Arte Público receives $500,000 NEH grant toward preserving and digitizing U.S. Hispanic literature

Gabriela Baeza Ventura, executive editor of Arte Público Press and co-founder of the U.S. Latino Digital Humanities program at University of Houston / Photo credit: University of Houston

The National Endowment for the Humanities recently awarded Arte Público Press a major $500,000 challenge grant in support of its Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Program.

Launched in 1992, Arte Público’s Recovery Program is considered the first nationally coordinated attempt—and the largest endeavor of its kind—to recover, index, and publish lost Latino writings that date from the American colonial period through 1960, as described on its website. Its ongoing efforts include the collection and digitization of books, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, correspondence, and other archival items, including diaries, oral lore, and popular culture.

The grant comes as the NEH recently announced $35.63 million in funding for 258 humanities projects nationwide in various grant categories. Of the 13 Texas institutions and individuals funded during this grants cycle, Arte Público received the largest amount in the form of an NEH Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant.

As a challenge grant, the $500,000 from the NEH aims to leverage federal funding to spur nonfederal support—requiring it to be matched 1-to-1, with Arte Público to fundraise another $500,000 over the next three years. Together, the $1 million will be used toward two main goals, according to a press release: “1) organize, index and preserve digital content and 2) provide multilevel access to the documents and metadata for a wide range of audiences in the United States and abroad.”

Leonor Villegas de Magnón, Venustiano Carranza, Lily Long and Others,” Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Digital Collections / Courtesy of Arte Público Press

Arte Público says that the Recovery Program’s documents are currently stored in several different servers and are not easily searchable. That will change with the implementation of the NEH grant.

“This support from the NEH will be critical in generating additional funding to create a customized cloud-based digital repository of texts and content management system, all with the long-term goal of making the hundreds of thousands of Latino texts already preserved by the Recovery Program accessible to scholars and community members,” said Dr. Gabriela Baeza Ventura, Executive Editor of Arte Público, in a statement.

Baeza Ventura is also Co-Director of the U.S. Latino Digital Humanities Center, which serves as a venue for the Recovery Program’s archives and whose digital infrastructure will be improved through the NEH grant.

At a time when PEN America reports that book bans are on the rise, increasing by 28% during July to December 2022 when compared to the previous six months—with 30% of banned titles being books about race or racism, or that feature characters of color—there is vocal concern for barriers to access to works by Latino authors, particularly in Texas which leads the nation in book bans.

“This grant is extremely significant not only because it will aid the program to consolidate its archive amassed through more than 30 years of research, but also because it will provide a venue to access materials pertinent to U.S. Latino history and literature that is not accessible and increasingly in peril of being lost or banned,” said Baeza Ventura in an email to Houston Arts Journal.

Founded in 1979 by Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, Arte Público is recognized as the nation’s oldest and largest publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by U.S. Latinx authors. It has published bestselling authors, such as Nicholas Mohr, Victor Villaseñor, and Helena María Viramontes, as well as seminal works, including Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.

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