Applied Humanities Bootcamp

I participated in a week-long intensive learning experience at the Hall Center for the Humanities at the University of Kansas this past week. It contained hours of presentations and workshops throughout the five days, including a whirlwind field trip to Kansas City. Summarily, I believe that this bootcamp should be available and encouraged of every graduate student for reasons that I will discuss later. First, though, I want to tell a story. It seems that often throughout this week, this refrain kept repeating: tell the story, tell the story, tell the story.

Complete honesty: I aim to be a teacher. I aim to become a professor. This is my goal at the end of this process. That being said, I would be foolish to set out into the job market unprepared for certain possibilities– such as being unable to earn a teaching position at a university. To be a professional, I need to be aware of each opportunity that exists and I have to make myself as prepared as possible for those opportunities.

I was contacted and encouraged to apply to the bootcamp, ultimately being chosen as one of the twelve participants in this week-long training experience. I’ll outline five of my main memories and takeaways from the experience, along with images and tweets from the week. These are in no particular order and I am more than happy to respond to any questions concerning the program experience.

1. Embrace Chaos

We had many speakers, some incredibly well-known across the Kansas City area. Henry Fortunato, the event coordinator and mastermind, is so well-connected in the area. Each moment that we turned around, the bootcampers were surprised by another smiling face and Henry greeting them like the old friends they were. As someone who is developing as a young professional, it was an example of astounding networking skills. He called the impressive list of speakers his “favor bank.” The speakers for just the first day included Cheptoo Kositany (American Jazz Museum), Mary Kennedy (Mid-America Arts Alliance) [another bootcamper favorite], Christopher Leitch (Johnson County Libraries) [from whom the most notes were taken], and Cici Rojas (Central Exchange).

In his presentation, Christopher Lietch said that it essential to embrace chaos. In my notes, that quote is bolded, purple, and in 16-point font. This seems to be one of the biggest takeaways of the week. Applied Humanities work is chaotic. It is a juggling act in the public square, if you will. And it is essential to our communities. Marketing and promotion, event planning, budgeting, development and fundraising, collaboration, communication, creativity… The list goes on. Moral being: Applied Humanities work seems to be the act of embracing the chaos, making sense in that chaos, and/or communicating that chaos to the public in a way that is engaging and meaningful.

2. Relationships, Research, Resourcefulness

We received a Skype call from Lorenzo Butler from Miami. Lorenzo told us about the three Rs– relationships, research, resourcefulness. At the time, it was not the element in the notes that I highlighted. Instead, just under it, I bolded: “There’s always going to be something that goes wrong. Work it.” [Which is, of course, incredibly true.] However, I saw the three Rs more and more as the week progressed, throughout the stories that each speaker told. The importance of networking and connections, the influence of research on decision-making, and the impact of resourcefulness…These tenets are clear in the personal stories of each of the speakers.

And, now that I think about it, throughout my own personal story.

Admittedly, in some cases, one of those three faltered, but it is an area for improvement and mindfulness in the future. Graduate students practice these each day, unconsciously, but we [as a profession] may need to make people more aware of how each of these elements play into professional situations. This is especially so for those students preparing to enter the job market. Being able to make use of each skill in diverse circumstances will be invaluable, and likewise, being able to articulate these skills in interviews and talks would be essential to any graduate student pursuing employment.

3. Programming

Prior to this bootcamp, I had some experience with marketing and outreach, but little experience with public programming. Often, I think, the public does not think about how much work goes into event planning until they are given a glimpse behind the curtain. Though I have planned events before, they have been much smaller in scale (save for a music festival I planned some years back). Each speaker offered invaluable advice regarding programming and project management, the bulk of which I cannot summarize in a blog post.

Here are some themes that emerged:

  • Innovation is key.
  • Rhetoric. (Goes without saying, most likely.)
  • Teamwork and collaboration are both essential.
  • Programming is rarely cost-effective.
  • If you cannot communicate, you are doomed to fail.
  • You do need to scaffold and plan.
  • You absolutely must research: the more you know, the better.
  • Have fun with it.
  • Do your best, not just “good enough.”
  • Make the table bigger and listen to those at it.
  • There must be a method of evaluation in place.
  • Know where you (and the audience) can go from there.
  • Good, fast, cheap — choose two.
  • You have to network and build relationships.

At the end of the post, I’ll describe the programming that we created in our workshops throughout the week, but I definitely wanted to summarize and share these themes. They’re great notes to keep on hand when encountering any situation, even those outside of the Applied Humanities.

4. No Place Like Kansas City

Applied Humanities happens outside of the classroom, in the community and out on the streets. We were taken on a grand tour of the humanities in Kansas City, from the Kansas City Ballet to our final stop at Boulevard Brewing Company. Each stop was incredibly informative, especially so for an out-of-towner such as myself. Throughout the trip, I constantly kept in mind potential Applied Humanities locations in Georgia (my home state). In any major city, should this kind of program be developed and implemented, a field trip such as this is absolutely recommended!

The Kansas City Ballet was our first stop on this Kansas City grand tour. There we were introduced to the Executive Director, Jeffrey Bentley, who offered professional advice while providing a tour of the wonderful facility. It was quite gorgeous. Bentley commented on the value of writing ability, and the collaborative nature of decision-making and development at the ballet.

From the Kansas City Ballet, we went on to ArtsKC. As it isn’t quite so intuitive, ArtsKC is a nonprofit organization serving five bi-state counties supporting and advocating for the arts in and around Kansas City. We were met by Lydia Allen who was very engaging in her discussion with us regarding fundraising and finding monetary support. The work of ArtsKC was so close to the hearts of myself and my fellow bootcampers.

As someone who has benefited from community-supported arts programs in the past, seeing how that is raised up by community leaders and businesses is very uplifting. It is a gargantuan task, filled with so many intricacies, but Lydia broke it down for its parts and made that easy to process for those of us new to such ideas.

Now, let me tell you, this was an incredibly informative day, and fitting all aspects of this day into one post is impossible. I am going to do my best to summarize without short-changing anyone, but I also do not want to lose the flow of my writing.

We were driven northeast after leaving ArtsKC, into what KC calls “the Northeast,” along Independence Ave. where the Kansas City Museum sits in the throes of renovation. It’s an old neighborhood fallen on hard times. With a very high immigrant population, the district has become a sort of inter-cultural space where local leaders are trying to make a big difference in the lives of those that live there.

Anna-Marie Tutera (Kansas City Museum), Bobbi Baker-Hughes (Independence Avenue CID), Martin Okpareke (Jewish Vocational Services), and Mary Cyr (Northeast Alliance Together) welcomed us and spoke to us regarding applied humanities and community engagement.

Not ‘community engagement’ in a sense of marketing, but rather in a sense of transformation.

Particularly memorable was Martin Okpareke’s words regarding refugees who seek asylum in the United States and the work that is done to help their transition. Another way of applying our humanities backgrounds– actually helping humanity, a component that I think is often overlooked. We spoke about this at length following the panel. 13221078_10153727263124895_8688773720716571026_n

After a quick tour of the pre-renovation museum, we left for Union Station. There, we were given a quick overview of marketing and outreach by Michael Tritt. This was particularly informative for me as I have served as Marketing Coordinator for the KU Writing Center for the past year without prior training in Marketing and Promotion. Learning about the five principles of marketing gave words to something that I had been thinking about over the course of my tenure at the center. Product, price, promotion, place, and people.

Rhetoric, rhetoric, everywhere.

13245443_10153727262934895_794593337733356061_nWhat I thought was particularly engaging was the Twitter wall at the conclusion of the exhibit we toured, which showed all tweets tagged with #unionstationkc. I immediately began thinking of how this kind of interactivity could be used in a classroom and how it is already being used by some. Then, of course, issues of access, but that is a thought for later.


5. The Mission Continues: Star Trek

Of course, somehow, this comes around to Star Trek.

Star Trek? Okay, seems like a strange connection, Chelsea. How do the applied humanities and James T. Kirk connect? You didn’t write another fanfic, did you?

Not a bad idea, but no. To be fair, this would likely be the assumption of my friends and colleagues. Though I did find a way to work my fan production work into the event.

Before the bootcamp began, the participants were divided into teams of three and given an anniversary for which they had to create some sort of public programming. Our group was assigned the 50th anniversary of the television debut of Star Trek. Though I could summarize that experience, working with great colleagues from the French and Philosophy departments, instead I will simply post the website we created for the event. (Quite honestly, I am proud to say that we were the only group that used a website to feature the event rather than a traditional PowerPoint.) Here you can find the public programming we assembled to celebrate the first airing of Star Trek.

Hypothetically, we were given $20,000 to work with as we assembled the program. On the final day of the bootcamp, we presented the project to a panel of judges, who then supplied feedback on our event and presentation. Each group did a phenomenal job. And there was such an air of support and encouragement in that room. I personally think that we really became a community in that week.

The past week has been a long one, honestly, but so worthwhile and informative. The early mornings were part and parcel of the bootcamp experience, and the hard work that we all accomplished was difficult. If given the choice I was given in mid-March again, I would always choose to apply and attend the bootcamp. This is one experience at the forefront of my graduate school tenure, and will be  valuable as I move forward in my professional career.

Though at this time I still want to pursue a career in academia, this experience with applied humanities, public programming, and so on will be extremely beneficial in my goals to engage the community in which I (hopefully) find myself. And, should the situation arise later, I have the experience necessary to step into the public humanities with an informed eye.

I want to thank the Hall Center, Henry Fortunato, Victor Bailey, and Sally Utech for the opportunity. And, of course, my fellow bootcampers and team members for creating an open and welcoming community where we could all share this experience.

Embrace the chaos. Remember the three Rs. Tell the story.

Applied Humanities Bootcamp
2016 Applied Humanities Bootcamp Participants [Photo credit: Joy Hyatt]