Preserving Culture

Ann Thompson boasts a background in public history. She has worked as an archivist, a museum director and a classroom teacher. Her connection to Oklahoma began with a long-distance master’s degree in liberal studies from the University of Oklahoma. In 2006, she permanently relocated to Oklahoma to accept the position of executive director of the Oklahoma Humanities Council. The OHC funds programs that help preserve the culture of Oklahoma. Additionally, the organization administers programs such as “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma,” a book discussion group; and “Museum on Main Street,” a partnership with the Smithsonian to bring exhibits to communities in the state with populations below 20,000.

The Oklahoma Humanities Council is the sole organization for the state that provides funding for humanities-based programming. We are unique in that we provide funding for communities around the state who have programs that they would like to see happen. It could be a museum exhibit, lecture, film festival, digitizing historic photographs; anything that has a base in a humanities discipline.

Our organization is the state’s affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which was authorized in 1965 by Congress. The authorizing language includes the phrase, “democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens.” If we don’t have an informed society, if we don’t have a thoughtful society, if we don’t have safe places for people to come together to discuss issues in an informed way, then democracy is jeopardized. That lifelong learning is critical to sustain a democracy. We offer those safe forums. We convene people to come together. There’s no advocacy. We don’t tell people how to think, but we present different points of view.

The most common (grant request we receive) is history-related. We’re very happy to support the preservation of Oklahoma’s culture and history, and a typical grant that’s funded by our organization might be a historical society that wants to showcase their history. Our funding makes these events possible. We go all across the state to very small communities. Even if it’s a $5,000 grant, that can make a difference. We bring people together; we call it community building. So, let’s say we’ve given a grant; all of the organizations in that community come together. Are you working with Main Street, the chamber of commerce, the historical society? We do require a match of our dollars because we receive federal funding, and that’s one of our requirements. When we have that kind of match, it illustrates that the community has a buy-in. For every dollar we received from the federal government, communities matched it with $5.60. It shows that these kinds of cultural programs have an economic impact.

Every place thinks they’re unique in some way, but Oklahoma is so rich in diversity. I’m fortunate to get to travel to all corners of the state. The regions of Oklahoma and the towns are so different from one another, and each town has a story that’s so fascinating.

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