In November 2021, Humanities Texas awarded over $2.3 million in emergency COVID-19 relief funding to cultural and educational nonprofits across the state. Made possible by the American Rescue Plan, our 2021 Relief Grant line was far larger than any other grant initiative in our organization's fifty-year history.
Relief Grant recipients included museums, libraries, preservation organizations, and heritage and cultural centers in 145 towns and cities across the state. These organizations administer humanities programs that have significant impact within their communities.
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 50,000 people or fewer.
Relief Grants were available for both general operating support and humanities programming. Funding enabled recipients to pay operating costs, retain staff, shift in-person programming to online, and make resources available to those who depend on them for education and connection.
Over the past several months, our grants staff has been in touch with all of our Relief Grant recipients to learn about the impact of the funding—and about how the institutions are faring more generally. We are learning a great deal from these conversations. Grantees consistently describe how critical the support was during the most challenging days of the pandemic. Many also report that the funding offered them the opportunity to engage audiences in new ways.
We will receive final reports from all Relief Grant recipients in the coming months. What follows below offers a snapshot of the impact that these grants have already had in communities across Texas.
According to reporting received so far, relief funding preserved 134 jobs and created thirty positions at cultural nonprofits in Texas. One organization that created a new position with relief funding was the Museum of the West Texas Frontier in Stamford. The first-ever grant made to Stamford, the funding supported a director position as the museum faced possible foreclosure.
"In August 2021, our museum board came together to discuss the fate of the town's only museum," the museum reported. "After COVID, the stark reality as we came together was to decide if we were going to pull away from the city and run it as a true museum or to shut the place down. We decided on the former, but, without the city, money was in short supply, with just enough to keep the utilities on and pay an employee for two days a week.
[A] postcard came in the mail informing us about this grant. We took a chance and applied for it. . . . 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. These programs provided a much-needed platform to encourage the community to give donations or sponsorships for even more events and for additional staff. 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 our Stamford community, access to programs and a museum experience that they can take pride in."
A 2021 Relief Grant also supported the creation of an education coordinator position at the Gregg County Historical Museum in Longview. It was the first time in five years that the organization was able to hire for the role, and the added position allowed the museum to expand its exhibition programming.
"With [the coordinator's] help, we plan on getting all of the exhibits TEKS ready, adding hands-on elements to the exhibits, and increasing the number of school tours coming to the museum. She will be assisting with yearly events like Living History Christmas, Haunted History Tour, Dalton Days, and Wild West Show. She will also be working on new exhibits, like our upcoming NASA exhibit."
The San Antonio Conservation Society Foundation increased their programming on civil rights history with a 2021 Relief Grant to support payroll for their librarian. With this additional support, the librarian promoted the foundation's video series about the civil rights movement in San Antonio and Texas to 282 San Antonio schools and developed new civil rights programming for the San Antonio community.
"The two videos formed the nucleus of 'Piecing Together a Story of Courage: Civil Rights in San Antonio,' which the librarian organized as a collaborative project for DreamWeek 2022 in January. The resulting free, public event focused on introducing the audience to regional heroines and heroes of the civil rights movement, bringing together local experts to discuss how to preserve documents and memories supporting under-told stories and encouraging community contributions to the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum's digital archive."
The Collin County History Museum in McKinney also expanded its educational offerings about social movements in Texas. With relief funding, they accessioned a collection of archival materials from ninety-three-year-old Korean War veteran Francisco Garza and produced an oral history on his life and involvement in civil rights protests for Mexican Americans.
The Museum of the American Railroad in Frisco built an African American studies program for local high schools using its collection of African American Pullman Porters' archival materials.
"We are very proud of this program and look forward to expanding its reach in the 2022–2023 academic year. The grant also helped in developing the museum's first-ever Pullman History Symposium. Titled 'Pullman Rising,' the event features guest speakers from the museum field, professional educators, historians, a documentary filmmaker, and professionals currently working on restoration initiatives in the town of Pullman, Illinois. The symposium highlights the history of the Pullman Company, the role of Pullman Porters in passenger car operations (and later their involvement in the civil rights movement), and the historic town of Pullman today."
The Texas Center for African American Living History, based in Houston, hosted an event at the Mitchell Museum in Hallettsville on the shared histories of local families in Lavaca County, fiber arts, and African American quilting. The event, "Speaking Together through Fiber Arts: A Workshop Celebrating Women," included the League of Women Voters from five South Central Texas counties, guest fiber artist Bobbe Nolan, and members of the Lavaca County community.
"Women from across South Central Texas gathered at the Mitchell Museum to talk about their grandmothers' quilts, crochet, and lace. We discussed clothes, textiles, and furniture."
One attendee wrote, "Today was really special. The people that I met had the most positive energy and genuine hearts for the world. . . . When you step into the house you see the beauty and feel strength and love. . . . Very well organized and great speakers. I look forward to seeing what you do as you continue your work!"
At the Citadelle Art Foundation in Canadian, a Relief Grant sustained the museum's educational roadshow, a program in its seventh year that brings art history education to schools in the Panhandle. The Relief Grant helped produce 261 roadshow programs during the 2021–2022 school year.
"While teachers were struggling to get students back up to grade level, the demand for our programming increased because they knew the Citadelle provided the opportunities for the learning support that helped close the gaps of their learners. As a result, our RoadShow Art Education programming was overbooked for the year.
"Our audience is mainly focused in kindergarten through fifth grade in the top twenty-six counties of rural schools within Region 16 in the Texas Panhandle. Most schools we service are Title I schools and do not have any elementary art opportunities until middle school or high school, if at all. Our staff focuses our efforts on the lowest-income, highest poverty rate schools across the region but provides free tours and in-classroom art making experiences to any campus."
Two hundred remaining grantees will submit their final reports over the course of this fall and winter, with a final deadline of March 31, 2023. The sixty-one completed final reports attest to the sweeping impact of these relief funds across the state. Relief Grant-supported programming has already reached an in-person audience of nearly three hundred thousand and a virtual audience of fifty thousand.
In spring 2023, we will publish a comprehensive summary of the impact of this initiative on communities and organizations statewide.
Humanities Texas Relief Grants were made possible with funding provided to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) by the American Rescue Plan.