The Missouri Humanities Council, More Than Meets the Eye?
By Jason Sides, Board Member, Missouri Humanities
While a reasonable person may assume that programming offered by the Missouri Humanities Council holds the sole benefit of focusing individuals’ understanding of the state’s rich history, such a view misses several other benefits afforded by such educational programming. The educational opportunities offered by the council work to further other goals as well.
As municipalities confront the need to secure their own economic futures, local leaders must utilize the resources available to them to achieve their goals. Presently, municipal leaders throughout the country are working hard to utilize the social fabric of their communities to promote economic growth and to attract new residents in search of a higher quality of life. These leaders also recognize that to achieve growth, it is also important to ensure community members continue to reside within the community. One path to achieve these goals is to utilize the various aspects of the culture, local history, and social background unique to each community to promote life within its borders. By promoting deeper appreciation of the meaning associated with life in Missouri and its different communities, the Missouri Humanities Council is helping to create a foundation to allow community leaders to use the state’s cultural and historical legacy as an asset for a brighter future.
One might think that almost every community can work to mobilize its unique history and meaning to promote a better future; however, this is not the case. One of the biggest hurdles in creating an attractive image of any community is a lack of appreciation for what allowed that community to become a place of special meaning to those residing within its borders. Without an appreciation of each community’s unique background and character, we are left with images that are boring, bland, and meaningless, slapped on promotional materials mailed out to the broader world. When this happens, almost every town becomes a sunny place, filled with people doing inoffensive things. A lack of appreciation for the uniqeness attached to a community has the consequence of making it indistinguishable from any other community; a community with no special meaning to anyone becomes a place with no real way to attract anyone other than through tax breaks and other development incentives.
While a lack of appreciation for a community can originate for many reasons, this possibility is minimized when organizations, such as the Missouri Humanities Council, exist to promote a better understanding of what makes each community special and important to residents. Individuals often can identify what is meaningful about their community, but in today’s increasingly disconnected world might not be able to join in on a larger conversation with others about the meaning of a community’s past, present, and future. Being absent from a larger discussion about life in any community prevents us from sharing understanding with one another, asking questions about historical episodes that shaped our communities, and from appreciating viewpoints that are different from our own. The programs and educational opportunities offered by the Missouri Humanities Council are intended to help Missourians come together to develop not only a deeper appreciation for the fabric of their communities, but also a forum where we can work together to ensure that future generations will possess a rich understanding of life within the state.
Knowing the history and cultural legacy associated with Missouri’s communities also provides another valuable resource for securing the quality of life enjoyed within the state’s communities. Awareness of what makes each community distinct from one another can help to develop stronger bonds among community members by allowing individuals to identify with the positive aspects of their community and to correct the negative aspects. When confronted with challenging times, community leaders increasingly find it difficult to develop consensus. One thing which helps to promote consensus is recognition of a common identity among residents. The programming offered by the Missouri Humanities Council helps to promote the emergence of a collective identity among individuals by helping to ensure that all are aware of the rich and varied history of our great state, vibrant communities, and amazing residents. This offers community leaders an additional resource to build upon when confronting the consequences of the next emergent crisis.
Knowing more of the cultural and political legacy of one’s community, or state, is important and beneficial for our society. However, it should be clear by this point that the Missouri Humanities Council is also promoting a higher quality of life within the state through the educational programing it offers. Through these efforts, the council can work to ensure that the century is one in which the legacy of life within the state is better understood by all residents.