What We Do
Virginia Humanities connects people and ideas to explore the human experience and inspire cultural engagement. By supporting and producing cultural, civic, local, and global programs for broad public audiences, Virginia Humanities creates opportunities for all Virginians to share their stories and learn about the experiences of others, so that we can explore our differences, connect through what we have in common, and honor the humanity we all share.
Virginia Humanities is a remarkable asset to the people of the Commonwealth. We offer a diverse array of programs—from public events to radio programs to books and a rapidly-growing group of digital resources—that help Virginians explore our past and better understand our present.
— Matthew Gibson, Executive Director
Who We Are
Virginia Humanities is Virginia’s state humanities council. Established in 1974, we are one of fifty-six councils across the nation that the National Endowment for the Humanities created in order to better insert the humanities directly and effectively into public life.
Virginia Humanities is able to do this work thanks in part to a unique partnership with the University of Virginia. Our statewide headquarters are in Charlottesville and Virginia Humanities functions as both a non-academic department of UVA and an independent, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.
On September 29, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act into law. The act called for the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as separate, independent agencies to ensure that “[t]he arts and the humanities belong to all people of the United States.”When Senator Claiborne Pell introduced the bill, he was especially interested in how NEH could support programs not just for professional humanists, but for everyone, or as he put it, America’s “shoemakers.”The state humanities councils were NEH’s answer to that challenge.
In 1974, Edgar F. Shannon Jr., then president of the University of Virginia, asked an English PhD student named Rob Vaughan if he was interested in creating Virginia’s council to engage people throughout the Commonwealth about the importance of ideas, civil discourse, and humanistic inquiry. The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy was founded shortly thereafter.
Since its founding, Virginia Humanities has grown to become one of the largest and most diversely funded state humanities council in the country, reaching millions in its estimated annual audience through community programs and festivals, grants and fellowships, websites and digital initiatives, publications and teacher institutes, radio programs and podcasts, the Virginia Folklife Program, and the Virginia Center for the Book.