Can the Arts Can Be a Model for History?

Arts + Social Impact Explorer from Americans for the Arts.

In the last decade, Americans for the Arts has become a national powerhouse for the value of the arts through their research, advocacy, and programs. Take a look at just a few of the tools and resources they offer (but beware of rabbit holes!):

Americans for the Arts provides a possible model for the history field to help us better explain our value to society. You can find similar resources in part at History Relevance, American Association for State and Local History, American Alliance of Museums, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and other organizations, but there’s no comparable single source like Americans for the Arts. I suspect this will improve as the history field recognizes the need to go beyond the usual “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and towards a fuller explanation for the value of history (see AASLH’s Framing History project). But don’t wait for others—make it happen in your organization. A house museum or a historical society can research, summarize, and prepare information for their board, staff, and members to make the case for the value of their mission and the history of their community (unless you believe your organization is just a social club and history is a personal hobby). Once developed, it can be reused and easily adjusted in the years that follow. Here are some examples of possibilities taken from the History Relevance Toolkit:

  • In their year-end fundraising letter, the Tennessee Historical Society emphasized the role of history in providing a “sense of place that builds community” and helps us to “understand the issues we face today.”
  • Naper Settlement consolidated their research into a colorful illustrated impact report for elected officials and donors.
  • The Indiana Historical Society produced a video that shares how community leaders perceive the value of history to Indiana.

1 thought on “Can the Arts Can Be a Model for History?

  1. Tim Grove

    And then there’s the Society for Science and the Public https://www.societyforscience.org/mission-and-history. The history field is woefully behind the curve and needs an organization like these. LIke you say, many history orgs will say they’re doing some aspect of this, but there is no dedicated agency focused on the “public.” Canada has Canada’s History https://www.canadashistory.ca/ that among other projects runs the Canada’s history awards and history forum every year to recognize excellence across the history field. I attended one year and it was so inspiring. The HIstory Relevance initiative is helping the conversation for sure, but has limited capacity as it currently is to have the impact that SSP and Americans for the Arts have.

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