Uplifting Durham Through Empathy and Understanding

Credit: Celeste Holtzmann

Enhanced Humanities Programming Provides Opportunity for Growth

Celeste Holtzmann, humanities and adult programming coordinator at Durham County Library, believes in the power of humanities. She heard once that “the humanities gives us the unique chance to challenge the things we think we know” and her goal is to bring that to life in Durham. The Durham Library Foundation provides the funding to achieve these aspirations.

As humanities coordinator, it’s Holtzmann’s job to shape how Durham perceives the humanities. To do this, she develops programs within the humanities that are interesting and relevant to the members of the Durham community. These programs align with the vision of the Library: inspiring lives and transforming Durham.

Supporting the humanities isn’t new for Durham County Library. Since its inception, the Library has had a long history of humanities support. The Library’s humanities program has been known to bring nationally-recognized authors and world-class scholars to Durham through events that focus on music, art, local history and more. Thanks to Holtzmann’s efforts, this year, the Library is enhancing their commitment to humanities programming.

Credit: Celeste Holtzmann

Holtzmann already has two programs on the books for 2022.

The programs, “Women Run Durham'' and “Exceptional Measures,” will expose the community to nationally-recognized artists while exploring local history, art, music and culture. Held during Women’s History Month this March, “Women Run Durham'' is a recognition of female leadership in Durham. The program consists of a panel discussion featuring the Durham Chief of Police, Durham County Manager, Chair to the Board of Commissioners, Durham City Manager and Durham Mayor. The program will also include a collaboration with the Library’s STEAM department and a workshop with a local Durham artist.

“Exceptional Measures,” a community celebration of Juneteenth, will feature a night of dance, spoken word and song. This event will be preceded by spoken word workshops by poet/author Dasan Ahanu and a collaboration with Durham’s Pauli Murray Center.

Along with any program she develops, Holtzmann hopes “Women Run Durham” and “Exceptional Measures” create a chance for all members of the Durham community to experience an event that helps them better understand themselves and the world.

Credit: Durham County Library

She also prioritizes inclusivity, ensuring her programming is appealing for residents of all ages, genders and races. “I want to expose someone to something they might not have been exposed to otherwise,” said Holtzmann.

Humanities programming at the Library would not be possible without the Durham Library Foundation. Their endowment funds have been an ongoing source to enhance the already high-level programming provided by the Library. Proposed last year, “Women Run Durham” and “Exceptional Measures” were an easy yes for the Foundation. They provided over $19,000 in support of both initiatives. In 2021–22, the Foundation will provide $56,000 total in support of the humanities.

Credit: Durham County Library

Holtzmann believes that the humanities gives us the opportunity to better understand our world, our values and each other.

While our differences make us unique human beings, they also bind us together. Here in Durham, this philosophy rings especially true. “Durham has a really beautiful community with a lot of those elements of uniqueness and togetherness,” said Holtzmann.

As for long-term impact, Holtzmann hopes that advancing the humanities in Durham leads to increased understanding and empathy. By embracing Durham’s unique diversity and history, she believes we can uplift our community and better recognize the moments that built our city into what it is today. “I want to challenge us to think outside of ourselves, while still honoring the things that made us who we are.”

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