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ON Newsletter - Spring 2022

What Connects Us

Community Powered:
Growing Grassroots Resilience

Community Powered garden

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.


Community Powered will partner with Appleton Public Library, Racine Public Library, Spooner Memorial Library, and Forest County Potawatomi Cultural Center, Library, and Museum.

In each of our four pilot communities, the young coordinators will be paired with a mentor from our local partner organization. All of the local coordinators and mentors will come together this summer to start their training in humanities and digital media skills. Throughout the project year, WH’s Community Powered staff will support the local teams as they collaborate with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and citizens in their communities to create a meaningful project. But it all begins with listening to the stories that communities want to tell.

“We have called this program ‘Community Powered,’” says Chrissy Widmayer, WH’s co-director of the initiative, “because the young project coordinator and their mentor will engage in deep listening within their community to help the community identify a project that fits their needs. Using the humanities toolkit Community Powered will provide, they will also train community members to execute that vision, giving the power over project development and execution to the community itself.”

“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.”

Community Powered garden

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.”

Powering Into the Future

Building connections between neighbors is exactly what Community Powered hopes to accomplish. Our partners in each of our communities are already thinking about how Community Powered will help them do just that.

Yee L. Vue of the Appleton Public Library said Community Powered’s emphasis on building community was what immediately made her want to participate. Yee will serve as the local mentor on our Appleton Community Powered team.

“Community Powered will be a powerful building tool to give us the opportunities to connect with people, to reach for our goals, and to create a community that gives us a sense of belonging,” Yee says.

Through our support of these communities and the work of all those involved, we’re excited to unearth diverse histories and strengthen the humanities throughout Wisconsin. Carrie Richmond, a Teen Librarian in Racine who will join Community Powered as a local mentor, stresses this sense that Community Powered can highlight the best of each community to inspire hometown pride.

“Racine is full of wonderful resources,” Carrie says. “What it really needs now is something to shine the light on them, and then to help energize and sustain that focus. Community Powered offers the chance for Racine to experience and benefit from just that.”

Like the Wisconsin communities it serves, Community Powered has endless potential. We are excited to see where it takes us, and to report back in the coming year as the work that begins this summer begins to bear fruit. Meanwhile, we’re already dreaming of a future when Community Powered grows to touch people in all corners of the state, exemplifying the best in grassroots humanities work for the next 50 years.


A local resident from the Center Peace blocks in Sherman Park uses an architectural game-kit to explore ways to change and rehabilitate the interiors of old duplex buildings to address current lifestyles and aspirations of community members.

Photos courtesy of Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Field


Residents in Merrill, WI participated in a community workshop led by Prof. Arijit Sen in February 2019. Our four Community Powered Project Coordinators and their mentors will visit Merrill this June during their training where they will see a community-powered project in action and learn from Merrill’s Aware and Active Citizens Group about how they are collecting and sharing local history through interpretive signs, websites, school curricula, and more.

Ready for Something New?

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.


Wisconsin’s Water Future

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.


LoveWI - Chia Youyvee Vang

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!



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