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West Mich. cultural organizations land CARES Act funding to continue operations

BY Sunday, June 28, 2020 08:51pm

Two West Michigan cultural organizations plan to retain staff crucial to their operations with a newly awarded CARES Act grant issued by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Both the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and the Russell Kirk Center in Mecosta received funding through the grants, which totaled $40.3 million and were recently awarded to over 300 cultural institutions throughout all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts received $264,002 to retain eight staff positions to develop programming and plan for the safe reopening of the museum.

The Russell Kirk Center, a residential library with 25 years of history, was the recipient of $35,000 earmarked to financially fuel The University Bookman, a digital book review journal.

Once a print publication that is now online-only, the Bookman was originally founded in 1960 and is now under the guide of editor Gerald J. Russello. The nationwide publication reviews a wide range of cultural books.

“The Bookman goes year-to-year in terms of funding — it’s a shoestring operation in terms of funding,” said Cecilia Kirk Nelson, publications manager for the Russell Kirk Center. “Of course this year, individual donations are kind of down right now. This is the first time we’ve ever applied for any grant, so it was a big deal for us.”

The $35,000 was also crucial to continuing operations uninterrupted as the money will go to retain staff, pay reviewers and support technological needs.

“The Bookman is what brings most people to our website,” Nelson said. “Most readers read a review through the Bookman posted somewhere and they come to our website and learn more about the Kirk Center. That’s our way of looping people into our educational non-profit.”

Nelson said the grant will comfortably get the Bookman through 2020.

In March, NEH received $75 million in additional grant funding from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. The NEH initially distributed $30 million of the funding directly to states and jurisdictions. 

In total, the NEH received more than 2,300 applications from cultural organizations that requested $370 million in funding. Of those applications, 14 percent of them have been funded.

“Over the past few months we have witnessed tremendous financial distress at cultural organizations across the country, which have been compelled to furlough staff, cancel programs and reduce operations to make up for revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic,” NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede said in a statement. 

“NEH is pleased to provide $40 million to preserve thousands of jobs at museums, archives, historic sites, and colleges and universities that are vital to our nation’s cultural life and economy,” he added.

The grants to KIA and Russell Kirk Center shared in nearly $1.2 million issued to seven Michigan-based cultural institutions as part of the grant funding round. That’s on top of $704,600 for the Michigan Humanities Council that was disbursed in a previous $30 million round of CARES Act funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Other grants included in the latest round included Adrian-based Siena Heights University ($299,566), Dearborn’s Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services ($165,532), Detroit-based Michigan Opera Theatre ($175,000) and Saginaw Valley State University ($88,085). 

As well, Northern Michigan University received $170,000, which it will use to transition the curriculum in its Center for Native American Studies to an online format. The Center’s programming has traditionally been offered only on campus, which was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to NMU.

Moving to an online format also allows the program to reach more people and on their own timelines, which may have precluded them from traveling to Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for an in-person class.

“Because many of our Native American studies courses incorporate oral traditions and place-based learning, it is challenging to figure out appropriate ways to transform the curriculum from onsite to online,” Project Director Martin Reinhardt said in a statement. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we need to be better prepared to continue offering our courses even during life-altering circumstances.”

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