November 13, 2020 – In 2016, Rachael Jeffers joined the Humanities Council team as Development & Communications Officer, bringing experience in annual giving, strategic communications, volunteer management, social media and marketing, grant writing, and development events. Under her leadership, the Council has increased its brand recognition; enhanced public awareness of the public humanities and its value to Rhode Island’s creative economy; developed engaging marketing efforts such as the ongoing XIX: Shall Not Be Denied initiative; and grown the annual Celebration of the Humanities into a successful fundraising event that showcases the value and strength of Rhode Island’s humanities sector. Her ability to see the big picture of the Council’s impact and build connections rooted in collaboration makes her well-suited to take on this new engagement role at the Council.
Prior to joining the Council, Rachael worked with advocacy, education, and cultural organizations in Washington, D.C., New Hampshire, and Maine. She holds an MA in Public Humanities from Brown University and a BA in History from Guilford College with minors in Peace and Conflict Studies and Community Studies.
A Conversation with Rachael Jeffers:
What attracted you to the Council in the first place and what have you found rewarding about your work?
While Rhode Island has figured into my own story for multiple generations I first became aware of the Council through a connection with one of its many grantee partners during my graduate studies in Brown University’s Public Humanities program. Now, nearly a decade later, I feel honored and incredibly lucky to work with a dedicated team each day to serve the Council’s mission. It’s a daily reward to know that I am part of such a vibrant cultural community here in Rhode Island and forging strong connections with peers at state councils across the country. This year has brought into sharp focus the power of the humanities to provide the tools we need–empathy, collaboration, and innovation–to meet the challenges of this century.
How have you seen the Council make an impact on Rhode Islanders?
In the past few years, I’ve met countless Rhode Islanders who have shared stories about the Council’s support for their research, documentary film, or public programming through grants being the tipping point. That support, even in smaller amounts, was often the thing that attracted additional resources and helped them build networks that have sustained engaged public humanities work across the state.
The National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 states: An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.
Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.
I see our Council put these words into action daily through our grants, partnerships, and initiatives. We are made wiser by our proximity to those who hold different experiences, and through the humanities we’re able to work together towards solutions.
Have you seen the Council evolve over the past few years and if so, how does that translate to this engagement role?
The past few years have seen the Council navigate staff transitions, a federal shutdown, global pandemic, and a deepened reckoning with social justice. This work will continue and it’s the sign of a healthy organization that we have been able to navigate these changing winds.
As someone who values the “big picture” I often find myself returning to the idea of the 200-year present, a concept of generational change articulated by noted scholar and author Elise Boulding. Boulding’s 200-year present is a way of thinking about change which serves as a reminder that we’re all part of a much larger story with implications far beyond ourselves. It asks us to consider the experiences of those who were born 100 years ago and then to consider what we want for the future 100 years from today. Change can feel constant and simultaneously too slow. I find this concept a useful touchstone when thinking about how communities engage with the humanities to bring about change and I look forward to continuing to be part of that effort.
If you want to learn more about Boulding, find one of her books at a local library or listen to this interview from the Civil Conversations project of the On Being podcast.
What are you most excited about for the year to come?
This year, the global pandemic forced humanities practitioners to reimagine their work and impact in new ways, and while I know the challenges have been immense and will continue, I’ve been increasingly heartened by the adaptation and innovation on display. I’m looking forward to continuing to support Rhode Islanders in my new role and collaborating with partners to expand audiences for the work of our grants and initiatives. The humanities are fields of study, yes, but when applied to challenges like those we face locally, regionally, and nationally, they become a method for bridging difference and imagining new ways of working together.