In November 2007, Dr. Randy Akers started his 20th year as Executive Director of SC Humanities. Akers began his work in the public humanities in Florida in 1984 and was Associate Director of the Florida Humanities Council prior to coming to South Carolina as Executive Director in 1988. Akers, who holds a doctorate in Religious Studies from Northwestern University, is also an amateur archaeologist who has dug ten times in Israel since 1974. He was selected to chair the 2008 National Humanities Meeting in Arlington, VA.
Since its founding in the fall of 1972, SC Humanities has been led by four men. Early leaders of the organization were Nicholas Mitchell and Porter Barron, and Lee Cox served as Executive Director for thirteen years. After his arrival in 1988, Randy Akers has come to embody the humanities in South Carolina to many people. His twenty years of leadership, advocacy, and passion for public humanities programming has enormously benefited SC Humanities in its operations and outreach and has consequently benefited the state.
Akers kindly consented to answer some questions about his past twenty years at SC Humanities, giving the public a unique look at the changes and accomplishments of the organization over two decades.
Q: What is the biggest change in the activities/structure of SC Humanities since you began as Director?
RA: In twenty years at the Council, the biggest change would have to be technology. When I arrived in 1988, the Council owned six electric typewriters. We had a secretary who handled correspondence and all kinds of paper files. We got our first individual computers and a printer around 1992, and what a change that was! Now we have multiple Web sites and an email newsletter. Times have changed for any office!
Q: What has been your favorite experience at SC Humanities thus far?
RA: The most wonderful experience in 20 years has been working with outstanding staff people and wonderful board members. We have been blessed with some outstanding professionals and volunteers; hence the organization will soon be 35 years old. Meeting grantees and project participants from every corner of South Carolina has been most rewarding.
Q: What is your favorite program or project sponsored by SC Humanities in the past 20 years?
RA: In terms of programs, the SC Book Festival has become a signature annual event for the Council. Now in its 12th year, the SC Book Festival boasts an impressive list of writers who have come to Columbia, and having booksellers from as far away as California is impressive too. Many people now have the event on their calendar and even invite out-of-town friends or family to come for that weekend. The SC Book Festival has also attracted more funding for the Council.
Q: What is your favorite project that has been funded by a SC Humanities grant in the past 20 years?
RA: The grant I was very fond of was for the documentary film Family Across the Sea, produced by SCETV, which won 14 different awards, including the Silver Apple Award, National Educational Film and Video Festival Gold Award, 24th Annual Houston International Film and Video Festival First-Place Documentary, and the SC Associated Press Broadcasters Award. But for me the importance really lay in the telling of the story of the connection between the sea islands of South Carolina and Africa and the Caribbean. Since that time, the Council has been involved in numerous wonderful projects that document and tell that “Atlantic” world connection and the importance of Gullah-Geechee heritage to this state and region.
Q: Who is the most interesting person that you have met as a result of your work at SC Humanities?
RA: This job is fascinating because of the wonderful people you meet and work with. Senators Thurmond and Hollings are South Carolina icons and legends and wonderful storytellers, as are Pat Conroy and Alex Sanders. Judge Matthew Perry is a very gracious and just man. No one could speak more honestly than Modjeska Simpkins. I have learned so much from prominent historians like Charles Joyner and Walter Edgar, Lewis Jones and A.V. Huff. The list of people who have taught me about the history and culture and heritage of this state are too numerous to identify and thank. Please know that SC Humanities guest book is filled with great people who have touched our lives, and I thank all of you for making this organization possible.
Q: What do you like best about living and working in South Carolina?
RA: The humanities are filled with human stories, and South Carolinians are the best storytellers in the world. In that sense, we are a rich and fertile state, and I am very happy to have been a part of it for almost twenty years.
Q: What are some of the things you hope SC Humanities will accomplish over the next twenty years?
RA: My hope is that we will build a foundation so that future leadership can take the Council to a higher level of institutional development and organization, such as maybe having a larger financial base and a permanent location.
The Humanities Council SC Board of Directors and staff thank Randy Akers for his twenty years of dedication to the Council and look forward to working with him for many more!