Field Work: Opening the Conversation

Oregon Humanities' Think & Drink program strives to include more voices and communities in 2018.

Conversations are a catalyst for change. Rather than keeping important discussions behind closed doors, Oregon Humanities’ Think & Drink series reimagines the settings for these conversations by inviting community members, local activists, and civic leaders to publicly engage with one another. Since 2009, the series has examined a wide variety of topics, from the prison-industrial complex and education to the present-day viability of the American dream. This year, Oregon Humanities is exploring ways to make the program more invitational and inclusive, including an interorganizational planning committee for Portland events and tool kits for communities outside of Portland that are interested in hosting events of their own.

Kathleen Holt, associate director and editor of Oregon Humanities, says there are a few key reasons for the recent developments. “We wanted to be really thoughtful about how we planned the series,” Holt explains. “We are really good at bringing people together around ideas and in conversation, but we wanted to make sure we had the right people at the planning table.”

By asking community partners to participate in a compensated planning committee, Oregon Humanities hopes to ensure that different perspectives and networks are built into the program. The planning committee, which will select guests and topics for events in January, March, and May of 2018, includes representatives from the Rosewood Initiative, ACLU of Oregon, Portland Housing Center, ChangeLab, and the Multnomah Idea Lab (MIL), a department within local county government that creates community-driven policy at the intersections of poverty and racism. Mary Li, a previous Think & Drink panelist and director of the MIL, says she’s excited to join the team and believes it’s important to consider what strengths each person can bring.

“For me, what’s valuable [about being] in a space with Oregon Humanities is the fact that I work for local county government,” Li says. “I’m a bureaucrat, and whether you’re supportive of government or a critic of government, all of us want to see government showing up in a different way. Being engaged with Oregon Humanities helps the county better fulfill its mission.” Li adds that because government policies, practices, and investments have contributed to inequity, “It should be possible for different policies, practices, and investments to address or ease those disparities. It’s incumbent upon us because we helped, as an entity, to create the disparities that we have.”

The tool kits, which offer tips for presenting a Think & Drink event with or without sponsorship from Oregon Humanities, are another way to extend the reach of the program. Because communities know what’s best when it comes to locating potential venues or picking topics of conversation, Holt says, the tool kits, financial backing, and marketing assistance Oregon Humanities offers can supplement the incredible work that communities across Oregon are already doing. Deschutes Public Library Foundation and Tillamook County Pioneer Museum each hosted their first Think & Drink events in October. Learn about hosting a Think & Drink in your community.

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