What is Humanities Washington?
Humanities Washington sparks conversation and critical thinking using story as a catalyst, nurturing thoughtful and engaged communities across our state.
Our society is increasingly divided, detached, and distracted. We are deeply polarized, less engaged in civic life, and less willing to listen to others’ opinions without becoming at best dismissive and at worst angry and offended. At the same time, we reach for our digital devices during even a few seconds of inactivity, eliminating time for reflection and engagement with ourselves, each other, and the world around us.
Humanities Washington and its partners create spaces for people to come together to explore and consider what it means to be human, and to reflect on our shared past, present, and future.
We hold events and programs led by cultural experts, scholars, and storytellers, who discuss everything from Washington State history to philosophy to current social issues. We also support and partner with a wide network of communities, organizations, and individuals across the state.
History has shown that these kinds of activities increase cultural understanding and interaction, and build bridges between people who might otherwise ignore, fear, or —worst of all—hate one another. The struggle, the suffering, the beauty, and the humanity of people we don’t know or have come to view as “the other” can be too abstract to fully appreciate or embrace. It’s often only when we come into direct contact with those from cultures or belief systems outside our own that we can begin to see them as humans just like us.
In libraries, community halls, retirement homes, and cultural centers in every corner of Washington State, our programs and events challenge assumptions and spark insight for audiences ranging from adults at a Speakers Bureau presentation to children and families at a Prime Time Family Reading night. All Humanities Washington programs are open to the public, and nearly all are free of charge.
We envision a state where all people seek a deeper understanding of others, themselves, and the human experience, in order to discern and promote the common good.
In 1965 Congress enacted the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities Act, which established the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and in 1973, the NEH founded Humanities Washington, along with 55 other state and territorial humanities councils. Humanities Washington, originally called the Washington Commission for the Humanities operates as an independent, 501(c)(3) non-profits and leverages funding received from NEH several times over each year.
Humanities Washington served solely as a grantmaking organization until 1984, when it launched its first program, Inquiring Minds (now called Speakers Bureau), a roster of traveling historical and cultural experts. Since that time we have added other programs and initiatives such as Family Reading (1997-present), Traveling Exhibits (1999-2013), Think & Drink (2012-present), and the Washington State Poet Laureate program (2007-present), the latter presented in partnership with the Washington State Arts Commission/ArtsWA.