Elizabeth Francis is the executive director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and she is passionate about the role of the humanities to enrich our culture and strengthen our democracy. We asked her a few questions about her life and perspective in Rhode Island for our series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.
RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday- what did you do in both your personal and professional life?
EF: My day started off with my usual ritual — reading the New York Times on my phone and doing the mini crossword. After arriving at the Humanities Council office in AS220’s Mercantile Building, we had a staff meeting to catch up on what everyone is doing, to discuss our upcoming strategic planning, and to get ready for our Humanities Happy Hour on August 1st at one of the NewportFILM screenings. I then met with Wanchen Wang, the Council’s intern from the cultural management program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, to talk about careers in the cultural sector and trends in public humanities. That night, I went to the first night of the Olneyville Expo, part of the Providence Fringe Festival, in Donigian Park. It was such a great time, and I learned so much about Olneyville!
RISCA: What do you love about the art community/scene in Rhode Island?
EF: I love that scholars, artists, preservationists, archivists, and cultural practitioners are coming together to create culture, strengthen our communities, and engage the past in meaningful ways.
RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
EF: I came to Rhode Island for the graduate program in American Studies at Brown University, but I ended up in Rhode Island to raise my daughter. I fell in love with Rhode Island when I became executive director of the Humanities Council. I used to feel a pang of longing and regret when I flew back to the West Coast, where I grew up. But now I revel in seeing Rhode Island’s beautiful landscapes and the bay when I return.
RISCA: What is one thing, personal or professional, that you and your organization want to accomplish in the next year?
EF: I am looking forward to expanding our Civic Engagement initiative connecting cultural participation to a stronger civic fabric. We know that cultural institutions are leading the way, and this initiative will illuminate how and why greater investment in culture is needed.
RISCA: Why do you do what you do? What inspires you, drives you, to create or enable the creation of art?
EF: I was inspired to lead the Humanities Council because I felt strongly that the humanities could and should have a larger impact in civic life. I’m still inspired by that but now see this as a question: how do we catalyze the humanities to connect across differences, address the challenges we face as a society, and to create more equity? I am inspired every day by the many programs and projects that we have supported and developed that are doing that.
RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?
EF: Equity: I believe that partnerships and dialogues across cultures, color, economies, and neighborhoods will generate more opportunity, self-determination, creative power, and a stronger cultural ecosystem.
RISCA: What Rhode Island artists and/or arts organizations most inspire you and why?
EF: The Dirt Palace at the Wedding Cake House is one of the most exciting projects that I have encountered. The ambition to restore this crumbling Miss Havisham of a mansion was bold almost beyond belief. The grit, vision, persistence, and resourcefulness of Pippi Zornoza, Xander Marro, and many others in making this happen have been amazing. I am looking forward to the next phase after the Wedding Cake House is open, when it will not only be a place for artists and an exquisite stay for visitors but a magnet connecting the building’s rich history with ideas and enterprises now as well.
RISCA: What is the biggest challenge for you in your art life?
EF: How to make my big, windy dreams into reality.
You can keep up with Elizabeth and all the great things the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities is doing by visiting their website, following them on facebook, instagram, and twitter, and attending their upcoming Celebration of the Humanities on October 17th.