Mass Humanities Announces Second Round of Expand Mass Stories Grants

Special to the Sun

Mass Humanities announced today it has awarded $713,876 in Expand Massachusetts Stories (EMS) grants to 42 cultural nonprofit organizations across the Commonwealth, including grants to four organizations in Back Bay, South End, and Chinatown totaling $80,000. The funded projects will surface new narratives about the people and ideas that shape Massachusetts.

Rooted in Mass Humanities’ mission to create opportunities for the people of Massachusetts to transform their lives and build a more equitable Commonwealth, the new EMS initiative kicked off last year with support to projects across the state that included audio tours, documentary films, oral histories, and public events. The new grant program will strive to promote an equitable and inclusive society that recognizes all people’s perspectives, especially those that have been marginalized and underrepresented.

Funded projects in Back Bay, South End, and Chinatown include: 

• A $20,000 grant to the Boston Dance Alliance. Inc. for Dancing with Disabilities, the creation of a modular video library of oral histories and performance footage of Massachusetts dancers with visible and invisible disabilities. The video will be shared in a series of online and in-person events at venues such as public libraries and community centers, with dancers and humanities scholars present for each conversation. The project will Expand Mass Stories by providing a combination of personal testimony, examples of artistic self-expression, and scholarly frameworks for thinking about how these dancers fit into the changing definition of disability and the historic fight for disability rights.

• A $20,000 grant to Company One for Chinatown Open Gates Project, an oral history project, digital archive, and public event centered in community narratives of Boston’s Chinatown. It builds on existing partnerships between Company One and Chinatown organizations. The project will Expand Mass Stories by amplifying the stories of current community members who represent the dynamic and varied experiences of the neighborhood. From business owners, to multi-generational families, to activists, students, youth and elders, this project seeks to create space for longtime and recent residents alike to share stories of what Chinatown means to them, and what the neighborhood means to Boston as we look towards the future.

• A $20,000 grant to Emerson College for The Elma Lewis Living Stories Project, a mostly digital archive of words, images, audio recordings, films, or artistic creations from community members who answer the call, “What Miss Elma Lewis taught me.”  The project will Expand Mass Stories by bringing to light the work of one of Boston’s most important Black female luminaries in the arts, education, and civil rights, Emerson alumna Elma Ina Lewis, Class of 1943. If you walk down the streets in Boston’s Roxbury, Dorchester, or Mattapan neighborhoods or the surrounding areas, it’s likely you will meet someone who will passionately share a story about “what Miss Elma Lewis taught me.” They may tell you how their lives have been deeply impacted by the seven decades of Miss Lewis’ work. They will tell you about her unwavering dedication to supporting the education, creativity, and intellectual development of youth through dance, music, poetry, and the visual arts in schools, prisons, theaters, and public parks.

• A $20,000 grant to Agencia ALPHA for How Are Immigrants Changing Massachusetts?, an immigrant-centered initiative that first values the stories of immigrants themselves, hosting workshops and facilitating sessions to build conviction that their stories are valuable. The project will Expand Mass Stories by creating a rare space and the processes needed for immigrants to reflect on their lives and engage in a humanities-based exploration of their stories.  Since stories have a powerful ability to change mindsets, the project will offer an alternate narrative about immigrants, by immigrants: a nuanced perspective that highlights immigrants’ many social, cultural, economic, and political contributions, while also naming their obstacles, struggles and longings.

This latest round of funding will continue to focus on projects that surface and share the histories and experiences of traditionally overlooked communities. The majority of funded projects include leadership roles for people who identify as BIPOC, a sign of progress towards one of the central goals for this new grant program.

“At this critical juncture in the history of our state, we see these projects as the sparks for a much needed reimagining of our past and a new vision for our future,” said Brian Boyles, Executive Director of Mass Humanities. “We believe Massachusetts can only truly thrive when all residents participate in creating, learning and sharing the stories of Massachusetts.”

A non-profit based in Northampton, Mass Humanities provides grants to more than two-hundred organizations across the state each year. The EMS initiative provides up to $20,000 to nonprofit organizations. 

The grants are made possible through Mass Humanities’ partnership with Mass Cultural Council, the state’s cultural agency, as well as a two-year, $700,000 partnership with the Barr Foundation that was announced in August.

“Since the adoption of the Agency’s Racial Equity Plan one year ago, Mass Cultural Council has prioritized making decisions that ensure our investments are made equitably across the cultural sector,” said Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director of Mass Cultural Council. “We are so pleased that our partners at Mass Humanities are joining us down this path and celebrate the important voices and stories that today’s EMS recipients will soon share with all of us in Massachusetts.”

Support from the Barr Foundation will contribute to Mass Humanities’ efforts to share the stories of the impacted communities with decision makers and audiences across Massachusetts.  

“I extend my congratulations the recipients of the Expand Massachusetts Stories initiative,” said SueEllen Kroll, Senior Program Officer for Arts & Creativity at the Barr Foundation. “We at Barr are proud to support the creation, collection, and sharing of community stories that contribute to a more inclusive narrative and understanding of the Commonwealth’s history, culture, and people.”

In addition, Mass Humanities strived to fund projects led by members of the communities where the stories originate, and projects based in smaller organizations. Of the 42 grants, 62% have people who identify as BIPOC among their project leadership; and 60% of the organizations funded have operating budget under $500,000 and 48% have operating budgets under $350,000.

“To make lasting change, we need to respect and support the storytellers and storytelling spaces where traditions and narratives take root,” said Boyles. “We hope that these important voices and community-based organizations can lead the way in reckoning with our history.”

Organizations interested in learning about future grants should follow Mass Humanities on social media @masshumanities and visit their website.

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