This 3 Questions Series offers the chance to learn more about board members, grantees, and longtime supporters of Rhode Island Humanities. In the coming months, we will continue to share these conversations as a window into the people who make up our unique network.
Christopher Joseph Westgate, PhD (he/him/his)
Professor, Johnson & Wales University
Lives in Westport
As you join Rhode Island Humanities’ board, what do you find most interesting or exciting about the Council’s work? Or what are you hoping to learn more about through your board service?
I am drawn to the Council’s work on cultural heritage and community engagement. As someone who investigates the fringes of Latine music and identity, I am intrigued by the boundaries & contingencies of intellectual questions. For example, on whose gigantic shoulders, institutional or personal, might future preservationists stand, particularly in our AI age? How much physical muscle—in the form of labor—would be required for long-term financial support? As a media scholar with more than a decade of experience in the radio industry, I’ve put in countless hours documenting the stories of unsung heroines, quiet places, and forgotten artifacts. For me, the challenge does not arise in the documentation of such stories as much as in what constitutes efficient dissemination that leads to widespread reception: is it a website, an app, subliminal messages, face-to-face conversations, a combination thereof, or a new modality that we have yet to experience? Because financial support is essential for the effective production, circulation, and exhibition of media content, fundraising is an area that appeals to me. I hope to learn more about ways to increase grant funding for projects that chronicle the voices of historically underrepresented & misrepresented people.
How do you interact with Rhode Island’s humanities and cultural sector personally and/or professionally? Can you share a favorite program, exhibit, project, performance, screening, or other humanities activity you’ve participated in recently and what you took away from that experience?
I also sit on the board of the Rhode Island Black Film Festival. In March of 2023, I had the privilege of working closely with that Festival’s founder, Ann Clanton, on the inauguration of the Beyond the Lens Academy’s first class of students. My employer, Johnson & Wales University, hosted ten Black Indigenous Students of Color—all of whom experienced filmmaking workshops, screenwriting sessions, and guest lectures—from Classical High School in Providence and the Newport Area Career and Technical Center. The goal was to provide budding filmmakers with opportunities to network with film industry professionals throughout Rhode Island. Looking back on that experience, I learned so much about the creative life force of today’s generation of high school students as well as their passions and ambitions. I confirmed that the universal human qualities of love, grief, despair, and hope continue to shape our important generational, racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, political, linguistic, religious, and socioeconomic differences.
What is it about living in Rhode Island that you find compelling?
The only answer to this question is the diverse people who are the lifeblood of Rhode Island and the natural beauty that surrounds them. My favorite podcast, On Being, recently featured an interview with a guest who reminded me that prepositions really do matter: we are of nature, not in nature—we are made of it more than living in or around it. I thought of heliocentric and geocentric models as an analogy. As we observe & participate in rising sea levels, greater carbon dioxide emissions, and continued climate change, the natural world that surrounds the cultural life of our state will inherently shape the degree to which we can “save what’s left,” to echo a popular phrase. Saving the Narragansett Bay, for instance, will allow us to preserve the future of our humanity in an increasingly technological age.
Learn more about Chris and other board members by reading their biographies here.