As we turn the corner to 2021, many of us have been taking stock of 2020. This has certainly been a year of conflict and loss. Yet our 2019–20 annual report also documents the ways faculty, staff, and graduate students with whom we work met a pandemic, political turmoil, attacks on truth and scientific expertise, racist violence, and calls for social justice with a renewed sense of purpose and mission.
As the door on public opportunities for Obermann-affiliated artists, researchers, and scholars slammed shut, the Obermann staff flung virtual windows open. You can almost see that change happen across our 2019–20 report.
The bi-weekly seminar for Obermann Fellows-in-Residence became a precious time not only to share work-in-progress, but also to support one another when research trips and plans had to be sacrificed or revamped. Associate Director Jennifer New invited experts to share how their work helped them understand the pandemic and its impact. Obermann Community Conversations with the Iowa City Public Library moved online. Communications Specialist Jenna Hammerich brought her indefatigable research skills to solving tech challenges, while our Director of Operations Erin Hackathorn made sure we and colleagues we support met grant deadlines. Meanwhile, our work with national organizations like the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes and the National Humanities Alliance moved from conference rooms to welcoming virtual spaces.
The Andrew W. Mellon Humanities for the Public Good interns and their community hosts moved us by saying, “Of course we’ll figure out how to have virtual internships!” They succeeded thanks to imagination, ingenuity, and good will. We had been planning a small, focused summer institute on graduate education; that institute morphed into virtual workshops using a facilitation model called Liberating Structures. More than 100 people from here and across the country participated. Over the course of those workshops, faculty, staff, and graduate students built democratic processes and practices into their Zoom classes and meetings, many of which are continuing into 2021.
What I remember every year as we put together the annual report is that I am profoundly grateful to work with such inspiring people on campus and in the community.
What I will remember most about 2019–20 is a call to ethical action—for artists and scholars and researchers, along with everyone else.
This year, you’ve held our feet to the fire, asking us to create practices that can resist histories of white supremacy and white privilege, dismantle structural inequities among different ranks at the university, and address the needs around us. As members of a research and educational community, we need to be more intentional, more vulnerable, more self-aware, more willing to take risks, and far braver than we often are. We welcome you to join us in the coming year as we strive to be humble, curious, responsive, and supportive: we know that you and we do our best work—as artists, researchers, scholars, and leaders—by creating beautifully diverse, warmly inclusive, and rigorously equitable creative and intellectual spaces for collaboration.
We hope this report will give you the sense of pride and joy we felt in reflecting on the work of our Obermann community. If you would like to donate to the Center, we promise to use your contributions wisely. And we welcome your suggestions and good will as well as financial support as we head into another fascinating and challenging year.
With warmest good wishes,