Foreground Rural Initiative

Photo by Bruce Morton

Hero Foreground We Live Here Forgottonia Img by Bruce Morton crop

These partnerships create regional hubs connecting neighboring towns and the local nonprofits and cultural workers who keep their communities connected, creating new networks of collaboration and support. Learn about the current Foreground hubs and how to get involved below.

Our Goals

The Foreground Rural Initiative is currently a three-year project designed to:

  • Provide grant funding to support the humanities in rural communities.
  • Strengthen humanities and arts organizations through capacity building, civic engagement, and peer skill sharing.
  • Pilot a community-based “hubs” strategy to bolster and highlight the existing arts and humanities work in rural communities across Illinois.
  • Strengthen existing partnerships with rural organizations and initiate new ones using an equity- and need-based rubric for applications from individuals and organizations that serve and/or represent geographically isolated communities; Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC); immigrants; youth; and predominantly low-income communities.
  • Explore new partnerships with national, state, and local agencies and organizations to deepen our impact and expand our outreach in rural communities.
Why rural?

Rural and small-town nonprofits are disproportionately overlooked in funding, capacity-building, and convening opportunities. In Illinois, funding is traditionally less accessible for organizations outside of the Chicago metropolitan area due to eligibility, geographic location, size, and capacity. Rural communities in general suffer from “invisibility” to traditional funders in Illinois and beyond.

“People are hungry for things to fill their soul,” said a resident of Fulton County in West Central Illinois. “They are starved for community, culture, things that make us laugh, feel and connect.”

As a statewide organization with deep relationships in communities across the state, Illinois Humanities is eager to deliver grant dollars, grow capacity, and build community connections in areas of the state that are often overlooked.

Over our five-decade history, we have come to understand that the most powerful impacts of arts and humanities in rural communities occur when they are leveraged to bring people into conversation and collaboration with one another. Our project will not only increase grant-making in rural Illinois communities to support humanities and arts organizations, but will also strengthen organizations through capacity building, community building, and peer skill sharing over the course of three years.

How we define "rural"

The adjective “rural” is notoriously difficult to define, and its usage varies widely from one context to another. For the purposes of this initiative, Illinois Humanities proposes to consider an organization “rural” if it meets at least two of the following four criteria:

  1. It is located in a county with a population density of 150 or fewer residents per square mile;
  2. It is located either in an unincorporated area or in a village, town, or city with a population of 7,500 or fewer residents;
  3. It is located at least 20 miles from the nearest city with a population of 75,000 or more;
  4. It has an explicit mission to serve rural communities or people who reside in rural locations.

We will continue to develop these criteria based on input from partner organizations and consultants.

Historic Marbold Farmstead foreground grantee

Photo courtesy of Foreground grantee partner, the Historic Marbold Farmstead Association.

Corn coal church

A view from rural Illinois.

Foreground Hubs

Centers of rural culture and community.

In rural communities and small towns, individual cultural workers and small nonprofits often serve as cultural and economic anchors, creating opportunities for their communities to connect, learn, and grow through the arts and humanities. Through regional "hubs," Foreground works with individuals and nonprofits across Illinois to amplify their work, increase their access to funding, and strengthen infrastructure for civic life and culture for years to come.

Stay tuned for opportunities to get involved and connect with a hub partner near you.

2015 media journalism group discussion

Foreground Advisory Committee

Joe Brewer (Cuba)

Joe Brewer is a social science and history teacher at Cuba High School where he also directs the school’s Forgottonia Project.

Joe received a degree in Social Science Education from Olivet Nazarene University and an MA in sociology from Western Illinois University.

Joe resides in Cuba, Illinois and enjoys reading, coaching, wrestling with his dogs, and spending time with his wife and stepsons.


“If it bothers you that I have a song for every topic we discuss, we can’t be friends.” –Unknown Facebook Philosopher

Yes, I am she... also the one you find dancing in the aisles and sitting in front of a canvas, raw or painted, in deep dialogue. I simply love all things art and all things living. (Unabashedly, unashamedly, and unapologetically so).

Legacy Training, Inc. is about life, so a bit about mine. Born in Chicago, Illinois, our family relocated from 64th and King Drive to Grand Chain, Illinois circa 1963. (Family was my mother, her parents, and I.) “Daddy” made a valiant effort to be a farm guy (think Green Acres, the sitcom from the 70s), but soon returned to the life he knew and loved as a nightclub owner. From age 11 to 17, my life was school and the “Club.” What better training for a future teacher, social worker, entrepreneur, and lawyer?

My grandparents believed with every fiber of their being that “education is the antidote for poverty.” They also believed in me. I am honored to continue the legacy and honor their love for the peaceful life and community they found in southernmost Illinois.


Erin Eveland is the Executive Director of HUB Arts & Cultural Center in Rushville, Illinois. Having worked as an art teacher for 13 years previously, she has a demonstrated history of working in the art industry, and is skilled in art education and fine art practices.

Erin received an MA focused on education from Western Illinois University in 2012, and a B.Ed from the same university in 2004.

Note: HUB Arts & Cultural Center is an Illinois Humanities grant recipient.


Dr. John Hallwas is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Western Illinois University where he taught for 34 years. He is the author or editor of thirty books related to Illinois history and literature, various plays based on Illinois history, and hundreds of articles on the same topics for journals, magazines, and newspapers.

Over the years, Dr. Hallwas has spoken in 150 Illinois towns on a variety of Illinois-related historical and literary topics. He has published articles or book chapters on more than 100 writers from Illinois and is the most well-published scholar in the field of Illinois literature. An Illinois television program that features many of those authors is A Sense of Place in Illinois — with Writer John Hallwas (2020). Since 2016 he has written a column titled Forgotten Voices from Illinois History for Illinois Heritage magazine published by the Illinois State Historical Society.


Gisele currently serves as Director of the Mapping the Future of Your Community program, a unit of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University. She manages the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program at IIRA as well as other community technical assistance grant-funded projects.

Gisele earned both a BS in agricultural business in 1989 and an MA in economics in 1991 from Western Illinois University. She has published several articles in national and state outlets on various rural development issues.


Ricardo currently works as Chief of Staff for State Representative Dave Vella in Rockford.

Previously, Ricardo was Field Representative for Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, a community organizer at Illinois Coalition for Community Services, and an advocate for out-of-school youth at Illinois Migrant Council.

Ricardo has a BA in political science from the University of Illinois at Springfield and earned an MA in political science and government from the same university in 2012.


Sandra Pfeifer has been a social issue documentary filmmaker and media artist for more than twenty years. Her work, which addresses a variety of social concerns, has been presented to audiences throughout the United States. She has received multiple awards for her documentary films that have also been aired regionally on PBS.

Pfeifer is a board member at the Yeiser Art Center, a media artist with the Wastelanders Artist Collective and a film graduate of Southern Illinois University. She also attended Goddard College’s MFA program in Interdisciplinary Arts.


Kay Rippelmeyer, a Southern Illinois native, is a former lecturer, researcher, and academic advisor in the College of Liberal Arts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is also the author of Giant City State Park and the Civilian Conservation Corps: A History in Words and Pictures (2010), and The Civilian Conservation Corps in Southern Illinois 1933-1942 (2015).

Kay has researched southern Illinois history for more than thirty years and has lectured widely on the Civilian Conservation Corps and river work in the region. Currently serving on the board of the Jackson County Historical Society, she was a program liaison for Illinois Humanities for many years.


Dr. Cabrera is Professor Emeritus of Spanish at Millikin University. A writer, theatre researcher, and critic, he has published a number of articles and books about literature, theatre, culture, and politics in professional journals all around the world.

Dr. Cabrera received his BA in psychology, an MA in Latin American literature from Cal State-Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of California, Irvine. He is also one of the leaders of the AP Spanish Literature and Culture program of the College Board. He is an Illinois Humanities board member.

Contact Us

Fairouz AbuGhazaleh
Director of Statewide Programs