Pennsylvania Humanities Council: 2014 Conference Committee

My name is Ellen Reinhart, and I am a rising junior at Haverford College. Thanks to the Philadelphia Partners Internships program sponsored by the John B. Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities I am working in Philadelphia this summer as a communications intern for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC). The Pennsylvania Humanities Council is a small non-profit that is dedicated to promoting the humanities through grant funding and original programming. As a PHC communications intern I work closely with the development and communications department, programming staff, and our executive director.

So far I have helped re-design the newsletter format which was adopted for the June issue. I also co-authored an article for the website about four new members who were recently elected to PHC’s Board of Directors and learned how to send out the article as a press release. Additionally, I help with every-day tasks around the office, such as calling legislators, researching online, and sending many, many e-mails. I also have the opportunity to attend the various meetings that occur daily at PHC. Topics of discussion include PHC’s grant policies, legislative outreach, new communications initiatives, program development, and logistical planning for a conference at the end of June. PHC is definitely keeping me busy, but the various projects are so interesting and exciting that it doesn’t feel like work!

Earlier this week I had the privileged of attending the 2014 Conference Committee meeting hosted by PHC and the Federation of State Humanities Councils. The Federation hosts an annual conference that draws hundreds of humanities advocates, including members from humanities councils all over the country. In 2014 the conference will be held right here in Philadelphia, which is very exciting for the city as well as for PHC.

This meeting is the first of many sessions that are dedicated to planning the conference. The committee includes members of PHC, the Federation of State Humanities Councils, and other Humanities Councils across the country.

Members from PHC's staff and Board of Directors with Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils.

Members from PHC’s staff and Board of Directors with Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils.

What surprised me the most is the degree to which the committee embraced change. After reviewing the evaluations of last year’s conference, many members of the committee had new, exciting ideas to propose. I assumed that a national conference would stay the same year after year. However, I was proven wrong when the committee approved many changes to the structure and schedule of the conference in response to the evaluations. For example, many evaluations noted that the closing reception was rather dull leading to low attendance. The committee felt it was important to have a sense of closure to the conference but recognized the need to make the event more exciting. The solution? The new closing reception will take place at a local brewery. No speakers or panels, just drinks and the opportunity to network with fellow humanities advocates and reflect on the past few days. This lets-give-it-a-try attitude is responsible for many exciting changes to the conference. Our Executive Director, Laurie Zierer, joked that the slogan of the conference should be “Come party in Philly!” All humor aside, it was an interesting conversation to consider how to structure a conference that provides important content while also being an enjoyable experience for those who attend.

While some of the conversation focused on logistics, a large portion of the meeting centered on “big picture” ideas. For example, deciding the theme of the conference proved to be a very interesting conversation. Members were asking questions such as “What information will be most valuable to the humanities community?” “What is the value of the humanities?” and “How can we inspire humanities advocates?”There I was, sitting among extremely intelligent, accomplished humanities advocates considering how to best communicate the value of the humanities. Needless to say, it was definitely a wonderful, inspiring experience!

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