Alexandra Rollins is interim executive director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities which will host its 10th annual Celebration of the Humanities at the Rhode Island School of Design on Sept. 22, where the organization will honor local gallery owner William Vareika and executive director of VSA arts Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, founded in 1973, is a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and supports intellectual curiosity and imagination.
Since its inception the nonprofit has awarded $6.6 million in grants to more than 500 area organizations.
PBN: In today’s still challenging economic times, some may find investing in the arts and humanities a luxury. Why, would you say, that it is instead a necessity?
ROLLINS: The lessons we learn from the humanities become most important during challenging times. The critical thinking and community-building skills fostered…are crucial to ensure that we-as individuals and as a nation-make the best decision possible to sustain and move forward.
PBN: How has RICH coped during lean times? Have you found you’ve had to refocus fundraising efforts? [Federal funding is decided on a national level].
ROLLINS: Nearly five years ago, the council considered the economic climate and made a strategic decision to cease humanities programming to focus solely on being a grant-making organization. However, even before the downturn, the council focused on fundraising from a variety of sources. Funding from sources free of federal restrictions allows the council to expand upon the types of humanities initiatives we support.
PBN: How does RICH support the state’s creative economy?
ROLLINS: A majority of the grants the council provides support projects that culminate in new exhibitions, performances, documentary films or programs that enhance our understanding of arts experiences. We also support a significant amount of what might be thought of as behind-the –scenes work at creative and cultural institutions including research, prevention and archives.
PBN: How do select each year’s Celebration winners? What doe this year’s selections mean for RICH?
ROLLINS: The selection process begins with a public call for nominations, which are reviewed by a panel of board members and community leaders. This year, we are thrilled to recognize William Vareika and Jeannine Chartier. Vareika will be honored with the 2012 Honorary Chairs’ Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities for his lifelong dedication to the preservation and appreciation of historic art and architecture in Rhode Island. The 2012 Tom Roberts Prize for Creative Achievement in the Humanities will be awarded to Chartier for her outstanding commitment to the creation of dynamic arts and humanities programs that expand traditional ideas of access for people with disabilities.
PBN: What’s ahead for RICH?
ROLLINS:We are looking forward to tow major events on the horizon. The first is the selection of the 2013 Major Grant Awards. The deadline to register to apply for a Major Grant is Sept. 4 at 5 p.m. The second is the 10th annual celebration.