As federal cuts loom, new leader takes helm of New Hampshire Humanities 

  • Anthony Poore on his second day on the job as the new executive director of New Hampshire Humanities on Friday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Saturday, March 03, 2018

Anthony Poore feels the weight of the moment. He can see that the country – and the state of New Hampshire, for that matter – is divided.

More than ever, Poore said, he’s witnessing people shy away from discussions about race, gender and nationality out of intimidation, or fear of judgment from peers.

But the new executive director of New Hampshire Humanities said that doesn’t discourage him in his work. Instead, it motivates him.

“Can you think of a time before today when civil society or civil discourse were more important?” Poore said, sitting in his new office in the Hugh Gallen State Office Park on Friday. “Because I can’t.”

For the New Hampshire Humanities, one of the state’s top providers and funders for arts, history and literary programming, that means continuing projects like the “Elephant in the Room” series – a theater performance group on the Seacoast creating shows around topics like human trafficking, mental illness and the affects the opioid epidemic has on families and communities in the state.

It means promoting New Hampshire Humanities’ free programming for veterans, which includes a three-day workshop on storytelling coming up this month.

And for Poore, that means bringing together his skills as a leader, economist and artist to make that happen.

Although originally from Dayton, Ohio, Poore has lived in New Hampshire for 20 years.

He has masters degrees in business administration and community economic development from Southern New Hampshire University, and has worked in high-powered positions such as Assistant Dean at SNHU, and Director of Regional and Community Outreach at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston.

At work, Poore said he combines his economic and business interests with a deep love for music, art and spoken word poetry that developed from growing up in the birthplace of famed poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

He plays artists like “Black Violin,” a classical music group infused by hip-hop to help him concentrate while researching the council’s budget, or when checking emails.

And although Poore has a commanding presence – partly because he’s close to 6-feet, 5-inches tall – he’s humble, and likes to divert attention away from himself to his team.

“I have defined myself throughout all of my career as a ‘servant-leader’ – servant first,” he said.

Poore, who said he believes he’s the first African American to lead New Hampshire Humanities, started in his new position on Thursday. He took the role over from Debbie Watrous, who left the New Hampshire Humanities in August after 24 years.

He said he recognizes that he’s stepping into the job at a time when the future of funding for humanities organizations like New Hampshire Humanities is not secure.

Half the organization’s funding comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities – something that is worrisome for Poore in the shadow of cuts proposed in the White House’s 2019 budget.

But he said he is keeping a positive attitude and has faith that the country’s leaders will see the value in what the humanities have to offer.

“Whether you’re conservative or progressive, people understand the importance of history, language and culture,” he said.

That doesn’t mean Poore isn’t trying to prepare for the future. He aims to diversify the New Hampshire Humanities’ funding streams by talking to local investing organizations and showing them the value of the council’s work.

Poore wants to demonstrate how investing in social resources can not only create a better, more well-rounded society, but also make a positive economic impact on the state.

Yes, science, technology engineering and math are important, Poore said.

“Those four things are the bricks that our economy will be built on moving into the future,” he said. “But those bricks won’t build a house unless there’s the mortar that binds them together.”

That mortar is critical thinking skills, the ability to work in groups and find creative solutions – all skills important in humanities work, Poore said.

Poore cited New Hampshire Humanities’ Connections program, which supports literacy for groups like New Americans. By helping New Hampshire residents improve their reading and writing, the council is contributing to the growth of a skilled state workforce, Poore said.

“It’s a relevant issue that has impacts just beyond ‘feeling good,’” he said. “These programs have the capacity to contribute to the creation of a highly educated and qualified workforce.”

Poore said he thinks the best way to show government and business leaders the humanities’ worth is by demonstrating its relevance to building a stronger economic society.

“Is funding a concern? Absolutely,” Poore said. “But is it going to keep us from doing the work that needs to be done? Absolutely not.”

Earlier versions of this story about the new executive director of New Hampshire Humanities incorrectly said that half of the organization’s funding comes from the National Endowment for Health. The funding actually comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWilling ham.)