Nevada Humanities’ program manager talks cultural funding

Vegas Voices is a weekly series featuring notable Las Vegans.

Bobbie Ann Howell’s job as program manager for Nevada Humanities involves administering grants and coordinating events. She often also finds herself explaining what the humanities are.

“We deal with archaeology to anthropology to the study of law to literature to criticism to history,” she says. That can include art, though more broadly, she describes it as anything that “deals with the Nevada experience.”

Howell is currently the only Nevada Humanities staff member at the Las Vegas office. Unlike the Reno office, the organization’s Las Vegas base in the Arts District also doubles as a gallery space. The current exhibit, “Viewpoints from Duckwater,” features contemporary work by Native American artist Jack Malotte, a member of the Western Shoshone Te-Moak tribe who lives in Duckwater, Nevada. It will be on display until July 26.

We talked with Howell about what the future holds for the nonprofit organization.

Review-Journal: Tell me about how Nevada Humanities ended up in the Arts District.

Howell: This is our fourth year, amazingly … it zoomed right by.

We had an office at UNLV for 18 years, which was a lovely little office, but when we needed to look at maybe having better visibility, and when you’re looking at what will actually strengthen the Arts District …one of the things we can do is provide consistent programming, provide a space, be open. It has helped us immensely.

It’s kind of a nice gathering place. We have the courtyard, (Mingo Kitchen and Lounge) down the way, so it can help kind of create that hub that you want in an arts district. … It opens the door to conversations or ideas.

The next granting period begins July 1. What kind of projects can we expect to see funded by Nevada Humanities in the next year?

The Atomic Testing Museum is presenting its symposium, so we’re helping fund the main speaker of that project. … Project REAL creates a curriculum and drama on for young people and their families to learn about the courts system and how to advocate for themselves, which is really important if you somehow need to be in the court system. We help fund getting the DVDs and some of the performances of the drama that goes out to schools. That’s a big program. Springs Preserve has a program where they bring in elders from the Southern Paiute tribes. People can meet them and talk to them and learn about their culture and heritage, and they do that over the course of the month so there are multiple times that people can meet them.

We’re always hoping to increase our grant funds. We have worked tirelessly with the state Legislature to regain some of the funding we lost in a previous administration.

What are the challenges of supporting cultural programming in a state that’s so spread out and rural?

The challenge really is that in most communities, there’s one or two people who are the impetus for doing things. If it’s the library person, then they’re also probably doing other community things. Or the high school principal or a core group of those people. In the past economic downturn, a lot of institutions lost staffing and I don’t think we’ve come back up to those staffing levels. It makes it harder to say, ‘Hey, wanna do a program?’ And you know, they’re just trying to keep the lights on. … So that’s probably the hardest challenge, and of course time and the space of doing it.

If the National Endowment for the Humanities is eliminated, as the 2018 federal budget proposal suggests, how would that impact Nevada Humanities?

It would mean you would call your landlord and try to get out of your lease, and you would call the artists and people you have contracts with and try to honor those commitments but wouldn’t be writing any more. This year, with all the budget stuff, I’m behind on some of my contract with work for the (Vegas Valley Book Festival) because while we were planning what we wanted to do, until we had a 2017 budget, you can’t spend or encumber money that you don’t have.

We’re a very small state. Other humanities councils in states that have many other funding mechanisms or other industries that generally support their cultural organizations — we don’t really have that in Nevada, so (federal funding) is a big chunk of our funding. … It is money that comes from the federal government that goes right back to our states, which goes right back to the communities.

Contact Sarah Corsa at scorsa@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0353. Follow @sarahcorsa on Twitter.

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