This month, in celebration of our fiftieth anniversary, we are sharing a history of Humanities Texas's grants program over the last five decades—from our earliest awards to our recent efforts to support the state's cultural and educational organizations during and after the pandemic.
Since our founding in 1973, grantmaking has been at the heart of Humanities Texas's organizational mission. As we shared in our January 2023 newsletter, the state humanities councils were formed when members of Congress expressed concern that while the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) was effective at supporting humanities research and programs at major cultural institutions, it was not fulfilling its charge to serve communities nationwide. To promote the humanities at the grassroots level, NEH invited civic and academic leaders to form "state councils" that would extend the resources and mission of the federal agency into all corners of the nation. On June 15, 1973, the Texas Committee for the Humanities (TCH), as Humanities Texas was then known, submitted its first application requesting funds from NEH to support administration, program development, and grants to local projects. Since then, our grants program has played a core role in how Humanities Texas meets its charge to promote the humanities in local communities across the state.
Humanities Texas's first grants reflect our early emphasis on bringing the insights of the humanities to bear on issues of public policy and civic life. We awarded our first-ever grant to Austin's KUT public radio for a program on the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1974. Other early grant recipients include the East Texas Chapter of Links in Tyler for a series of public conferences titled "The East Texas Ombudsman: You, Your Government, and Your Pocketbook" (1974) and the San Angelo Board of City Development for "The Land and the River: A Public Forum" (1974). Between 1976 and 1978, Humanities Texas made grants, each over $40,000, to the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, the Houston Committee for the Humanities, and Texas A&M University for programs exploring civic identity in Dallas, Houston, and College Station, respectively.
Since then, Humanities Texas has made a number of large grants to significant projects across the state. From 1978–1980, we awarded a series of grants totaling nearly $120,000 to the Texas Foundation for Women's Resources for a project examining the role of women in the state's social, cultural, economic, and political development. Funds supported activities such as surveying existing resources and research, exploring the creation of an archive, and planning a publication series. The project culminated in the creation of a major exhibition entitled Texas Women: A Celebration of History, which was displayed in San Antonio in 1981 and in Houston and Austin the following year. From 1984–1991, the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) received nearly $70,000 for the development and expansion of the Handbook of Texas, an encyclopedia of Texas history and culture that is freely available online today. Humanities Texas grant funding enabled TSHA to research and write articles on the history of women and Black and Hispanic people in Texas, significantly expanding the diversity of the Handbook's contents.
Over the last five decades, Humanities Texas has also supported a number of major video documentaries that aired nationally on public television, including West of Hester Street (1984) about the efforts of American Jewish leaders between 1881 and 1914 to settle new immigrants in Galveston; Dax's Case (1984) about Dax Cowart, a burn patient, and the ethical and philosophical issues involved in making decisions about the treatment of terminally ill or severely injured patients; and "Katherine Ann Porter: The Eye of Memory" (1986), an episode of American Masters about the Texas-born writer. More recently, Humanities Texas grants have supported films including The Black Houston Story (2021), Horton Foote: The Road to Home (2020), The National Parks of Texas: In Contact with Beauty (2016), Tomlinson Hill (2014), and Las Marthas (2011).
However, our grants program has never wavered from the original charge of the state councils—to support and promote the humanities at the grassroots level. Over the past five decades, a majority of our grants have been small awards supporting projects serving local communities. Of the nearly 4,800 grants we have awarded since 1973, more than half have been for $2,500 or less. We've made grants to organizations in over four hundred communities statewide—in cities ranging from major metroplexes such as Dallas, Austin, and Houston, to smaller communities like Alpine, Big Spring, Brady, Carthage, Clarendon, Falfurrias, Mart, Mission, Pecos, San Elizario, and Sour Lake. These grants have supported hundreds of traditional humanities-focused projects like book discussions, oral histories, and museum exhibitions. They have also supported innovative projects such as an ASL translation of Homer's Odyssey; The Personhood Project, a poetry exchange between incarcerated adults and poets; a workshop and children's recital of traditional gospel music organized by Galveston's Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church; and an interactive mural project by the El Paso organization Amor Por Juarez on Indigenous culture and Borderlands history.
Over the years, Humanities Texas has also developed special, time-sensitive grant lines responding to national emergencies and natural disasters—each time with generous support from NEH.
After Hurricane Rita struck the Gulf Coast in September 2005, Humanities Texas made more than $50,000 in grants to cultural and educational organizations for immediate needs resulting from the storm. Recovery grants supported collection replacement, conservation work, professional consultation, and even institutional expenses such as replacing shelving and roofing. We also awarded Book Replacement Grants to public and school libraries whose humanities collections were decimated by the storm and its aftermath.
In 2008, Humanities Texas launched a similar initiative for cultural and educational institutions that suffered losses during Hurricanes Dolly, Gustav, and Ike. Many school libraries, such as those of Hardin Elementary and Junior High Schools, as well as public libraries, such as the Bridge City Public Library and Galveston's Rosenberg Library, used the grant money to replace books and collections. Relief Grants helped museums conserve and repair damaged collections material and revive educational outreach programs.
In 2017, Humanities Texas awarded yet another series of Hurricane Recovery Grants totaling $200,000 to organizations and institutions that suffered losses as a result of Hurricane Harvey. We administered and distributed the awards as quickly as possible in the aftermath of the storm. Grants once again helped museums, schools, libraries, and other cultural and historical organizations with basic needs. For our work in administering this special Hurricane Recovery Grant initiative and for coordinating meetings and efforts of the Hurricane Harvey Task Force—which included representatives from FEMA, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the Texas Historical Commission, and the Texas Library Association—the Texas Association of Museums presented Humanities Texas with its President's Award in April 2018.
Most recently, in April 2021, in response to Winter Storm Uri, Humanities Texas invited Texas cultural and educational institutions that suffered losses or damages to humanities collections or incurred costs related to resuming humanities programming that was postponed or cancelled to apply for fast-track Recovery Grants. Awarded grants totaled nearly $135,000 across nineteen organizations, including the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature (Abilene), the Heritage Museum of Montgomery County (Conroe), the Witte Museum (San Antonio), the Teatro De Artes De Juan Seguin (Seguin), the Maya Research Program (Tyler), and the Ellis County African American Hall Of Fame Museum and Library (Waxahachie).
The pandemic presented a profound challenge to the state's cultural and educational sector. With critical support from NEH, Humanities Texas developed a grant line far larger than any other grant initiative in our organization's fifty-year history: our COVID Relief Grants. Through funding from the 2020 CARES Act and the 2021 American Rescue Plan, we awarded over $3.4 million in emergency funding to 355 Texas cultural and educational nonprofits affected by the pandemic. Typically, Humanities Texas grants are only provided for public programs, exhibitions, and media related to the humanities, but Relief Grants, due to unique circumstances, were able to help cover organizations' operating costs. At a time when many cultural and educational institutions were forced to close their doors, Humanities Texas funding enabled them to cover the cost of rent, retain staff, shift in-person programming online, and make resources available to those who depend on them for education and connection.
"Due to this grant, we were able to pay for a four-day-a-week director position. With this additional staff time, the museum was able to offer several programs geared at adults, senior citizens, students, and families," the Museum of the West Texas Frontier reported in 2021 after receiving a Relief Grant. "As of today, because of this grant that jump-started our museum, we now have six employees, have received three additional grants, have monthly programs, and are even partnering with our local schools. This offers all our residents, including the rural residents of Stamford community, access to programs and a museum experience that they can take pride in."
Humanities Texas placed special emphasis on serving small-scale organizations and organizations in the state's smaller and rural communities. Of the recipients, two-thirds had annual budgets of less than $300,000. Nearly half of the grants went to organizations in communities of fifty thousand people or fewer.
"If it hadn't been for the money that Humanities Texas gave us, I don't know that we'd still be open," Teresa Burleson of the North Fort Worth Historical Society said. "That was such a blessing, and that didn't happen to a lot of people. And even though we were closed, we weren't shut down."
Today, Humanities Texas offers two grant lines: mini-grants and major grants for public programs and media projects.
Mini-grants fund up to $2,000 of the costs associated with public humanities programs. These small grants—which are easy to apply for and administer and are available on a rolling basis throughout the year—are particularly appropriate for funding a speaker and/or the rental of a traveling exhibition, including those provided by Humanities Texas.
Mini-grants make up 60 percent of our annual awarded grants and account for roughly one-third of the awarded dollars. The success rate of mini-grant proposals has always been high, but in recent years it has risen to 90 percent. Grants staff work daily with prospective mini-grant applicants to ensure eligibility and competitivity. The result of this work is that the vast majority of mini-grant applicants receive full awards on their requests.
Our major grants fund up to $20,000 of the costs for comprehensive public programs—lectures, seminars, and conferences; book and film discussions; interpretive exhibitions and materials; town forums and civic discussions; and teacher workshops—and the costs for media projects related to the humanities—film, radio, television, or interactive programming.
To date, Humanities Texas has awarded nearly 4,800 grants to more than 1,700 organizations in over four hundred communities across the state. First-time applicants and organizations that have not received funding in the past five years account for roughly 20 percent of annual grant recipients. Humanities Texas hopes to continue that trend.
Currently, our grants team is deepening the outreach it does across the state, with a focus on reaching underserved communities and first-time applicants. This outreach includes targeted promotion, grants webinars, and launching a new online grant system. The transition to an online system means that applicants will soon be able to submit their proposals using the new grants portal and will also be able to administer their grants more easily.
The grants team also plans to develop new opportunities including a special grant to support humanities programs at community colleges and a simplified mini-grant application for rural and underserved communities. The 2021 Relief Grant demonstrated that many organizations continue to struggle with emergency needs and operational costs. In the future, Humanities Texas hopes to respond to these needs with a special grant line supporting smaller organizations as they strive to maintain operations and build capacity. "Building a new grant line that is supported by private dollars will be a challenge," said Director of Grants Marco Buentello, "but we are compelled to listen to our colleagues across the state and support their efforts."
"Despite the pandemic, the grants program has grown steadily over the years, and we hope it continues to grow along with our state's needs," Buentello continued. "Every day we strive to be more accessible and provide the aid our museums, libraries, and educational institutions deserve."