Magazine article Humanities

In Focus: Jane Hood of Nebraska

Magazine article Humanities

In Focus: Jane Hood of Nebraska

Article excerpt

As director of Nebraska's Humanities Council, Jane Hood is confronting two tough issues. The first is ensuring the financial future of the state humanities council. The second addresses the role that the state council can play to alleviate the isolation of Nebraska's rural towns and strengthen their infrastructure and economies when many of these communities are dying.

Her strategy is to build a cultural trust for the council and bridges to Nebraska's small towns and rural communities.

"The idea of a cultural trust is simple,"says Hood. "We convinced the state to establish a $5 million dollar endowment to help support both the arts and the humanities. The state put in $5 million in 1998 and each year the Nebraska Humanities Council has to raise private funds equal to 30 percent of the earnings on that state endowment. Then we can pull down those earnings to use in our programming. If the fund keeps going up, it means our challenge is greater."

In the long run, a state humanities council may become financially self-sufficient and therefore independent of politics. As Hood points out, what the state legislature gives, it can also take away. "This is a totally new approach,"adds Hood, "and right now Nebraska is the only state to support a humanities council through a trust. What we want to do is raise a private endowment that is the equivalent of what the state gives. With this we have an extraordinary opportunity to attract gifts to a permanent endowment because people know that their money will be used to match the states' funds."

Building bridges to Nebraska communities is another challenge Hood is taking on. In partnership with state agencies, the Nebraska council is giving planning grants to rural and urban communities to use local history and culture to give people a sense of the past and future. "We believe that communities know better than we do what they need. It's an approach from the bottom up, "says Hood.

The rural parts of the state are facing a kind of economic disintegration that Hood has seen before when she worked for the Illinois Humanities Council and witnessed the closing of Chicago's steel industry on the city's South Side. Rural Nebraska is losing people and individual farms. More Nebraskans are moving to the state's cities and suburbs, the rural economy is in crisis, and with income disparity growing, sometimes the result is tension and mistrust. …

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