ON Newsletter - Winter 2021


Recovery Grants keep history alive

During the onset of the pandemic, we moved quickly to offer rapid-response grants to help libraries, museums, and other nonprofits survive financial hardships. These WH CARES grants were followed by WH Recovery Grants this past summer. To date, we have awarded close to $1 million to 144 nonprofit organizations across the state, with one more recovery grant round still to be decided. We are proud to see the real difference our grants have made.

One of our recipients, the Outagamie County Historical Society, shared how their WH grant helped them innovate under pressure to serve their local community of the Fox Cities and Wisconsin as a whole, despite incredible challenges.

The historical society, known as Appleton’s History Museum at the Castle, is close to celebrating a century and a half of preserving the history of the Fox Cities. While this means that COVID-19 was not even the first pandemic the museum has faced, a survey conducted by the American Alliance of Museums did little to give them hope that they would survive this modern pandemic. The survey predicted one of every three American museums would permanently close before the pandemic’s end due to a steep drop in donations and other funding.

Matt Carpenter greeting a museum visitor

Museums are a social experience first and foremost, so Executive Director Matthew Carpenter knew that moving forward would be a challenge. He and the museum staff understood they needed to be proactive and efficient.

“It’s a strange thing to say,” Matt says, “but [the pandemic] allowed us the opportunity both to think strategically and creatively to implement changes in the facility that are going to be great visitor amenities and serve the organization in the long run.”

Matt and Dustin Mack, the museum’s chief curator, thought about what the museum’s role could and should be during these uncertain times. The challenge was to figure out how they could reach the community without the in-person experience. And they wanted the museum to support the community by helping people cope. The result — announced on the same day they closed to the public — would be known as the Let’s Make History project. This journaling project asked people to record their daily life during the pandemic, however they felt comfortable sharing it.

According to Dustin, the idea to capture the pandemic’s history in this way came from knowing the psychological benefits of journaling plus the museum’s hope of collecting unique narratives as a daily record for historical research in the future.

Working from home, navigating often-empty grocery stores, and transitioning to online school were a few of the topics addressed by citizen journalers. The project was tremendously successful, and many of the journals are now back with the museum to be preserved.

Along with the Let’s Make History project, museum employees focused on collecting items that will be used to tell the story of today. They’ve gathered masks, used vaccine vials, ‘closed’ signs from businesses, and many more pandemic artifacts.

They also partnered with Appleton’s Building For Kids Children’s Museum as a way of helping children impacted by the pandemic.

As an interactive, hands-on children’s museum, Building For Kids knew that transferring their in-person exhibits online as many other museums did would not have the same effect. A collaborative effort between staff members of both museums resulted in an at-home way for kids to safely participate in the museum’s activities during the pandemic that did not require screentime.

Together, the two organizations utilized grant funds to create museum kits for kids. These six at-home activities were self-contained in a box and available for Appleton students to pick up at their school. Each kit included the materials and instructions for different projects which taught children about Harry Houdini, robotics, electrical conductors, and more.

The kits provided screen-free education to over 1,500 students in the area. According to Dustin, being able to work on these projects and help so many people was possible due to the grants they received.


Dustin Mack

“Part of where we are now is due to the stability,” says Dustin about the impact of their WH Recovery Grant. “We knew our jobs were safe and so we could focus on serving the community in ways that we knew could make a difference.”

Whether this was adding images to an online gallery or attempting an outdoor, socially distanced exhibit on the museum’s lawn, Matt believes their innovations helped further establish the museum as an integral part of the community.

“This situation has reinforced our vision of what we mean to the public and how we serve the public,” he says. “We aren’t telling historical stories with blinders on — we’re looking at what’s happening in our modern lives and trying to bring stories from the past to shed new light on decisions we make for the future.”

While it was financial stability that helped the museum reopen its doors and maintain its programs, it was the staff’s hope to continue their mission of building social cohesion and meeting local challenges that fostered recovery and strengthened the community as a whole.

“We step back and we look at Wisconsin Humanities funding as what gave us the confidence and stability to not have an interruption in our staffing levels,” says Matt. “That’s great for morale, and it’s great for the confidence that the community has in us to be a go-to place they can rely on. And that’s invaluable.”

Hope from Love Wisconsin

It was with huge excitement that three years ago Wisconsin Humanities partnered with Love Wisconsin, taking over the production of its digital storytelling platform from founders Brijetta (Jet) Hall Waller and Megan Monday.


Wisconsin Humanities has a new podcast!

Have you ever wondered what happens after a project receives Wisconsin Humanities funding? What do ‘the humanities’ look like when real people get to work with an idea that impacts real communities in our state?


Grants awarded across Wisconsin

WH’s year-round grantmaking for public humanities programs kept right on going in 2021. At the same time, our staff and board worked overtime to use federal American Recovery Plan funds to help organizations survive and bounce back from the pandemic.