Most people expect to learn about history and the humanities with a trip to the museum or the local university - not a shopping mall.
But that's exactly where Humanities Washington helped take "Journey Stories," a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit that explores the American immigrant experience. Humanities Washington, along with the Eastside Heritage Center, brought the exhibit to the Crossroads Shopping Center, in Bellevue, Washington, where it would be seen by thousands. For the local exhibit that accompanied the Smithsonian project, the Heritage Center and the city's Cultural Diversity program called on residents, including people from Russia, Mexico, and East Asia, to provide oral histories, an effort so successful that it is being continued.
"We want to involve a wide range of people in the humanities who otherwise wouldn't have access," says Julie Ziegler, from her office in the historic Stimson-Green Mansion in Seattle's First Hill neighborhood.
There's nothing like seeing that "ah-hah!" look on people's faces when they make connections between culture and history and a new idea, says the director of Humanities Washington.
Although Ziegler has had a "deep love of books" since her childhood in the Yakima Valley, her path to running a humanities organization did not begin with a traditional humanities education. She earned her bachelor's degree in business administration and marketing from the University of Washington and then did stints in corporate communications and philanthropy with the Bank of America Foundation, Safeco Insurance, and U.S. Bank, where she got her introduction to Humanities Washington while working as the bank's corporate giving executive.
At the time, Humanities Washington was applying for a grant to help expand its Speakers Bureau program, which provides free lectures from experts on a variety of historical and cultural topics. "I loved the range of topics they delved into and the reach it had around the state," says Ziegler. Soon after, she got involved with the state council's work, serving multiple terms from 1 998 to 2008 on Humanities Washington's board of trustees.
When she was hired as the executive director in 2009, Ziegler immediately began working with the council's staff and board on a series of community feedback sessions and an intense strategic planning process to cement a fresh focus.
"We know that the organization can't be all things to all people," she says. "Humanities is such a broad base of disciplines. …