Utah History Encyclopedia


By Delmont R. Oswald
On 29 September 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities Act, establishing the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The United States Congress stated, "It is necessary and appropriate for the federal government to help create and sustain, not only a climate encouraging freedom of thought, imagination, and inquiry, but also the material conditions facilitating the release of this creative talent." It was a bold use of federal money, which fit both the charge of "healing a nation," and of meeting the needs of a "democracy that demands wisdom and understanding in its citizens."

Although they supported private scholarship, Congress emphasized the support of public humanities programs. Responding to the urging of Congress, NEH developed the Division of State Programs in 1970. This division worked with state humanities organizations, which paralleled the existing state arts organizations. During the period from 1970 to 1975, the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and three protectorates established volunteer humanities councils and hired staffs to direct their local offices.

In July 1974 the National Endowment asked seven Utah citizens - Jack H. Adamson, Leonard Arrington, S. George Ellsworth, David P. Gardner, Jack O'Keefe, Anne Leavitt, and Dallin Oaks - to organize a Utah council and to prepare a grant proposal for initial funding. During Utah's planning period, Dr. Brigham Madsen served as Director and Board member. The group hired Delmont R. Oswald as the first full-time executive Director. The initial Board included Val D. Browning, LaVon Brown Carroll, John Gallivan, Alberta Henry, Alex P. Hurtado, Helen Z. Papanikolas, Carol Lynn Pearson, Charles Hardy Redd, Orlando Rivera, Joseph Rosenblatt, Thomas E. Sawyer, Manford Shaw, and William Smart, with Anne Leavitt of Cedar City elected as the first Chair. Membership terms were limited to six years, and required a membership balance of academic, public, geographical, gender and ethnic representation was required.

The Utah Humanities Council officially began in the summer of 1975 as the Utah Endowment for the Humanities in Public Policy (UEH). It was established as a statewide, nonprofit, grant-making organization, whose purpose was to promote interest in the humanities by helping to organize and fund community-based, public activities. According to federal legislation, the humanities included the study of languages, linguistics, literature, history, jurisprudence, philosophy, archeology, anthropology, comparative religion, ethics, history and criticism of the arts, and aspects of the social sciences. With a knowledge of the humanities, the public could better understand all aspects of human activity; one could examine the full range of human values and establish an ethical and philosophical basis for problem solving and the appreciation of diversity.

To bring a focus to the proposals submitted and to the results of its funding, the Board instituted a series of biannual themes over the years, such as "Utah: Tradition, Change and Human Values;" "Freedom, Justice and Responsibility;" and "Everyday Choices: Personal and Professional Ethics." Public hearings and citizen input helped to determine each theme.

By the late 1970s, the board no longer focused solely on public policy issues. While the UEH continued to support such projects, it also expanded into more traditional humanities program areas. In 1980, the Board established the Utah Humanities Resource Center to carry packaged programs, with scholars and media, into Utah's rural areas. People from Utah's outlying areas had often been reticent about writing grant proposals; this arm of the agency was so successful that UEH established new smaller grant lines to make the grant process simpler and less intimidating. Communities such as Blanding and Vernal first began to submit small mini-grant requests, and then, as they gained confidence and grant-writing expertise, submitted major grant proposals. The UEH Board later added a Speaker's Bureau. Becoming confident in initiating projects of its own, UEH began Books Alive, a reading-discussion program that provided to reading groups multiple copies of select books, study guides, and scholars. Utah received an additional national grant called "Let's Talk About It," which ultimately became The Book Group. It now operates with independent funding and reaches into several western states.

Because of its increased need for fundraising to support its greatly expanded programming, the UEH Board changed the organization's name in 1990, to the Utah Humanities Council (UHC). The old name "Endowment" often misled prospective contributors. The UHC now also awarded Teacher Incentive Program Grants, Research Fellowships, and a highly-regarded Governor's Humanities Award.

During its first fifteen years, UHC brought over $6,500,000 into the state to promote the humanities and locally generated, over $13,000,000 of in-kind and cash contributions. It awarded approximately 1,400 grants and promoted over 4,500 programs that have reached every county and corner of the state. UHC received three National Endowment for the Humanities Merit Awards and two Exemplary Awards. Together, these total an additional $240,000 above regular funding.

UHC achievements included projects that dramatically affected Utah's cultural life and its individual communities. UHC funds helped underwrite Sundance's first U.S. Film and Video Festival, which now enjoys international prestige. Through grants to the Ute, White Mesa Ute and Paiute Indian Tribes, programs were developed to help preserve language and history and to ensure their passage to future generations. The Utah Council for Humanities Education, a teacher support network; the Utah Humanities Forum, an organization promoting cooperation between humanities administrators in higher education; the Utah History Fair, a program to engender interest in history among thousands of student participants and their families; and the Utah Alliance for Arts and Humanities, an advocacy organization to promote the role of arts and humanities education, all started with UHC support. The production of prize-winning films and videos, traveling exhibits, the touring of scholars such as Chaim Potok and Daniel Boorstin to rural areas, and high quality teacher seminars also exemplified the council's work.

Perhaps Henry David Thoreau best expressed the purpose of the Utah Humanities Council when he said: "It is time we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women...It is time that villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities, with leisure--if they are indeed so well off--to pursue liberal studies the rest of their lives." The UHC attempts to enable every citizen of Utah to do just that by making all of its programs diverse and free.