We launched the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities at the University of Tulsa just over three years ago with the aim of encouraging interdisciplinary research, fostering creative collaboration, and serving the community. As the arts and humanities began to come into question, we set out to defend them as fundamental to our democratic, civil, and social lives. At the same time, of course, Tulsa itself was in the midst of an exciting cultural renaissance, sparked by the creation of the Brady Arts District, the TU-Gilcrease Museum partnership, the revival of downtown, and much more. The OCH thus emerged at a moment when there was both a plainly felt need for an engaged humanities and a growing spirit of cooperation throughout the region.
The results have been surprising and, at times, even overwhelming. The Center itself went quickly from hosting a handful of events on campus to organizing just over forty talks, exhibitions, performances, and symposia in 2015-16. Approximately 7,000 people attended an OCH event last year, figures which include a sold out crowd for An Evening with the 1491s, standing-room only performances of the Vaudeville Museum, and record audiences at the Art of Politics exhibition mounted at the Zarrow Center. We have collaborated on programming with Philbrook Museum, the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, Circle Cinema, BookSmart Tulsa, Guthrie Green, AHHA, and many other community partners. We now host John Erling’s outstanding oral history project, Voices of Oklahoma, and have just agreed to house the International James Joyce Foundation as well as the Modernist Journals Project. In addition to funding from the University of Tulsa, the OCH has received grants from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the Lobeck-Taylor Foundation, and the Editorial Cartoonists Initiative. And thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the D’Arcy family, we now have a sustaining endowment gift that will permanently underwrite the Center’s ongoing activities.
Such success has been made possible by the dedication of our internal and external advisory boards, the faculty fellows whose work we support, the community partners who share our vision, and the hard-working staff who schedule venues, create ads, and serve food. Our most significant debt of gratitude, however, is owed to those who take the time to attend our events and thus affirm our core belief in the essential value of the humanities to a healthy community.
In 2016-17, our focus turns to the topic of food, a foundational aspect of all human culture. The manifold ways we grow, prepare, regulate, and share what we eat gives shape to identities both cultural and political, ethnic and national. Through lectures, digital initiatives, exhibitions, readings, and yes, even banquets, we will explore how and why food is so essential to the human condition. Things begin in September with a month-long cluster of programs on the local food movement and we are now scheduling events on topics like the history of cookbooks, the global tea trade, the indigenous food sovereignty movement, and much more. To learn more, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our new monthly newsletter. We look forward to welcoming you to the Center and to our ongoing conversations about what it means to be human.
Walter Endowed Chair of English
Director, Oklahoma Center for the Humanities