Published December 21, 2021

A central function of Virginia Humanities is to award grants to cultural institutions and humanities projects across the state. But if you’ve ever submitted a grant application or project proposal, perhaps you’ve wondered just who is that person behind the email address? As of last fall, that person might be grant and fellowships coordinator Adam Courville. Is there a better way to welcome a new colleague into the fold than asking them a series of questions and posting their answers on the public website? We don’t think so! 

Read on and find out what finally brought Adam to the South, what keeps him working in non-profits, and why puppet theater is probably a lot cooler than you think. 

You’ve lived all over the U.S., but you’ve never lived in the South. What took you so long and what brings you here now?  

I moved to Virginia in late 2019 with my wife, three children, and our cat to be closer to extended family. We had just spent six years in the upper Midwest – which we loved. But being in Charlottesville means we can spend more time with parents, grandparents, cousins, and other family. Plus, we enjoy being within driving distance to the mountains and the ocean. 

You’re joining us right at the same time we’re moving into a brand-new office and opening a new public humanities center. What’s your favorite thing about the new space? 

Besides easy access to the wonderful vendors and foods in the Dairy Market? I truly appreciate the welcoming feeling I get when I enter the office space. First off, Cauline and Jennie are always there with a warm greeting. Then you come face to face with art, literature, and other media teaming with stories from Virginia’s past and present. I believe that this first impression speaks volumes about the intentionality of the new space and the organization’s dedication to being a welcoming space for all.

You spent your early career working with puppet theaters, first as a program director and then as an operations manager. So tell us, just how into puppets are you? 

Puppets have certainly played a major role in my life. As a child I was enthralled with the Neighborhood of Make-Believe that Mr. Rogers created. Then, in my adolescence, I was introduced to Bread and Puppet Theater, based in Glover, VT. I became a regular attendant of their annual show, Our Domestic Resurrection Circus. It exposed me to a new world of puppetry, performance, and political theater, solidifying my respect for this art form. Fast forward through years of traveling/working/studying in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, and I found myself back in Vermont. Upon returning I came across a help-wanted ad for “volunteer puppeteers, no experience necessary.” It was an ad I couldn’t ignore. And so, I became a puppeteer with an educational puppet troupe. While traveling throughout Vermont performing in elementary schools about issues such as bullying, substance use, abuse prevention, and celebrating differences, I realized that I was able to use the power of puppetry to entertain and educate. That volunteer role quickly became a staffed position that led me on a path to working with various organizations over many years and promoting the use of puppetry as a tool for change. 

You’ve worked almost exclusively in the non-profit sector. You even got a graduate degree in non-profit management. You’ve obviously made a deliberate choice. What initially drew you to the non-profit work? 

The people. Right out of college I was working three jobs: one in retail, one that was industrial, and one in the non-profit sector. Only one track stuck. The non-profit job was at a Meals-on-Wheels program. The staff was small and dedicated. I spent my mornings in the kitchen preparing and packaging meals for delivery, but the executive director made a point of getting me out of the kitchen to truly experience the mission of the organization. He would often cover my pot-scrubbing duties at the end of my shift so I could ride along with volunteers and help deliver meals. It was that experience of feeling a real connection to the whole organization–building relationships with staff, volunteers, and clients, and developing an understanding of how the smallest tasks impact a mission–that drew me into the world of non-profits.

You’ve been getting a crash course in more than forty years’ worth of Virginia Humanities programming through our encyclopedia, radio shows, book and community programs, etc. Have you uncovered any stories that surprised you? Did you learn something about Virginia you didn’t already know? 

While it is not exactly a surprise, I am continually impressed by the sheer number of partner organizations working to research, preserve, project, and share the stories of the human experience. My deep-dive so far has been focused on getting to know the grants and fellowships programs and learning the history of the relationships between Virginia Humanities and other humanities organizations and institutions–and looking to the future for new potential relationships. 

Our work brings people together and honors our shared humanity.