This weekend is the first convening of the 2013 Intermedia Arts Creative Community Leadership Institute. Our first assignment is to prepare a mini presentation on where we would like to be in 5 years in the practice of arts and community engagement, and what we would like to glean from this institute. Therefore, I am referring back to my original application for the program, and remembered that I wanted to share parts of that here. I have a post that I’m writing about some of my feelings and impressions from our first orientation, but here is part of my original letter of intent. It’s long, I know. Sharing is caring, right?
November 12th, 2012
Dear selection panel,
I am an emerging artist with a mix of roles in arts administration, marketing, leadership and education within various organizations in the Twin Cities and am at an ideal transition point in my career to benefit from the Creative Community Leadership Institute. My work is informed by an upbringing in the Palouse region of Eastern Washington, time spent abroad in Ecuador and Australia, a strong environmentalist and feminist sensibility, and a passion for education and community development fueled by extensive work in the fields of childcare and social service. In my primary roles in the local arts community I consult with Springboard for the Arts to manage social media for the Irrigate project and am a Board Member and Exhibitions Committee Co-Chair for the Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota. I also have a lot of ties to the local theater and performing arts community due to working for the Minnesota Fringe Festival each summer.
In the art studio I create delicate watercolor painting and drawing with abstract imagery inspired by landscape, nature and biology. Professional and volunteer work has a sometimes subtle yet very strong influence on my artwork. I have worked in early-childhood and elementary education on and off for over ten years including two years of Americorps service in the Twin Cities. I followed Americorps service with five years of work in various roles at Wayside Family Treatment services, serving low-income women with children who are recovering from chemical dependency. The families who came through Wayside House transitional housing and treatment programs while I was there have left an indelible mark on my heart. Serving and getting to know so many incredible women while they struggled with recovery and rebuilt their families out of the rubble addiction leaves in its wake gave me a different kind of strength and devotion to social justice. While it is more obvious to myself than to other viewers, the abstract imagery I use in my painting often directly evokes emotions and stories from the heartache and resilience I witnessed in clients and children I’ve served over the years.
In the next five years I hope to explore new ways to approach the fields of social services and education from an artist’s vantage point and combine my artistic practice with the interpersonal and conflict management skills I’ve developed working with at-risk women and kids. This may specifically include pursuing professional development and higher education opportunities in the fields of art therapy, art education and/or child development. Attending workshops and events including Giant Steps, Social Innovation Labs, Springboard’s placemaking and community arts training, Minnesota Rising’s UnConference, and Arts Midwest’s ArtsLab Leadership Idea Exchange has helped me start to envision the direction I would like to go with my work, and I am excited by the prospect of taking that learning to a deeper level through the Creative Community Leadership Institute.
Creative Placemaking Experience
I was one of ten artists selected by Springboard for the Arts in the summer of 2011 to infuse creative placemaking projects into Friendly Streets Initiative block parties on Charles Avenue in St. Paul. The events were designed to create an accessible, inclusive environment that fostered neighborhood networking and where community members could give input into the long-term planning of a potential bike boulevard on Charles. I collaborated with drama therapists Talia Galowitch and Jen Johnson of Art in Action to create an art-making activity called “pLaYMaGinAtiON sPaCE.” I led a painting activity in which attendees could make pictures responding to three questions. We purposefully chose questions that would complement the work Friendly Streets organizers were doing to get residents thinking about improvements they would like to see on their street:
When someone visits your neighborhood, where do you take them?
What do you hope your neighborhood will look like in the future (5 years, 10 years, etc)?
What do you like best about your street?
These paintings were hung in a circle that enclosed a “play” area where Talia and Jen led attendees in theatrical role playing games that addressed community building and neighborhood concerns. We enacted this activity at three events and felt it was very successful, rewarding, and educational for us as artists learning about what placemaking can look like. Six images from this project are included in my application as my work sample.
Springboard went on to launch Irrigate in the fall of 2011, and my involvement in the summer project as well as a continued relationship with the organization as a workshop participant led me to be hired on contract to manage the social media for the new ArtPlace funded initiative. Irrigate is an expansive effort to train and mobilize artists in creative placemaking along University Avenue in St. Paul as a way to address the local challenges of light rail construction. The project is exposing me to a multitude of new ideas about what roles artists can play in deepening social engagement and supporting economic development in our neighborhoods. Promoting the fantastic projects happening on St. Paul’s central corridor is rewarding and inspiring, but it’s also time for me to figure out where my strengths in education and social service fit in and how those can support me as a project creator and activist in my own right.
WARM Projects and Achievements
I am a Board Member and Exhibitions Committee Co-Chair for the Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota, a feminist art membership collective that I have been actively involved in for about four years. I have become a key leader within the organization in developing new exhibition and programming opportunities for members. This has included smaller activities such as creating an art skill share nametag activity and Picture-a-Feminist exquisite corpse drawing project at an annual meeting to help spark conversations, and larger projects including hosting a feminist art discussion group on the Walker’s Open Field and organizing a pop up exhibit at the St. Anthony Pop Up Shop with the Starling Project. Cheekily titled “WARM Pop!” the show created a spontaneous, first-come-first-served alternative exhibit opportunity for WARM members for one week in July of 2012 and was one of the projects highlighted in the toolkit Starling recently published “Your Idea Here: Unlocking the Community Potential of Vacant Storefronts.” We are currently in the planning and organizing stage for various events and exhibitions in 2013 as WARM celebrates its 40th anniversary which includes member shows at Robbin Gallery and the College of St. Benedict’s and a partnership with the Katherine G. Nash gallery at the University of Minnesota. WARM has been a great opportunity for me; it is a very accessible organization and it has been easy for me to step into a leadership role, shake things up a bit and make things happen. On the other hand, projects with WARM tend to feel a bit insular and I would love to expand some of that work to reach a larger audience and help the organization strive towards more contemporary relevancy.
Inspirations and Hesitations
I have these moments when a crazy huge new project idea just hits me like a ton of bricks. Inner brain gears churning, heart pounding, feet leaping off the floor. Sometimes the resources at my disposal are enough to jump in and make that idea happen. Other times, I have ideas that I have trouble actualizing. Sometimes I don’t follow through with them because I’m getting ideas that aren’t actually meant for me – things I wish existed in the world, but know I don’t have the particular skills or passion to make happen, so I give that little chunk of inspiration back to the universe and hope it rolls along to the right person. But many of the ideas that come to me don’t get a chance to be fully realized because I’m not strategically placed with the right community connections to latch on to. I have some hesitation about approaching new organizations and educational institutions out of the blue, coming in “as an artist who wants to engage them in a community project.” I would much rather already have a connection established through employment or volunteer work of some kind, but I know that limits my options. Through the institute I would love to get a better grounding in collaboration and project development tools that could help me think outside the box when imagining ways I can be an agent for change as an artist, educator and organizer.
During the Friendly Streets placemaking project I worked alongside Amelia Brown and Conie Borchardt as they were just finishing up their experience as Creative Community Leadership Institute fellows. The continued passion they have expressed to me about the value of CCLI in their lives and the impressive quality of work by them and other fellows I know (such as Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker of Works Progress) is a huge part of what attracts me to this program.
I see the arts as a vital component of our culture that we desperately need to embrace as a society in order to better educate our children and heal our social and economic divides. The core lesson I have taken out of all of my various professional roles is that relationship building and communication is key to any successful project or partnership. The values of respect, compassion, forgiveness, and determination, as well as a sense of humor, are an ingrained part of how I approach any new opportunity.