In March 2022, Michigan Humanities’ Board of Directors announced Jennifer Rupp as our organization’s President & CEO. Rupp has been part of the Michigan Humanities team for almost five years and has served as Director of State and Federal Grants, Chief Impact Officer, and in recent months has led our organization as Acting President & CEO. During these past few years, Rupp has shown her commitment to public humanities programing across our state. Rupp’s commitment to expanding and re-thinking humanities work started earlier in her career as the Executive Director of the Marshall Historical Society in 2007 and then as the Executive Director of the world-famous Brass Band of Battle Creek. In her time at Michigan Humanities, Jennifer has helped to identify the current strengths of our organization, but she is also not afraid of change, especially when it comes to making our organization more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible. This month, we sat down with Jennifer to have a better idea of what the President & CEO role means to her and her vision for the future of Michigan Humanities. Please continue to read this blog to hear from Jennifer’s own words.
In the almost five years you have worked for Michigan Humanities, what do you find most meaningful about working for this organization?
The public humanities community is one of the most collaborative, thought provoking, and impactful communities I have experienced. The work that we do in public humanities requires us to be vulnerable, accessible, courageous, thoughtful, and bold. Working at Michigan Humanities has provided me with the unique opportunity to meet so many amazing people all across the state that are talking about hard topics in ways that engage and connect people. The humanities allows us to take issues that can be divisive and build mutual understanding and empathy through conversations.
Michigan Humanities is uniquely positioned to be able to pivot and help organizations respond to current issues not only with funding opportunities, but with programming, resources, networks, and staff support. When we can connect two organizations doing similar work, or connect communities addressing the same issue, that is when it is the most meaningful for me. My favorite part of the day is when I can brainstorm with someone on a project or an issue, and we find a way to make it happen. Seeing the true impact that individuals and grass-roots organizations are making in their communities through public humanities work is something that will forever drive me to continue this work. Organizations that have missions dedicated to environmental justice, those that address racial, social, or economic inequities, immigration, eco-tourism, or aging infrastructure. We can use the humanities in so many ways to impact change and make our communities richer.
What does it mean to you to now lead Michigan Humanities as our President & CEO?
It means the world to me! I am so honored to be entrusted with the leadership of Michigan Humanities. I have a deep commitment to the work we do, the partners we engage with, and the communities across the state tackling the hard issues and topics that impact us all. I treasure the relationships I have built over the past fifteen years and look forward to working with arts and culture organizations to continue the wonderful work being done. I am honored to be working with an outstanding staff and board that is dedicated to the mission and vision of the organization. We are taking deep dives into the “how” and “why” of our work. It is important to me that as an organization Michigan Humanities is inclusive, accessible, and equitable as we serve the diverse communities in our state. It is important that we are a trusted resource for those individuals and organizations looking to do public humanities work. I am proud to represent Michigan nationally in the public humanities community and do not take my position lightly. The work that is being done by organizations and individuals across our state is remarkable, and I am humbled to lead the organization that can uplift that work and their voices.
As Michigan Humanities’ President & CEO what are your priorities for the organization? How would you want the organization to grow and/or strengthen?
I believe that Michigan Humanities plays a critical role in connecting people across the state. One of my first priorities is to ensure that Michigan Humanities is accessible to all organizations. Connecting our staff and board with partners and organizations is important to ensuring that grants, programs, and resources are inclusive, accessible, and meet the needs of Michigan communities. It is my priority to ensure that we are an open and approachable organization. Public humanities work is rooted in relationships. So, the relationships we establish need to be built upon trust, experience, collaboration, and mutual understanding. A priority in establishing these relationships is being in the field. It is a priority to have staff and board visiting organizations, meeting with communities, and listening to what the needs are in our state. Another priority for the organization is to diversify our funding sources. Federal funding can present barriers for smaller nonprofit organizations. I would like to see Michigan Humanities have funding opportunities that are accessible to all Michigan nonprofits engaged in public humanities work.
I would like to see Michigan Humanities grow in the diversity of programming we offer and support. As I mentioned earlier, more and more organizations that have not been associated with humanities work in the past are expanding their reach and engagement through the public humanities. We have more work to do in this area. There are organizations that have been doing this work at a grass-roots level for years, and we are just now learning about them. We can tailor our programs and funding opportunities to align with the work that is needed if we have everyone at the table. The staff and board cannot be in all 83 counties, but we can create a network of partners that can expand the reach of public humanities. I would love to see a strong network of people all working toward building a civil, just, and equitable democratic society.
As a funder, we have a responsibility to listen, observe, and be prepared to address the issues that are facing our communities. As a program provider, we have a responsibility to design programming that can be modeled and recreated in any community in our state. It is my priority to ensure that as an organization we are able to respond in a timely manner and remain a steadfast resource for humanities organizations in our state.
Can you share with us a fun fact about Michigan Humanities? Or one of your favorite memories in your time with the organization?
This is probably the hardest question! There are so many favorite memories. We truly have the coolest jobs on the planet. I pinch myself every day that I get to wake up and do this for work. But, if I have to pick just one favorite memory it would have to be my very first solo tour of the Upper Peninsula. I have lived in Michigan all my life, but being in the UP, talking with partners, seeing the amazing work being done in small towns, sleeping in a lighthouse, and taking in our awesome landscape, gave me a new perspective on how truly vast, incredible, and diverse our state is. The UP is one of my favorite places and I look forward to visiting again soon!
A fun fact…Michigan Humanities will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2024! How should we celebrate? Drop me a line and let me know! I would love to hear your ideas!
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