Growing Grassroots Resilience
UW-Milwaukee’s Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures (BLC) Field School team and community members gather around a replica of a painting of the neighborhood done by artist Willlie Weaver-Bey (center). Look inside to learn more about BLC and how it inspired WH’s newest initiative, Community Powered.
Photos courtesy of Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Field
As Wisconsin Humanities celebrates its 50th Anniversary, we have been reflecting on the lessons learned from decades of public humanities work. One that stands out is how, by putting the tools of the humanities in the hands of committed problem-solvers, we can make powerful changes happen.
The adaptive strategies of Wisconsin businesses, communities, and individuals throughout the pandemic exemplify peoples’ creativity and perseverance. To support communities and build on their strengths, we designed and recently launched our newest initiative, Community Powered. Its mission is to help Wisconsin communities use the humanities to face today’s challenges, and tomorrow’s, by turning community energy and innovation into resilience.
This year, we are launching a pilot of Community Powered in four communities across the state: Appleton, Racine, Spooner, and Forest County Potawatomi. In each, we have partnered with a library or cultural organization that will serve as the home base for projects that all start with community engagement. One of Community Powered’s most important features is the on-the-ground expertise and direct human and financial assistance Wisconsin Humanities will provide. Our first step is hiring four recent college graduates who will return to their hometowns this summer, where they will serve as local project coordinators.
“We have to collaborate across differences…We have to team up with others who may not see the world in the same way as we do. We need to listen and connect, listen and understand, listen and experience, and listen and act.”
— Arijit Sen, Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Studies at UW-Milwaukee and Co-Director of Community Powered
Building On a Strong Foundation
While this is Community Powered’s pilot year, we have no doubt that the initiative will inspire innovative projects statewide. One of the creative voices we are thrilled to have designing the entire effort is Arijit Sen, an Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Studies at UW-Milwaukee.
Arijit joins us as a co-director of Community Powered because his work is what inspired the initiative. For the past 10 years, Arijit has taught students in the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Field School at UW-Milwaukee how to collect and explore stories of places and people and turn what they learn into community action. It was through Wisconsin Humanities grants supporting Arijit’s work in Milwaukee, and later in Merrill, that we became aware of how effectively he was partnering with community residents and using the humanities to help them make their communities better places to live.
Arijit and his students work in Milwaukee neighborhoods that are facing multiple challenges. In Sherman Park and elsewhere, they gather with community members to hear their stories of the places they live and to understand how daily life in these spaces keeps those neighbors connected to each other.
Over the years spent in Milwaukee with his students, Arijit began to see how important it is to work directly with community members.
“We have to collaborate across differences,” Arijit says. “We have to team up with others who may not see the world in the same way as we do. We need to listen and connect, listen and understand, listen and experience, and listen and act.”
UW-Milwaukee’s Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Field School team pose in front of a community garden maintained by Shantel Hendricks of the United Methodist Children’s Services of Wisconsin, Inc., Washington Park, Milwaukee.
Photos courtesy of Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Field
Arijit and his students listened and, with members of the community, designed projects that mattered. The BLC Field School produced community gardens in vacant lots and pocket parks in unused spaces. During the pandemic, they delivered food from urban gardens along with short informational publications to people in neighborhoods with less access to fresh foods. They helped to collect the living histories of these places and distribute them to the neighborhood and beyond. In Merrill, Arijit helped a group of citizens create interpretive signs for a public trail and a digital story map sharing local history with residents and tourists.
Now, Community Powered will build upon the lessons learned by Arijit and WH, creating innovative models of humanities-based community engagement that will reach our partner communities and beyond, as we evaluate and widely share the lessons we learn.
“This project is about listening, reflecting, understanding, and acting,” Arijit says. “It is about acting collaboratively to solve our societal problems. It is about learning from our neighbors, who regularly face these problems and deal with difficult dilemmas in their daily lives.”
More Human Powered Is Headed Your Way
Wisconsin Poet Laureate Dasha Kelly Hamilton and public historian Adam Carr co-host the brand new season of Wisconsin Humanities’ Human Powered podcast.
Jerry and John Viste: Making More Possible
We’re so delighted that after 50 years, founding Wisconsin Humanities board member Gerald (Jerry) Viste is still a dear friend and supporter.
Having grown up on a farm, Jerry always felt strongly about making humanities projects accessible to rural communities.
We’re celebrating 50 years of Wisconsin Humanities
What were you doing in 1972? Since our organization's founding, Wisconsin Humanities has worked in every corner of the state with YOU to explore what it means to be human, to be part of a democracy, and to strengthen each of our communities. Check out a timeline of our ongoing work bringing together individuals and communities.
We’re all connected by Wisconsin’s wealth of water! Last fall, at Sturgeon Bay’s Crossroads at Big Creek, Beyond the Headlines worked with news media partner Wisconsin Watch to host a panel discussion on “Imperiled Shores,” a deeper dive into news reporting on the impact of Lake Michigan’s wildly fluctuating water levels.
To shine a light on what makes this work so special, Love Wisconsin is featuring stories from former Wisconsin Humanities board members—extraordinary people who help shape the humanities in Wisconsin. If you don't yet know Chia Youyee Vang, you are going to love 'meeting' her! As a student Chia noticed Hmong history wasn't in the curriculum. Now, as a historian at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, she has founded the Hmong Diaspora Studies program. Read her story, and others, on the Love Wisconsin website!