August 1, 2017
NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) announces it has received a $50,000 planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to establish a Berkshire Humanities Council. The Council will create regional collaborations and extend best and emerging humanities practices in teaching, learning and community engagement by utilizing new and deeper ways to connect the resources in our region.

The planning for a Berkshire Humanities Council will begin on Aug. 1, and extend through June 30, 2018. It will focus on three main items: creating the model for a digital asset map; defining experiential-based learning and formalizing undergraduate research opportunities; and outlining a humanities fellowship program to be hosted by MCLA.

MCLA President James F. Birge said he is delighted with the grant. He noted that, in April, the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) released “Arts Vibrancy Index III: Hotbeds of America’s Arts and Culture,” which ranked Pittsfield and the surrounding area as number one in top “Arts Vibrant Communities” among cities ranging from 100,000 to 1,000,000 in population.

“Berkshire County is a cultural hub, and one that MCLA faculty and students can draw from and contribute to,” Birge said. “NCAR’s recent ranking shows that Berkshire County is collaborative and productive as a creative economy. Our timing to connect and deepen existing cultural resources in the humanities aligns perfectly with this recognition and understanding.”

“The Berkshire Humanities Council has the potential to demonstrate how public-private cultural and educational partnerships can enrich undergraduate education, enhance the role of the humanities in public life, and contribute to the common good,” said Eugene Tobin, senior program officer in the Higher Education and Scholarship in Humanities program at the Mellon Foundation.

Lisa Donovan, professor of Fine and Performing Arts at MCLA, will serve as the principal investigator for the grant.

“Across Berkshire County, we have assets in the humanities that are without compare in other rural regions,” Donovan said. “This grant provides an incredible opportunity to move towards identifying, aligning and activating a regional network that will increase access and deepen possibilities for engagement for the entire Berkshire community.”

To plan for the Humanities Council, MCLA will focus on the resources and opportunities available within the College, and will bring together humanities faculty at MCLA to carefully define and identify the places, persons, organizations and objects that comprise the region’s humanities resources in the areas of literature, history, arts and education.

“This grant represents a signature opportunity for MCLA to lead the region’s humanities and cultural organizations to synergize existing and new projects, and provide expanded opportunities to our students, as well as to our faculty and other faculty, researchers and students who will make use of the Berkshire Humanities Council’s work,” Brown said.

MCLA will begin to catalog humanities resources through a pilot program of cultural asset mapping, develop prototype experientially based learning and research opportunities to engage MCLA students with a sampling of the assets identified, and plan fellowship opportunities to bring expertise, professional development, pedagogy exchange, and other meaningful engagement of the humanities to MCLA.

Lastly, the College will evaluate this process and prepare a proposal to scale to the full Berkshire Humanities Council.

At the conclusion of this planning, MCLA will apply for a direct grant from the Mellon Foundation so that the plan might be implemented.

“Once in place, the Humanities Council will pay particular attention to diversity and inclusion, the professional development of educators at all levels, and the connection between formal and informal humanities education opportunities within and beyond MCLA,” Birge said. “Through this Council, we will develop a plan for our culturally rich region to make the most of its many assets.”

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is the Commonwealth's public liberal arts college and a campus of the Massachusetts state university system. MCLA promotes excellence in learning and teaching, innovative scholarship, intellectual creativity, public service, applied knowledge, and active and responsible citizenship. MCLA graduates are prepared to be practical problem solvers and engaged, resilient global citizens.

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