Christopher Kaufman Ilstrup joined the Vermont Humanities Council as its new Executive Director on August 27. He most recently worked as the Chief Operating Officer at VTDigger, and was a Senior Philanthropic Advisor at the Vermont Community Foundation for 10 years.
“We’re thrilled that Christopher has agreed to lead the Council as its third Executive Director as we build on the extraordinary legacies of Victor Swenson and Peter Gilbert,” said VHC board chair Rolf Diamant.
Christopher grew up in Vergennes and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Dance and Drama, with a focus on medieval and renaissance art and history, from Kenyon College. He also holds a Master of Science in Development Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has held leadership roles at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and Rural Vermont, and was the first Executive Director of the RU12? Community Center (now the Pride Center of Vermont.)
He recently sat down with Ryan Newswanger, Director of Communications, to talk about his new position.
Do you see a common thread in the positions you’ve held?
My work has always been about building communities and helping people talk to one another across differences. Healthy and vital Vermont communities was our goal at the Community Foundation and I think that’s been a goal for me in all my work.
Was there overlap with the Humanities Council when you were at the Community Foundation?
We did support the same kinds of projects. One example is the history camps at the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington, which were often supported by both the Community Foundation and the Humanities Council. Together, that grant became substantive enough to make really cool things happen. They were one of the first local history organizations in Vermont that deeply included Abenaki history in their work, and engaged with Abenaki community leaders on projects.
What drew you to the Council and its mission?
One of the things that has really impressed me about the Council is the way that it truly believes in and supports humanities work in the smallest of the small towns. It’s not just something that is for the bigger towns, or the towns with universities or colleges. It is work that needs to happen all over Vermont.
What do you look forward to the most in starting this job?
Getting to know new people is always a real joy for me. I’m looking forward to meeting and talking with the passionate people who have supported this organization for 40 years, and hearing what they’re interested in for our next iteration. There have only been two directors of the Vermont Humanities Council. And they’ve both been amazing. To see what comes next will be really exciting.
Can you provide any hints of the future direction VHC may take?
We have strong programs that we want to continue, and that we want to make sure are being nurtured and supported. But we will see how we can be present in even more communities, whether they’re the Old North End of Burlington, or Island Pond in the Northeast Kingdom.
We do a lot of great work using diverse literature in our programming. The last several Vermont Reads books have focused on diverse communities and people whose stories aren’t normally told. It’d be great if we were also engaging more directly with diverse communities in Vermont – with Abenaki leaders, new Americans, and the migrant farm worker community, for example.
On a practical level, I would like us to focus on raising more money for grant-making. We’ve funded a lot of great grassroots projects around the state, but we often fund them at relatively small amounts. I would love to see us support these projects in a stronger and more sustainable way.
But really, I’m just excited to get started. It’s certainly one of my dream jobs in Vermont. I’m really jazzed about the group of people who are here right now, and what we can achieve together.