Celebrating NAHM: 12 Important Purposes of Humanities

Audience members enjoy a presentation at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood. The Festival of Books is one of many programs of the South Dakota Humanities Council, a statewide non-profit that provides humanities programming to South Dakotans. To celebrate National Arts and Humanities Month, SDHC is highlighting the importance of humanities programming in South Dakota and across the U.S. 

12 Ways the Humanities Improve our Lives

October is National Arts & Humanities Month (NAHM), a "coast-to-coast collective recognition of the importance of culture in America," according to Americans for the Arts.

The organization launched NAHM as a week-long event 30 years ago before establishing it as a month-long celebration in 1993.

As a statewide organization whose sole purpose is to bring humanities programming to South Dakotans, we're reflecting this month on the importance of humanities programming locally and around the nation. 

Last spring, we created a blog series called "Why the Humanities" in which we examined the importance of the humanities from the perspective of our constituents, librarians, college professors and more.

One of the goals of NAHM is "Raising public awareness about the role the arts and humanities play in our communities and lives."

Here are 12 ways the humanities benefit us, as pointed out by those who contributed to our "Why the Humanities" blog series.

The humanities improve our lives by:

1. Amplifying our Stories

Patrick Hicks speaks at the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood.

"By supporting the creation and amplification of stories, we create time machines that allow future generations to understand our era better. Don't believe me? Whenever I open a book by Charles Dickens, I float out of my body and I live, however temporarily, in London during the 1850s."

- South Dakota Author Patrick Hicks, pictured above at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood

2. Bringing Educational Programs to our Backyard

"These aren't elitist projects or esoteric exhibitions on the coasts that many critics say are the primary recipients of federal funding for the arts and humanities. They are here in our backyard."

- Kara Dirkson, executive director of the Sioux Falls Arts Council, pictured above in her office.

3. Dispelling Stereotypes

"The humanities enhanced my knowledge of the history, culture and values of my people. This has helped me in my writing to dispel stereotypes and contributed to communication between the Natives and all citizens of South Dakota."

- South Dakota author Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, pictured above in a panel about the book "Black Elk Speaks" at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books.

4. Connecting Readers, Writers, Authors

"Nationally recognized authors come to South Dakota to talk about their books. Our programs connect people, and those connections enhance the human experience."

- Judith Meierhenry, SDHC board chair, pictured above awarding the 2017 Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Award to United Way of the Black Hills during the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books

5. Forming our Collective Memory

"So yes, genealogy and history matter! Arts and humanities matter! The stone features or burial places that are the evidence of our existence as aboriginal people matter. The floral beadwork or quillwork from long ago is the cultural expression of ancestors who survived so that we may live today. Just as in all cultures, ALL of it matters. Together, it forms our collective memory, and we would be lost without it."

- SDHC board member Tamara St. John, pictured at an event in Washington, D.C.

6. Informing us as Citizens

"Informed, enlightened and engaged citizens are crucial to our democracy, and the arts and humanities are fundamental to creating these citizens."

- South Dakota author Linda Hasselstrom, pictured above at the 2015 South Dakota Festival of Books.

7. Putting Books in Children's Hands

"The students appreciate the books and the experiences that SDHC provides along with them. When Kate DiCamillo's "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" was distributed to third graders in Sioux Falls, one young reader hugged the book, saying, 'This is the first brand-new book I've ever had—it smells SO GOOD!'"

"Owning a book is amazing—meeting the author of that book is beyond amazing. Another young reader, after receiving the book, stated, 'I will keep this safe and close to my heart.'" 

- Ann Smith, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Sioux Falls Public Schools and a partner in SDHC's Young Readers Initiative, pictured above next to Tom Fishback (far right) of First Bank and Trust, who is also an SDHC board member. Smith and First Bank and Trust were honored with Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Awards for their involvement with the Young Readers Initiative, including providing books for third graders in the Brookings and Sioux Falls school districts. 

8. Helping People who are Struggling

"We have seen the humanities community form a resounding response to address returning soldiers and the potential short- and long-term problems they might face in their return to civilian life as well as from PTSD and other problems."

- Dr. Jason McEntee, professor and department head of English at South Dakota State University, coordinator of the Literature and Medicine program and a former member of the South Dakota Humanities Council Board of Directors, pictured above during a lecture. 

9. Celebrating us as Humans 

"The more you know, the better person you become. You develop a sensitivity for others and celebrate humans!"

- Angela Ostrander, supervisor of the Faith Public/School Library, a regular SDHC program coordinator, and winner of the 2015 Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Award, pictured above doing a presentation at the Faith Public/School Library.

10. Helping us Understand the Human Experience

"We learn more about each other, and we learn more about ourselves. We have the opportunity to better understand the human experience, and what can be more important than that?"

- Terry Woster, a graduate of South Dakota State University journalism program who worked as a news reporter in South Dakota for more than 40 years, pictured above in a portrait.  

11. Keeping our Eyes on the Bigger Picture

"We are all connected geographically, culturally, and through celebration and tragedy. Like my dad, we are all focused on paying the bills. The humanities help us keep an eye on the bigger picture. What is the importance of the human experience? And how can we make it better?"

- SDHC board member Katie Hunhoff, co-publisher of South Dakota Magazine; South Dakota Magazine staff members are pictured above at a South Dakota Festival of Books event.

12. Answering Important Questions

"The importance of the humanities, then, is not that it answers the questions for you but that it does something much more subtle and much more important: it gives you the wherewithal and the confidence to answer the questions for yourself, not only to answer them but to defend them to others and, more importantly defend them to a much tougher audience: yourself."

- Joseph Tinguely, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of South Dakota and a scholar in the SDHC Speakers Bureau, pictured above in a portrait. 

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The South Dakota Humanities Council works with museums, libraries and other cultural, educational and community-based organizations across South Dakota to inspire curiosity and the quest for understanding our place in the world. Programs such as the South Dakota Festival of Books, Speakers' Bureau, Book Club to Go, our Pulitzer Prize Centennial that brought 13 Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to South Dakota in 2016, and major grant discussions help us celebrate literature, promote civil conversation and tell the stories that define our state.

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