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The Arkansas Humanities Council is an affiliate of the National Council for the Humanities, and Jama Best has dedicated 19 years — more than half her professional career — to it. She’s been its executive director since 2018.
Like all affiliates of the NCH, the Arkansas Humanities Council awards competitive grants to other nonprofit organizations that are involved in projects in the humanities for Arkansas audiences.
“It’s important to see the commonality and celebrate the diversity of who we are — our hopes and visions we have for the future,” Best said. “This is what keeps me passionate about what I do and hope to do in the future.”
Beneficiaries of AHC grants are all over the map, geographically and in size and mission. They include the Arkansas Historical Association, Boone County Library, Elaine Legacy Center, Dunbar Historic Neighborhood Association and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
As executive director, Best has led the AHC team “to evolve and find innovative ways to serve communities and our grantees.” She moved the council’s grant applications and reporting online and updated the accounting system, resulting in more efficiency and transparency at lower cost.
The staff began working remotely when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, and that interruption in the status quo had an unexpected result as the staff of six embraced online events. “We’ve actually provided more programming to more attendees because of that virtual aspect than we probably would have done,” Best said.
She has also established the Next Generation Advisory Committee to make sure AHC continues to serve young adults. And she has expanded the staff by hiring a coordinator of special initiatives to work with underrepresented communities and adding a new education outreach coordinator position.
Best earned a degree in anthropology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and worked at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park and the Old State House Museum before joining AHC in 2003.