Since its founding in 1974, Colorado Humanities has inspired the people of Colorado to share and apply the wisdom and inspiration of the humanities and to appreciate the state’s diverse cultural heritage. Each year, Colorado Humanities provides opportunities to more than 200,000 people, opportunities that enrich our individual lives and inform our community experience. Colorado Humanities is a community resource, facilitator, partner, innovator, presenter, and leader.

Established as the state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Colorado Humanities is a programming and grant-making organization that receives support from both NEH and private sources. Colorado Humanities is governed by a volunteer board of directors comprised of leaders with diverse experiences and backgrounds that reflect the character of Colorado.

What are the Humanities?
The humanities convey and help us understand what it means to be human. They document and interpret human struggle, achievement and community life through history, literature, and other fields of knowledge. The humanities provide tools with which to examine and make sense of the human experience in general and our individual experiences in particular, asking fundamental questions of value, purpose and meaning, and making connections to the lives of those around us, to those who have gone before, and to those who will come after.

In addition to history and literature, humanities fields of study include philosophy and ethics, the history and criticism of the arts, comparative religion, languages and linguistics, cultural anthropology and archaeology, jurisprudence, and the social sciences when they employ historical and interpretive methods.

1974-1980: Involving Communities, Encouraging Dialogue

  • From offices near the CU Boulder campus, Colorado Humanities Program (CHP) was founded and began to support public humanities programs through grants.
  • A roster of early programs brought the humanities to issues and topics of the day including Common Ethic for Land Use Decisions, Health Care: Economic Reality and Moral Choice, and Issues in Bilingual/Bicultural Education.
  • Program topics expanded to include oral history, folk arts, Native American and Hispanic history, and Southwest archaeology through programs such as Moccasins on Pavement and Hispanic Women Folk Artists of the San Luis Valley.

1981-1990: Supporting Young Organizations, Preserving Local History, Creating Program Initiatives

Name change: Colorado Humanities Program (CHP) becomes Colorado Endowment for the Humanities (CEH) in 1984.

Office location change: The offices move to Broadway in Denver in 1981 and to Lower Downtown Denver in 1983.

  • Grants to communities for planning, documentation, and presentation of local history included Park Hill: The Possible Dream, Elbert County: Window to the Past, and Wet Mountain Valley: A Gold Mine of History.
  • CHP grants supported award-winning films, Native American Odyssey and Damon Runyon’s Pueblo.
  • In 1982, the founding year of the Colorado Dance Festival, CHP funded the first of many programs linking dance history, criticism, and cultural history with performance.
  • KUVO FM emerged in 1985 as the radio voice of Denver’s Hispanic community with CHP as one of its first program supporters, funding programs such as Canciones del Pasado, a series that considered the historical and social effects of traditional Spanish folk songs and ballads.
  • Grants supported several K-12 teacher institutes and the Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Education, which later became a CHP program.
  • CHP developed the first of many program initiatives, including Jazz: From Roots to Fusion and The Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities, and participated in the national Let’s Talk About It book discussion program.
  • CHP added a Resource Center, offering films, speakers, and exhibits to communities statewide.
  • In 1989, CHP developed The Five States of Colorado film and facilitated discussions statewide.
  • CHP and four neighboring state humanities councils received NEH funds to develop Trails Through Time, a symposium, traveling exhibit, speakers bureau, and publication to explore trails and their meaning in western history.

1991- 2003: Meeting Challenges, Establishing a Portfolio of Programs, Expanding Partnerships

Office location change: The offices move to Colfax and Lafayette in Denver in 1999.

  • With threats to federal support for the humanities, CEH developed fundraising strategies, revitalized its publications, and formed new program partnerships.
  • Successful partnership programs included: Rocky Mountain Book Festival, Myth and Reality of 1492 teacher institutes and traveling history trunk program, Chautauqua Speakers Bureau, annual Author Luncheon, and Conversations 2000 programs, part of the NEH National Conversation.
  • High Plains Chautauqua began in 2000 and continues as a model for program development through broad-based community partnerships.
  • Teacher enrichment programs expanded to include institutes on Lewis and Clark, John Wesley Powell, work and culture of the southern Colorado coalfields, and ethics.
  • Numerous communities participated in Moving Waters, a multi-state program focused on the history and impact of the Colorado River.
  • Three communities worked with producer Jim Havey to produce and premiere the film Colfax Avenue: Main Street Colorado, which CEH distributed to schools and libraries statewide.
  • CEH developed a variety of discussion programs on topics in health care, law, and other public concerns.
  • A vibrant grant program extends CEH’s impact and diversification.
  • CEH retired the Author Luncheon after six years and created the American Spirit Series event, an annual fundraiser featuring a scholar portraying a historical character and engaging in dialogue with audience members.

2004-2008: Raising Awareness, Forming New Alliances, Increasing Organizational Strength

Name change: Colorado Endowment for the Humanities (CEH) becomes Colorado Humanities (CH) in 2006.

2007 was the first year of an organizational development plan, which includes planned improvements in data gathering, organizational image and visibility, program marketing, and resource development. 

Producer of High Quality Historical Documentaries

  • CH updated and reformatted two films, The Five States of Colorado and Colfax Avenue: Main Street Colorado; and partnered in the production of two new films, Downtown Denver: Heart of the Queen and Molly Brown: Biography of a Changing Nation, all produced by Havey Productions and involving scholars, government and civic leaders, businesses, and cultural institutions such as the Colorado Historical Society and Denver Public Library.
  • In 2004/2005, The Five States of Colorado premiered at venues in all parts of Colorado, hosted by local colleges or museums. Molly Brown premiered at a gala evening in Denver. In February 2007, 1000 people attended the Downtown Denver premiere, which was planned by a group representing Historic Denver, the Downtown Denver Partnership, City and County of Denver, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Colorado Humanities and was funded by several businesses. The proceeds from the event tickets and sponsorships were use to distribute the film on DVD to more than 2,000 schools and public libraries statewide and to distribute DVD versions of The Five States of Colorado and Colfax Avenue as well. Copies of the DVDs are currently available at conferences, events, and on our website.

Producer of American Spirit Series Event

This Chautauqua-based fundraising event initially featured scholars presenting portrayals of historical figures such as Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin, preceded by a reception and often including an auction. In 2008, CH board and staff, along with community partners, redefined the event. Under the umbrella of the American Spirit Series, Martin and Malcolm: One Vision, Two Voices became more a community outreach program than fundraiser, tying together the history and experience of Colorado’s African-American community, the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work, and CH’s traditional Black History Month school tour. The dialogue between scholars portraying Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X provided a dramatic examination of questions of race in the United States. The event also recognized fourteen community leaders who have worked to further democratic ideals and promote education in Colorado. CH will build on the program’s success to create a similar program as part of Black History Month activities in 2009.

Producer of Content-Rich Humanities Institutes and Resources for K-12 Teachers

  • CH has a long history of providing institutes for teachers, mostly on history themes or topics. In 2004 and 2005, CH partnered with the University of Northern Colorado to offer teacher institutes in conjunction with High Plains Chautauqua on the themes, America Challenged: Breadlines and Battle Lines, and Shake, Rattle, and Roll: 1945–1960. CH also offered Colorado history institutes based on The Five States of Colorado documentary in partnership with Jefferson County School District in Lakewood and the Imagination Celebration in Colorado Springs. In 2006, CH developed a teacher resource guide for The Five States of Colorado documentary and distributed it to schools statewide.
  • Through conversations with Minnesota Humanities Center and other state humanities councils working on teacher institutes focused on the history of American Indians, CH collaborated on a successful proposal to the Ford Foundation. With Ford Foundation funding, CH developed two institutes, The Cheyenne Way and The Arapaho Through History in partnership with the northern and southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, Colorado Historical Society, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and the National Park Service. (Click here to access educational resources from our Native American institutes).
  • The 2008 institute, The American Faust: The Ordeal of J. Robert Oppenheimer, was developed in partnership with the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Denver Museum of Nature and Science was a partner for an evening program with Clay Jenkinson appearing as Oppenheimer. CH also worked with the Colorado Digitization Project to convert oral histories, photos, and exhibits from three CH programs into online resources for teachers  In 2006/07 CH worked with the Denver News Agency (Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News) to develop a Newspapers in Education series on figures from Colorado history that featured our Chautauquans as classroom presenters.

Producer of Unique Young Chautauqua Program for Grades 4-12

  • Drawing on a program created by Nevada Humanities, CH developed Young Chautauqua (YC), a 8-10 week series of workshops focused on historical research, writing, and dramatic presentation led by Chautauqua coaches and scholars. Weld School District in Greeley was the pilot site and the program is now in its seventh year.
  • Partnerships with schools, individual teachers, and community organizers are key to the success of the program. The workshops and presentations are integrated into curriculum and a commitment of time and talent is required from teachers, students, and parents.
  • In addition to Weld School District, current school partners include Mountain Range High School in Westminster, Denver’s West High School, Canon City High School, Overland High School in Aurora, two elementary and one middle school in Grand Junction, as well as home-schooled students and their parents in Louisville and the Estes Park Library working with students from their community. In 2007, we produced YC handbooks for teachers and our trained coaches.
  • The Overland High School YC program inspired a funding partnership with nearby Republic Financial Corporation. Republic Financial has funded the Overland program for two years and some of their managers have taken a personal interest in the program.

Leader in Development and Presentation of Community Chautauqua Festivals

  • Currently in its ninth year, the High Plains Chautauqua began with a series of community meetings convened by Colorado Humanities in Greeley. From the beginning, the program was developed and managed in partnership with a group of community volunteers representing Aims Community College, Weld Library District, City of Greeley Museums, Weld School District 6, KUNC public radio, the Greeley Tribune, and many businesses.
  • Most of the funds for this free five-day event are raised locally; CH supports a half-time coordinator and participates in planning, fundraising, and implementation.
  • High Plains Chautauqua has become a model for community-based program development.
  • In 2005-2006, CH staff worked with the Museum of Western Colorado and volunteers in Grand Junction to launch Two Rivers Chautauqua, now in its fourth year.

Leader in Securing the Future of the Colorado Center for the Book, Its Programs, and the Historic Thomas Hornsby Ferril House in Denver

  • In 2003, after an impressive run as a valuable literary resource in Colorado, the Colorado Center for the Book faced a number challenges. For many years, Colorado Humanities had been a partner in the Center’s Rocky Mountain Book Festival and knew the value of the Center to Colorado’s readers and literary community. Moreover, CH staff and board recognized the potential of the Center and its programs.
  • Before signing the legal merger in April 2004, CH board and staff members met with people in the literary community, the Library of Congress, and other Centers for the Book, researched the Center’s programs and discussed how the Center could enhance CH’s new literacy program goal, as well as its visibility.
  • Colorado Center for the Book became a program department of CH and six programs were added to CH’s menu.
  • CH became the owner of the historic home of Thomas Hornsby Ferril, one of Colorado’s poet laureates, and worked with Historic Denver to plan for repairs and maintenance. Eventually CH moved the Center for the Book out of the Ferril House and into the CH offices and rented the Ferril House to one of its many community partners, Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

Facilitator of Transition for Colorado History Day

  • For several years Colorado Humanities had funded Colorado History Day through grants, focusing on expanding the program to the western slope and developing Spanish language materials. Staff members served as advisors, and board and staff members have served as judges.
  • In January 2007, the University of Colorado, Boulder History Department expressed the desire to end its tenure as coordinating institution for History Day. CH staff convened meetings to explore options for History Day’s future. In the course of meetings and conversations, it became clear that the History Department at the University of Colorado at Denver would be the best host and CH staff worked with the committee to facilitate the move.

Leader in Forming a Colorado Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

  • As an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, CH is in a good position to take a leadership role in the development of statewide initiatives linked to national commemorations and events. Conversations with the governor’s staff about appointments to the CH board led to the appointment of CH board member Wendell Pryor to the national Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
  • Historian Syd Nathans, Wendell Pryor, CH Executive Director Maggie Coval, State Historian William Convery, and CH board member Brooke Tolmachoff became a task force that developed the mission, scope of responsibilities, and composition of the commission and submitted its work to Governor Ritter for approval.
  • The Colorado Abraham Lincoln Commission (colincoln200.org) was appointed and held its first meeting in November 2008.

Supporter of Reading and Writing for All Ages and All Levels

  • Motheread/Fatheread® is the program CH selected through which it would meet the goal of providing literacy programs. In 2007, CH offered its first training institute and now the program is implemented through 13 partner literacy organizations at 17 sites in nine communities.
  • Letters About Literature and River of Words are student writing competitions administered nationally by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and in Colorado by CH.  A few years ago CH funded the development of a web-based River of Words resource for Colorado teachers that is now available on the CH website. The annual Student Literary Awards program involves authors, media personalities, and civic leaders.
  • The Colorado Book Awards requires seventy volunteer judges to review more than 100 books each year. Judges are identified through CH’s networks of libraries, literary organizations, and scholars. In 2008, the presenting partner for the event was the University of Colorado at Denver English Department. CW2 KWGN TV has been a partner in both the event and in subsequent television interviews with the winning authors.
  • CH partners with Colorado Chapter of the International Reading Association, presenting at their statewide conference and supporting their members’ efforts in language arts classrooms and other sites.

The Link between Colorado and National Organizations and Among Colorado Organizations

  • CH’s affiliations with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Motheread®, and Writers in the Schools make CH a network hub for state organizations that share goals.
  • These affiliations enable CH to be a conduit for resources, such as traveling exhibits, and to help organizations access support for their programs from national sources.

The Future: Major Objectives for 2009-2013

  • Develop CH resource technology and deliver as much humanities content as possible through the CH website.
  • Develop and implement programs that deliver humanities content and engage diverse populations in approximate proportion to their representation in local and state populations.
  • Develop and implement programs and resources that help pre-K-12 students—especially youth at risk—to improve academic achievement and to become lifelong students of the humanities.
  • Provide programs, forums, and resources that create connections among community members and deepen engagement in community life.
  • Increase CH’s organizational capacity and community support.