Wayne County, in south-central Utah, is home to about 2,600 people spread over 2,500 square miles. For twenty-five years, the Entrada Institute, located in Torrey, has served this rural community by celebrating arts, culture, and the natural environment through a variety of programs. In 2016, the organization received an NEH grant to develop a series of programs to engage youth and their families around the cultural, traditional, and natural resources of the Colorado Plateau. These programs, known as the Sparking Humanities initiative, allowed people from different backgrounds to come together and form meaningful connections through the humanities.
Each year of the initiative, organizers selected six themes to explore through a series of winter programs. These themes, such as Sheep, Wool, and Needlecraft and Western Heritage Shooting Sports, were centered on local culture and heritage. The institute then partnered with the local 4-H to develop theme-related hands-on activities for its after-school youth programs. Organizers programmed two or three weeks’ worth of after school activities related to each theme. The themes culminated with free community dinners that included presentations and activities for participants of all ages. These activities were informal and hands-on and intended to spark conversation-—historical photos served as conversation starters, for example. Large tables encouraged strangers to sit together and provided the space for members of more traditional local communities to get to know newer arrivals. Most of these dinners, which happened over the course of the winter, drew 150 participants or more.
The NEH was vital to the initiative’s success in sparking conversation between different communities. “NEH funding made it possible,” said Annette Lamb, the project’s director. “The NEH grant gave us the opportunity to bring different perspectives together and have a dialogue,” she said. NEH funds also allowed the institute to purchase cameras and other recording equipment to collect oral histories from community members. As the organization moves on to its next phase, the infrastructure and relationships made possible through NEH support will prove invaluable in helping achieve its goal of using the humanities to bring people together.