Late last month, Illinois Humanities, in partnership with Rebuild Foundation at the Stony Island Arts Bank, hosted an event called Reading the Black Library, to inaugurate the public relaunch of the Johnson Publishing Library Collection. Illinois Humanities board member Jonathan Holloway, (Provost of Northwestern University and soon to be President of Rutgers University) called on community members to see the collection through a historian’s eyes by illuminating memoirs through memory. avery r young amplified the call with a galvanizing performance of works from his publication “neckbone: visual verse.” And, when Marcia Walker-McWilliams of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium deftly guided the panelists in conversation, the standing-room-only audience experienced what it was like to activate the archive and make it fully alive.
Archives are often the stuff of rarified air, visited (to borrow a phrase from Jonathan) with ‘reverence and utility.’ Free, public humanities programs like the one that unfolded casts both the ‘reverence’ and ‘utility’ of collections in a new kind of light. Illinois Humanities launched a new grant program: Activate History, which is dedicated to helping people make collections (be they personal or institutional) available and engaging to broad and diverse publics. The first deadline is March 1st. For more information, visit https://tinyurl.com/v4kmclw.