Self-knowledge (one’s personal story) can provide confidence and direction in an unfamiliar and challenging world — the same is true for communities. Knowledge of community history fosters a long-term view of past events, as well as a way to measure progress and to make informed choices. Thus a better understanding of the past makes us wiser citizens and will lead to a stronger Rhode Island. The Heritage Harbor Foundation believes that history and heritage organizations are uniquely positioned to raise our history literacy levels through their programs and special projects. It is therefore essential that these organizations be able to explore new or neglected aspects of history, to disseminate this knowledge, and to leave durable records of their initiatives.
The Heritage Harbor Corporation was launched in 1996 to celebrate Rhode Island’s remarkable three and a half century experience first as a New England colony and later as a state crucial in shaping the nation. Though the initial concept of a physical exhibition space in a decommissioned power plant on the Providence waterfront was abandoned following the economic downturn of 2008/2009, a financial settlement has allowed Heritage Harbor to transform itself from a museum entity into a charitable foundation. With its endowment lodged at the Rhode Island Foundation, The Heritage Harbor Foundation now seeks to raise the awareness and usefulness of state and local history for the Rhode Island public by making grants to certified 501(c)3 organizations willing to carry out at their own venues, programs, projects and initiatives that remain true to the educational intent of the museum’s original donors.
As part of its museum planning process, Heritage Harbor had engaged over three dozen practitioners of history and heritage in workshops and conferences to chart exhibitions and public programming. Among their recommendations was to divide Rhode Island’s history into six major categories of inquiry, Six Big Ideas. Within these confines, dozens of worthy research topics can serve as subjects for projects or programs.