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Drawing of the face of John Lewis with words from his final editorial surrounding the image
John Lewis, his last words, released on the day of his funeral. Steve Brodner, 2020

The Lewis-Houghton Civics and Democracy Initiative: Opportunities to use Creative Arts to Engage Students

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This post is by Vivian Awumey of the Library of Congress.

How might a new Congressional initiative and funding inspire creative arts driven projects that use Library of Congress digitized primary sources to teach civics, history, and democracy?

Amo Houghton. Douglas Graham, 1999

John Lewis. Douglas Graham, 1999

In the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2023, Congress honored the service of Rep. John R. Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Amo Houghton (R-NY), by establishing the Lewis-Houghton Civics and Democracy Initiative within the Library’s Teaching with Primary Sources program. Through this pilot, the Library will distribute the appropriated funds in the form of grants to organizations to develop digitally-enabled learning initiatives for secondary education based on creative arts driven instruction, especially focused on music, in history, civics and democracy.

This Initiative opens possibilities for any number of exciting and powerful grant project ideas. For example, a prospective grantee might submit a proposal to:

  • Augment an already-existing civics curriculum with music or creative arts-related Library of Congress primary sources;
  • Develop a podcast series that explores democracy through the lens of the history and context of music available in the Library’s collections;
  • Gather secondary teachers to write lesson plans that explore the role of music in history and civic movements;
  • Guide students as they embed sources from the Library’s collections into original creative works;
  • Combine music and art works from a targeted community with existing Library collection materials, creating associated curricular materials to help broaden representation.

Library collections hold a wealth of materials around which organizations can generate creative Lewis-Houghton grant ideas:

  • The Music Division holds approximately 27 million items spanning over 1,000 years of Western music history and practice.
  • The American Folklife Center’s collections feature music and creative arts collections that include historical and modern folk music associated with diverse communities across the United States and its possessions.
  • The National Jukebox presents recordings issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, which has granted the Library of Congress a gratis license to stream acoustical recordings. At its launch, the Jukebox included more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925.
  • The American Archive of Public Broadcasting, a partnership between the Library and WGBH, features over 1,000 recordings of jazz music from the early 1920s to the 1970s from solo artists and bands with styles that range from tradition to modern.

Collections featuring other types of creative arts may be found in Prints and Photographs, the Poetry and Literature Center, Fine Prints, and the Moving Image Research Center.

Education-focused organizations working in a U.S. state, D.C., or U.S. possession are eligible to apply for one of the six $100,000 grants the Library intends to award. Each may be renewed for up to two additional years.  Eligible applicants include not-for profit and for-profit organizations including institutions of higher education, K-12 school districts, professional associations, library systems, museums, cultural institutions, state and local agencies, Indian tribes and tribal organizations, and other educational entities.

For more information, visit: The application period ends on June 30, 2023.

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