Thursday, May 28, 2015

Betsy Mowry Voss - How can the humanities help illuminate the mixed blessing of social media that permeates the lives of most Minnesotans?

Betsy Mowry Voss is the Arts Innovation Director at COMPAS, a community arts organization based in St. Paul, where she’s been for almost thirteen years. She holds a B.A. from Augustana College in Rock Island, IL in visual art and theater, and an M.A. in non-profit/arts administration from the St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis. With over 20 years in the non-profit sector, her current focus is in youth work, evaluation, artist training and creating accessible programming. Betsy’s creative practice and experience includes writing, painting, mosaic, and theater.

I’m a “Gen X’er” who enjoys social media. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn make it possible for me to absorb what’s going on very quickly—and sometimes that’s all I seem to have time for! I work in the arts and like to stay tuned in to the work of artists and organizations I know, as well as events and social justice issues that affect the creative folks around me. I feel fortunate to have intentionally rooted myself in a culture that can be skeptical about life and malleable enough to make change. But, as much as I enjoy connecting with people on-line, technology also provides me with a stream of info that can be distracting, stressful, and often, inaccurate.

Fortunately, I’ve learned to scrutinize what I’m reading; this is key. As one of the humanities, the arts train us to dig deeper to understand the historical and modern-day context behind the work. We practice thinking critically and learn to appreciate people similar to and different from ourselves. The arts also remind us that very little is definitive. Through the humanities, I’ve developed thinking, interpretation, and comprehension skills. When I’m faced with the snapshots of life that social media offers, I use these skills to empathize and draw informed conclusions.

I believe social media should be looked at as a means and not an end. It’s a powerful method of reaching a lot of people, and it’s also the present day communication norm amongst teens. In my work with youth, I’m much more effective if I can meet them where they are—and that’s on-line and through digital communication. This isn’t to say that it should be the only way I communicate with them. But, let’s face it, the young people I connect with are much more likely to trust me if I can talk with them about something that’s such a big part of their lives.

Last year I listened to a news story where the expert mentioned how Socrates warned us that writing would be the downfall of humanity. This really struck me…writing? Yes, it has impacted our ability to memorize and to communicate. . .AND it has allowed us immeasurable advances. People will always be wary of change, but few of us can say we would be better off without writing. In the same way, I think it’s too soon for us to really know how on-line communications and social media will affect humanity.

As I work with young people, I think it’s important not to spend my time critiquing social media, but to do all that I can to help cultivate young people who will see (and want to see through) the superficial. I hope to help develop youth who can communicate, innovate, and think critically. These skills will encourage them to reflect and ask questions when they see posts and articles, and will promote ‘feet-on-the ground’ active leadership. In the end, isn’t that what we all hope for?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering Veterans Through the 2015 Veterans' Voices Award

Today Americans honor those Veterans who have given their lives defending our country. 

This Memorial Day consider a new way to honor a thriving Veteran in your own community: the 2015 Veterans' Voices Award.

The 2015 Veterans' Voices Award recognizes, amplifies, and honors Minnesotans who have honorably served, are thriving, and making extraordinary contributions to their communities. These actively engaged, former and current military service members go above and beyond to make exceptional, positive contributions that improve the lives of people across Minnesota.

Nominate an outstanding Veteran for the Minnesota Humanities Center's 2015 Veterans' Voices Award today:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dave Wentzel - How can the humanities help illuminate the mixed blessing of social media that permeates the lives of most Minnesotans?

Dave Wentzel is an Army National Guard Veteran from Mankato and a 2014 recipient of the Veterans’ Voices Award. He has worked to significantly improve the lives of Minnesota’s Veterans. Through his Wounded Warrior Program position with Congressman Tim Walz’s office, Wentzel has become a strong advocate at the local, state, and federal level for Veterans’ affairs and awareness of their mental health issues as a Veterans Constituent Advocate.

Social media has become pivotal in our interpersonal relationships and communication. As a medium for emotional response, it has led, in some cases, to miscommunication and uncivil discourse. By relying on social media for communication, some believe that we are losing our physical and emotional interaction with each other, which is a pillar of our being. The human connection is something that we all need and crave.

The issue of social media and humanities could not come at a better time in my life. I am working on a group project called Keep it Civil Minnesota, with the Hubert H. Humphrey Policy Fellows Program. I, along with four other Minnesotans, have been laying the groundwork for a project to bring civility to the Minnesota State Legislature. We believe that civil discourse is a necessity in today’s political realm. Unfortunately, social media has been used to undermine civility in an effort to instantaneously message to the media, and the voters. My group believes that an open dialogue of civility will go a long way at the state capitol. For example, legislators are invited to pair up with a colleague from the other side of the aisle and from another part of Minnesota to undertake tasks together. Once these tasks are completed legislators are then recognized via social media for completing the Keep It Civil MN Challenge.

Our elected officials represent the best of Minnesota. They should hold themselves to the high standards required of an elected office-holder when working with their colleagues to make a better Minnesota.

Whether you are an elected official or not, we all can utilize the humanities to help us better use social media as a platform for promoting the civic good and compelling people to positive change instead of stifling them with harsh words and ideas. Our differences are what empower us as Minnesotans, Americans, and human beings. Our connections solidify us and diversify us as a people.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bdote Memory Map

The Bdote Memory Map began as a part of the "City Indians" multi-media installation at Ancient Traders Gallery on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis in 2005. This resource provides better understanding about the Dakota people's relationship to Minnesota. Educator materials are included.

View the Bdote Memory Map

Dakota in the Twin Cities: Bdote Field Trip

Spend the day visiting local sites of significance to Dakota people and learning about them from a Dakota perspective. As you experience these places, you will challenge assumptions made about Dakota history and identity and gain a deeper understanding of the significance of places like Pilot Knob, Wakan Tipi, and Mounds Park to this land’s first people.

Date: Saturday, May 30, 2015
Time: 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Location: Minnesota Humanities Center, 987 Ivy Ave E, St. Paul, MN 55106
Cost: $90 per person, includes transportation to sites, lunch, and materials
7 clock hours available upon request

Date: Sunday, August 23, 2015
Time: 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Location: Minnesota Humanities Center, 987 Ivy Ave E, St. Paul, MN 55106
Cost: $90 per person, includes transportation to sites, lunch, and materials
7 clock hours available upon request

Space is limited. Spots available on a first come, first serve basis.

Registration Questions: Golden Yang, 651-_772-4254,
Other Questions: Eden Bart, 651-_772-4261,

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Diane Tran - Social media imitates life

Diane Tran is a Senior Project Manager at Grassroots Solutions, a national consulting firm specializing in grassroots strategy, organizing, training, and evaluation. Diane serves on the boards of the Minnesota Humanities Center and Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, and is Immediate Past Chair of the board of directors for the Citizens League. She earned a self-designed bachelor’s degree in International Social Policy with a double major in Humanities at The College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth, MN. Diane is the author of the children's book, Linh and the Red Envelope, and the founder of Minnesota Rising, a statewide network of emerging leaders.

Social media is in the eye of the beholder.

The Good. For my part, social media has provided a plethora of benefits, including: offering a ready way to keep in touch with friends and apprised of happenings in their lives, facilitating my cousin’s purchase of a used snowboard to carve the slopes in Minnesota wintertime, and making it possible for my husband to recruit micro-investors when he published his National Book Award-winning essays. Social media serves as a handy resource for real-time news and activism as well as to make family members living far away feel just a bit closer. Best yet, having access to the insights and journeys of others who have walked similar paths to mine has helped me to feel a sense of #community when I’ve at times felt like the only one in my shoes.

The Bad. Conversely, while our society is still only just beginning to understand the implications of integrating technology and social media into every aspect of our daily lives, it’s not without growing pains. Social media results in anonymous hatefulness in the comments section, unchecked prejudice and oppression swiftly escalating into blame and judgment, and haphazardly introduces items into your newsfeed that you unfortunately can never un-see or un-know. Moreover, the avalanche of items from myriad inboxes and channels and mediums overwhelms the senses. On more than one occasion, I have turned away from my device and wondered how many unarticulated emotions and unexpressed thoughts I’d had in response to the 50 or so items I’d quickly skimmed past in the last 5 minutes. The heightened level of distraction and externalization can cause one, if only momentarily, to lose oneself.

The Humanity. Social media imitates life. In many ways, the power dynamics and structures that govern our offline cultures resemble the world we create online. The grammar and spelling police pat themselves on the back for their “professionalism” in crafting perceived ‘winning’ comments in online disputes. Businesses and organizations with means are able to invest more in social media campaigns and staff than those who are under-resourced, further perpetuating the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” in a world where you don’t exist if you’re not on the internet.

As such, social media is a helpful case study for understanding who is seen, who is represented, and how. While it has further democratized who has a mouthpiece or can exert influence, social media still mimics the mainstream media in the unquestioned and stereotypical narratives that can underlie the creators and consumers of content. For this reason, it is important to continually inquire into the biases and assumptions we all carry around with us, particularly as we consider that we’re contributing to a large and lasting digital footprint.

For all that has been made of social media, what is clear is that it is precisely what we make of it. We--experiencing the human condition--use it to do what it is that we do. That is, to tell stories, present our ideas, connect with one another, share our victories, lament our challenges, and express who we are. May we continue to use our evolving technological tools and social media to ensure equal voice, to value each other’s stories and experiences, and, to help all of us feel connected to, and part of, a larger community.