet Garcia, William Livingston, Ricardo Romo, Tessa Martinez Pollack, and George Wright also joined the board.
Board members were not our only recruits. New staff members filled vacancies soon after my arrival. Kathie Tovo, now Austin's mayor pro-tem, and Julia Aguilar, a recent UT Plan II graduate, were my first hires. Kathie then helped recruit Eric Lupfer, director of grants and education, with whom she had worked at UT Austin. Both have reminded me that Eric initially declined my job offer, but I insisted that he meet with us again to reconsider.
Along with new board members and staff came a new name and logo. At my second board meeting, in December 2003, the group voted to change the state humanities council's official name from the "Texas Council on the Humanities" to "Humanities Texas." The now-familiar "Texas flag-book" logo, initially in blue and silver, and subsequently in red, white, and blue, replaced the green torch that resembled a flying ice cream cone.
Our search for a new home began early in 2005 when we retained the real estate firm Commercial Texas to analyze our building needs and present listings of available properties for purchase. We began looking at historic homes and office buildings from listings and pictures that the firm provided. Although the Byrne-Reed House was always among the properties included in Commercial Texas's print-outs, its modern stucco exterior caused us to ignore it. Finally, after our negotiations for another building in the same neighborhood fell through, we asked our agent to inquire about the Byrne-Reed House. Was it really one hundred years old, as the specifications indicated, despite its contemporary appearance? The listing agent's response was "Yes, it really is one hundred years old, but it was remodeled." When we toured the building, we saw a framed photograph of its original exterior, so utterly different that we couldn't even relate the picture to the building we were in. Architect Larry Speck, however, was able to decipher the misguided transformation for us.
Not only was the Byrne-Reed House much larger than the other buildings we had considered, its price per square foot was also much less. And the building had a full basement, large enough to store our traveling exhibitions. While the structure would require a major restoration to return it to its original 1907 elegance, it was quite habitable in its existing state. Moreover, the Byrne-Reed House presented a certain mystique: a century-old mansion five blocks from the state capitol that had been hidden for almost half a century. Reed family descendent Noëlle Paulette unearthed a series of gorgeous old photographs of the building's original exterior and interior.
We did, however, face one significant obstacle: money. We didn't have the money to buy and restore the building. Yet we couldn't raise the necessary funds without securing the building first. Its owner, the Texas Petroleum Marketers Association, solved our problem by accepting a three-year balloon note for the property.
Fundraising shifted into high gear when Humanities Texas board member Julius Glickman agreed to chair the capital campaign to buy and restore the Byrne-Reed House. The prominent Houston attorney, who had chaired both the UT Chancellor's Council and UT Austin's Development Board, was an experienced and effective fundraiser. He pitched the endeavor to Mickey Klein and Jill Wilkinson, both of whom joined Julius and his wife Suzan in contributing generously. These three lead gifts were essential to the fundraising because they demonstrated our capacity to raise the necessary matching funds for an NEH Challenge Grant. NEH Chairman Bruce Cole awarded us a $1 million Challenge Grant, then the endowment's largest single grant in Texas. While Julius concentrated on fundraising in Houston and Austin, board members Janie McGarr, Nancy Cain Marcus, and Fran Vick raised almost a million dollars in Dallas. Kit Moncrief led our fundraising in Fort Worth, as did Ellen Temple in East Texas. Major gifts from Jenny Lebermann, George Fleming, the Scurlock, Brown, and Summerlee Foundations, and the Tobin Endowment enabled us to close out the capital campaign.
We moved out of the stucco-covered building in September 2009 and returned twelve months later to the beautifully restored Byrne-Reed House. Thanks to project managers Dave Stauch and Bill McCann, architect Emily Little, and Humanities Texas staff member Melissa Huber, the restoration earned eleven architectural awards and received generous media coverage. Moreover, the project had developed its own following: each day as thousands of commuters stopped at the red light at 15th and Rio Grande, they watched the restoration's latest progress. This daily routine became such a part of their lives that they developed an emotional identification with the building.
Almost as soon as I joined the staff in May 2003, Bill Livingston and I began planning a major teacher institute for the following year. Since U.S. history is usually viewed through a presidential lens, Bill and I decided to focus on Congress's role in shaping our nation. Betty Sue Flowers agreed to host the five-day event at the LBJ Presidential Library, and UT's College of Liberal Arts also joined as a sponsor. NEH Chairman Bruce Cole and keynote speaker Senator John Cornyn opened the five-day extravaganza, which featured sixty presenters, including officers of Congress, former members, congressional scholars, reporters, and lobbyists. C-SPAN even aired several days of the sessions.
For 2005, we proposed an institute on immigration in Galveston as the Ellis Island of the West. Our grant application to NEH was declined, but, by the time we learned the bad news, we had already recruited the faculty and organized the logistics. Yvonne managed to find enough money in our budget to cover the institute, and the event proved hugely successful, with sessions taking place at various historical locations around Galveston. Local caterers provided a wide variety of ethnic cuisines, while enhancing the program by recounting their families' immigration experiences.
The following year, we invited the state's major universities to submit proposals for a 2006 institute. Both the University of Houston and The University of Texas at El Paso proposed essentially the same topic: the border in American history. Rather than choose between them, we convened a meeting of the two organizers and developed an interdisciplinary program for both campuses on consecutive weeks.
An infusion of NEH funding from the We the People initiative made the two 2006 institutes possible. This continuing support also enabled us to hold dual institutes on the American West at Texas Tech and Texas Christian University in 2007, programs on U.S. history from 1850–1900 at the University of North Texas and Trinity University in 2008, and institutes on the U.S. Constitution in Austin and at The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2009. The We the People funding also enabled us to hire the extra personnel necessary to staff these additional institutes and other program expansions. Liz James and Lindsey Wall joined the staff in 2008.
Then-Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst visited the Byrne-Reed House in July 2008 at Humanities Texas board member Adair Margo's request. As he toured the building with Joe Krier and me, he became interested in our professional development program for classroom teachers, especially the fact that the state's universities were investing some of their own resources in the institutes. He announced on the spot that he would add $2 million in state funding for the program. Humanities Texas had never before received any state funding, except for a grant from the Texas Historical Commission for the Byrne-Reed House restoration. When the Senate's base budget was introduced some months later, our $2 million was there, but we had done nothing to add the rider to the House's version of the budget. Fortunately, Joe Krier came back to Austin at a critical moment and enlisted Representative Mike Villarreal to sponsor the measure in the House. Joe also secured the strong support of Speaker Joe Straus, who, in turn, recruited Representative Trent Ashby, one of our most effective allies in the legislature. Finally, to ensure that the funding would continue in subsequent legislative sessions, Joe later enlisted the invaluable pro bono assistance of Chris Shields, a leading lobbyist. Thanks to Chris, Representative Trent Ashby, Senators Kel Seliger and Larry Taylor, and, more recently, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick have provided essential support at critical junctures. This state funding, through a grant from the Texas Education Agency, has enabled us to dramatically expand the scope and reach of our teacher professional development programs. Where we once held two summer institutes per year, we now hold five or six each summer and as many as twenty-four one-day workshops throughout the academic year in communities statewide.
The consistent quality of these institutes can be attributed to the participating faculty's expertise, eloquence, and enthusiasm for working with Texas classroom teachers, the dedication of more than six thousand participating Texas classroom teachers whose evaluations have been invaluable, and the extraordinary professionalism and teamwork of the Humanities Texas staff.
In addition to the teachers' ubiquitous written evaluations, several years ago, Eric Lupfer and I began conducting informal feedback sessions over lunch with small groups of teachers at our workshops. These open-ended conversations have given us extraordinary opportunities to learn more about teachers' challenges and needs. One session underscored the teachers' need for a series of workshops on landmark Supreme Court cases, which are covered in government AP exams. Many feedback sessions emphasized students' chronic inability to read at grade level, prompting us to collaborate with the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk in providing two series of workshops for elementary school teachers on best practices in teaching children to read.
Recognition of the literacy problem also encouraged us to develop Texas Storytime, a pilot family reading program, in collaboration with a number of Texas public libraries and schools and literacy experts. These programs have taken place in Austin, Lufkin, Midland, and San Antonio.
For many years, the Texas Council for the Humanities supported a traveling exhibitions program under the auspices of the Texas Humanities Resource Center. As THRC was integrated into Humanities Texas as a signature program, we began to develop new exhibitions. One of the first was a traveling version of the Harry Ransom Center's marvelous caricatures by Miguel Covarrubias. Then, under the leadership of Melissa Huber as our director of exhibitions and public programs, the Humanities Texas staff co-curated a new photographic and autobiographical exhibition on César Chávez. We have also circulated an increasing number of exhibitions from such institutions as the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, the Wittliff Collections, the Bullock Texas State History Museum, and the National Archives. Our exhibitions are displayed at an average of 125 venues each year.
In 2013, UT Austin philosophy professor Paul Woodruff and doctoral student John Meyer visited Humanities Texas with the idea of hosting one of their reading and discussion programs for veterans at the Byrne-Reed House. Although we began as just the venue for the Veterans' Voices program, Humanities Texas subsequently assembled a task force of prominent veterans, including Paul and Johnny, to explore how we could expand this significant initiative to other parts of the state. With funding from an NEH grant, we have, so far, held Veterans' Voices reading and discussion series in Austin, College Station, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio.
Inspired by Edward Ayers' pioneering project, The Valley of the Shadow, in which he and his students gathered letters and newspapers from two Shenandoah Valley communities produced during the Civil War, our Humanities Texas staff conducted a series of pilot "history harvests" in collaboration with local cultural organizations. After extensive planning and promotion, local residents were invited to bring their old letters, photographs, and diaries into an area venue for free scanning. The scanned items, with their recorded provenance, would ultimately be uploaded to the Portal to Texas History. Our first pilot took place in San Angelo in January 2013. We have held subsequent "harvests" in Brownsville, Lufkin, and Wichita Falls. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image joined us in each of these endeavors in order to digitize films and videotapes.
Our Texas Originals radio series emerged from a discussion with Paul Pendergraft at Houston Public Media. We developed a series of two-minute biographical portraits of significant Texans. Houston Public Media produced the segments with professional actors reciting the life summaries. Additional information on each Texas Original can be found on our website. The series has aired in more than fifteen markets, and a third series will begin airing later in 2019.
Since the council's founding, awarding grants has been one of our core functions. Shortly after I arrived, we made several decisions that significantly expanded the service of our grants program to the state. First, we eliminated the quarterly deadlines for our "mini-grant" line, instead inviting organizations to submit requests for up to $1,500 on a rolling basis throughout the year. Second, we placed new emphasis on supporting as many worthy projects as possible rather than making a limited number of larger grants each year. The result: since 2003, we have awarded more than 2,100 grants supporting public humanities programs in all corners of Texas—more than doubling the number of grants awarded in the previous sixteen years.
Every innovation has been a collaborative enterprise. The universities that have hosted our teacher institutes and other programs have invested their expertise and resources in our mutual endeavors. Among our most frequent partners are The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, The University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas Christian University, and The University of Texas at El Paso.
Local cultural institutions throughout the state have often generously partnered with us, providing venues for our programs and outreach to their communities. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, the Witte Museum, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, the LBJ Presidential Library, Lufkin's Museum of East Texas, the Art Museum of South Texas, Dallas's Old Red Museum, the Bryan Museum in Galveston, and the regional Educational Service Centers are among our most frequent hosts.
Our Humanities Texas board members have carried this organization on their broad shoulders. Their vast, collective knowledge of our state and its citizens has been invaluable, as has the board's active involvement in shaping our policies and programs while securing our congressional and state appropriations and private fund-raising. Numerous board members have hosted memorable receptions in their beautiful homes; many have served on the faculty of our teacher programs, while others have catered our events. In our board's deliberations, there are no "D"s or "R"s, no division or self-interest—only a unified desire to advance lifelong learning in Texas.
Finally, as everyone who has worked with Humanities Texas knows, I have been blessed with an extraordinarily talented and dedicated staff. Their intelligence, creativity, resourcefulness, teamwork, and positive energy have made every endeavor a productive and enjoyable experience for all concerned. All too often, I have received the credit which they actually earned. Despite their impressive work ethic, the staff never forgot to have fun. Laughter from their hilarious, self-deprecating stories and misadventures permeated the Byrne-Reed House daily. Yesterday, my last full day at Humanities Texas, they presented me with a personalized coffee mug, bearing the words that routinely announced my daily departures: "Well, I've had all the fun I can stand." Thanks to them, I've never had more fun in a job.
While I shall miss them terribly, I am enormously heartened that one of these outstanding staff members will succeed me. Having worked closely with Eric Lupfer for the past fifteen years, I am confident that Humanities Texas's best years will begin on August 1.
M. L. G.