March 5, 2021 – Melissa Wong joined the Council in February 2021 after dancing for seven years with Festival Ballet Providence. Her previous non-performing experience includes project manager for Festival Ballet Providence’s production of Nutcracker Sweets and co-director of RI Women’s Choreography Project. Melissa holds a B.A. in Chemistry from Smith College and is currently earning a Nonprofit Management Certificate through Harvard University Extension School.
Melissa is excited to join the Humanities Council team as the Grantmaking Program Coordinator. She has a passion for organized systems and believes that everyone can make a difference in their own way to make the world a better place.
Melissa is an avid tennis player, a frequent Amenity Aid volunteer, and a Snowpiercer fan.
A Conversation with Melissa Wong:
What attracted you to the Council in the first place?
What attracted me to the Council was the phrase from its mission statement, “by and for all Rhode Islanders.”
Since living and working in Providence for the past 7 years, I found myself compelled to contribute to the Rhode Island community. For me, that’s volunteering at Rhode Island nonprofits like Amenity Aid, United Way RI, and PVDFest, but I always felt compelled to do more. Rhode Island is so unique in that it’s small but incredibly rich in cultural and community events and organizations.
When I came across the Grantmaking Program Coordinator position at the Council, I actually had very little experience and understanding of the humanities and the work that the Council does. That small phrase from the mission statement, “by and for all Rhode Islanders,” resonated with me and continues to live in my heart and in my mind. I knew then that even if I might not have experience in the humanities, I had to take a shot and apply for the position because my energy, passion, and values would be able to guide me in this role.
It’s been two weeks since I enthusiastically started my role here at the Council. I see the same energy, passion, and values in my colleagues here at the Council and in the grantees I’ve already connected with.
How have you seen the Council make an impact on Rhode Islanders?
In 2020 alone, the Council was able to award over $545,000 through its grantmaking program and the CARES Act grants. These funds supported public projects, documentaries, operational support, and individual researchers, helping to ensure the future of many important and impactful cultural and historic organizations in Rhode Island. I am continually impressed by Rhode Islanders resilience and innovative thinking to make events accessible and virtual and create new programs that fit the moment we are in and amplify Rhode Islander’s many voices.
As Rhode Island, and the country, continue to navigate the challenges of a global pandemic – what role can the humanities play in bridging differences?
Through grantmaking and its own partnerships and initiatives, the Council supports and funds projects that fosters public history, cultural heritage, civic education, and community engagement in a time when I think we need it more than ever. The pandemic has, in some ways, been a collective pause. Many of the conversations I’ve had are centered on using this time as reflection and evaluation and questioning what was working before the pandemic for ourselves and the community and what wasn’t working.
I think the humanities are going to be instrumental in the dialogues going forward as we increase access, equity, and representations in all forms.
What’s something you have read, watched, or listened to lately that’s been inspiring or thought provoking?
My February book of choice (I try to read at least one book per month) is Mending Matters by Katrina Rodabaugh. Mending is described as “a gentle form of resistance.”
I would say that I spent a lot of time thinking about our relationship to material things, throwaway culture, and mindful consumption.
This year I’m trying to be conscious of what I consume- whether it’s online content like social media, news and blogs, or actual goods like clothing, technology, and home goods. I have a basket of socks and other clothing items that need mending. I will slowly work my way through these items while learning different hand stitches and Sashiko embroidery methods.
What are you most excited about for the year to come?
I’m most excited to develop the virtual production of RI Women’s Choreography Project in June 2021. This is a project I co-direct with two other dancers. For this virtual production, we have 6 emerging female choreographers creating brand new works. Women make up the majority of the dance workforce (think how many women are onstage in Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, etc), but actually hold fewer leadership positions in the dance world such as executive director, artistic director, and resident choreographer. Actually, in 2019, in an overview of major ballet company’s programming by Dance Data Project, 72% of works in the 2019-2020 season were choreographed by men. I think a lot about what audiences and the public wants to see and consume and also how I can play a part in increasing representation and diversity and creating opportunities of equity.