When Miranda Restovic arrived in New Orleans at the age of 11 — escaping the civil war raging in her hometown of Dubrovnik, Croatia — she didn’t speak a word of English, and all she knew about her new home was that “someone had left the heaters on.”
After almost 25 years, Restovic says she’s significantly more educated about her adopted home and determined to share her love and fascination with all of Louisiana.
In February, after serving as interim director for a year, she was named the executive director of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and preserving Louisiana’s cultural heritage.
Though headquartered in New Orleans, Restovic stresses the organization’s commitment to the entire state.
“We live in this incredible place that has played a significant role in creating the cultural identity of this nation,” she says. “All of our communities across the state are just so fascinating. Their stories need to be told.”
The LEH tells Louisiana’s stories in many ways, including through its quarterly magazine, Louisiana Cultural Vistas. Winner of 135 press club awards, the magazine celebrated its 100th issue this winter.
Restovic also has overseen increasing investments in KnowLA.org, the Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana. The site provides a wide array of local history and cultural content (including audio and interactive media) to the world.
One of the biggest investments and successes of LEH has been Prime Time, a humanities-focused approach to increasing literacy in school-aged children. Since 1991, it’s estimated that over 31,000 Louisiana children have participated in programs across all 64 parishes.
“Last year, we had 135 programs across the state,” Restovic says. “We could be on track to have about that many or more this year,” she said, adding that the LEH is “the only humanities council in the nation to invest this kind of resources and strategy on promoting literacy.”
Restovic admits the LEH is struggling to do more with less. While previously, she says, the state contributed about $2 million to the LEH’s budget, last year, the entire annual budget equaled $2.4 million, with zero state contributions.
“In the last six or seven years, the state money disappeared, and our federal funding now makes up only about 30 percent of our budget,” she says. “The rest comes from memberships and sponsorships.”
Under Restovic’s leadership, the LEH remains full speed ahead, continuing a partnership with the Smithsonian to bring high-quality exhibits to small towns and starting a new small grant program for humanities programs across the state.
“Public funding for the humanities is at an all-time low, so we have to be creative, persistent and innovative until things swing back in our favor again,” she says, “and I believe eventually they will.”