Nov. 15, 2017

Calgary Institute for the Humanities receives gift of $1 million

Donating MacLachlan family hopes their initiative will encourage further donations to the long-running hub of humanities research
From left: Postdoctoral Visiting Fellow Elena Dahlberg, CIH director Jim Ellis, Judy MacLachlan, and CIH fellows Jack Lucas and Amelia Kiddle.

Elena Dahlberg, Jim Ellis, Judy MacLachlan, and Jack Lucas and Amelia Kiddle.

Calgary Institute for the Humanities

As a longtime University of Calgary senator and a passionate advocate of the arts, retired lawyer Judy MacLachlan was naturally drawn to the Calgary Institute for the Humanities (CIH). She joined its advisory council in 2013 and her work there has been a labour of love.

“I think of it as a distillation of what the Faculty of Arts is all about,” she says of the venerable, 41-year-old University of Calgary institution dedicated to engaging the public with research based in the humanities. “I love the multidisciplinary research they do there. The idea that they bring so many diverse viewpoints to the table, that they’re always at the forefront of current discussions and forward-thinking visionary ideas. I feel like they’re the glue that holds the faculty together.” 

“And yet,” she pauses, “the CIH itself, which is the oldest humanities institute in Canada, has a fairly low profile. It’s underrepresented, and I think that’s a shame.”

That’s why MacLachlan and her daughters, Kate and Leanne — both U Calgary alumnae in arts and arts-related programs — have generously donated $1 million to the CIH, as a gift to Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High, the University of Calgary’s $1.3-billion fundraising campaign. This funding has initiated the creation of a new endowment fund aimed at helping the CIH strengthen its existing programming while also undertaking new projects that will enhance the institute’s profile locally, nationally and internationally.

It is no coincidence that the public announcement of the gift is being made today, as Nov. 15 is Philanthropy Day. MacLachlan and her daughters hope their gift will also inspire others to donate to the institute.

“I don’t want anybody to think my donation is where it stops,” says MacLachlan. “Hopefully this is where it begins.”

CIH director Jim Ellis is thrilled with the generous gift and optimistic that it will encourage further donations. He’s excited about the new programming opportunities such funding affords the CIH.

In recent years, in addition to its elite fellowship research positions, the CIH has launched a number of interdisciplinary working groups wherein academics from at least two different Faculty of Arts departments come together to tackle various societal concerns. For example, the Energy in Society working group — which includes professors from the departments of History, Political Science and Anthropology and Archaeology — looks at the politics of energy and resource extraction in Canada with the goal of encouraging public awareness of energy issues.

Thanks to the MacLachlan family donation, Ellis says, the CIH has been able to expand the number of its working groups from four to eight. New groups include Social Justice and the Smart City, focusing on the social and environmental implications of smart city technologies and policies. Another groups is called Genomics, Bioinformatics and the Climate Crisis, wherein researchers interested in the environmental humanities examine pressing ecological issues.

In addition, the CIH plans to host a greater number of community events featuring high-profile guest speakers. It also plans to produce further publications arising from the work done in-house and in the community. Currently there is a book in the works based on a community forum held last May, which was focused on water, from both an environmental and an Indigenous perspective.

“We’re living in a time when, more than ever, our society needs to have difficult conversations about important matters in a civic and civil forum,” says Ellis. “That’s what the CIH does and we’re fortunate to have somebody like Judy who recognizes the significance of that. She’s got a real passion for the arts, for this university and for the community, and she sees that the CIH plays an important role. She also feels we’re undervalued and underfunded compared to other humanities institutes in Canada, like the University of Toronto’s Jackman Humanities Institute, for example.” 

“She really wants to see this institute become internationally known.”

MacLachlan feels that the research being done and the programming offered by the CIH is already world-class. “It punches way above its weight, consistently,” she says. More funding, however, would help the institute reach its full potential.

“It would allow them to do the things they really want to do,” she says.

“I think humanities and the arts help us understand our world. They engage us. They bring civil discourse to society. This is important to me. The CIH should be a beacon drawing interest to the Faculty of Arts. I believe that’s a worthy endeavour.”