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Photo: Jonathan Wilson
ArtistYear Fellow Aqil Rogers explains to Harrity School students in West Philadelphia how to assemble a contact microphone from component parts.

Many people worry about the drastic cutbacks in arts programs in schools. Not that many people do something about it. Pat Zacks of Camera Werks, Providence, is one person who does, as you may recall from this post.

In Philadelphia, another great idea is moving beyond the piloting phase — a kind of AmeriCorps for arts in education.

Peter Dobrin writes at the Philadelphia Inquirer, “With major new funding from a federal agency in hand, a Philadelphia service group in the arts is going national.

“ArtistYear has been operating since 2014, placing a few recent college graduates into Philadelphia schools each year as teaching fellows. This year, the program will expand to 25 full-time fellows who will teach music, art, dance, creative writing, and media arts in low-income schools in Queens, N.Y., and Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, as well as Philadelphia.

“A big boost to the program comes through AmeriCorps, part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which has awarded ArtistYear a three-year, $1.45 million grant and extended certain benefits to the teaching fellows. …

“The grant is a first for AmeriCorps. ‘This is the first time there’s been a program that allows artists to dedicate a year of service to their country,’ said AmeriCorps spokeswoman Samantha Jo Warfield, citing the innovative model as one criterion for the award.

“Service-year programs for college graduates are common — to build English-language curriculum in Tonga, or to work on food-justice issues in Milwaukee. But ArtistYear may be unique. Its leaders call it the ‘first organization dedicated to national service through the arts.’

“This school year in the Rego Park neighborhood of Queens, storyteller and improviser Jill M. Pullara will put to use skills she learned earning an MFA in writing from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. Will Brobston, a guitarist and composer armed with a master’s degree from the University of Denver, goes west to the Colorado towns of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, and Basalt.

“In Philadelphia, Aqil Rogers, a metal sculptor and designer who grew up in Lansdowne, is teaching at Mastery Charter Harrity Upper School at 56th and Christian Streets.

“ ‘What I’ll be doing is helping them create a maker space,’ said Rogers, 22, a Drexel University graduate whose senior thesis was Empowering Underserved High-Schoolers to Engage in Design/Maker Education through Hip-Hop and DIY Electronics. ‘We’ll work our way to electronics, robotics, lots of different sewing techniques — anything that can be done with hands, I suppose, will be learned at some point. And a lot of design-thinking work, which I think is critical.’ …

“In choosing fellows, the group wants artists who see teaching not merely as a space filler, but as a calling. ‘What we’re looking for is what kind of work experience they have that makes them think they are ready for a year of service, and that they want this as a piece of their career,’ says ArtistYear chief program officer Christine Witkowski.”

Learn more about the program and how it aims to supplement (not replace) arts in schools that still have them, here.

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Photo: Catskill Mountain Foundation
Catskill Mountain Foundation’s Doctorow Center for the Arts provides cultural opportunities in a rural area.

The arts are important everywhere, not just in cities. But sometimes it’s a challenge to attract to rural areas the kind of philanthropy that keeps urban cultural institutions alive.

Through the lens of a rural New York foundation, Mike Scutari of Inside Philanthropy considers the issue.

“In 1998, [Peter and Sarah Finn] founded the Hunter, New York-based Catskill Mountain Foundation, an organization committed to transforming rural communities through the arts. …

“The genesis of the CMF dates back to the early 1990s, when the Finns took over a family property in the town of Hunter. ‘The community had gone through a long decline,’ Peter said, and ‘many buildings on Main Street were for sale, and some buildings were in a serious state of disrepair and collapsing.’ …

“Peter and Sarah grew up in families that were very involved with the arts and had read stories about communities that were transformed through arts-based economic revitalization. …

“In 2018, the CMF will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Its program offerings include over 20 performances and 200 films a year, artist residencies, education programs, a piano performance museum, gallery and bookstore, and, for good measure, an operating farm.

“Its success is all the more startling when you realize that Hunter, New York has 2,732 residents.

“The problems facing rural communities are deep and complex. Yet we generally don’t see rural areas receive a proportionate amount of support from large institutional funders. … Funders, quite understandably, want the most bang for their buck, and more people live in urban areas. …

“Finn’s smaller-is-more-impactful approach flips conventional wisdom on its head: Funders can move the dial more effectively by operating in more concentrated communities. …

“[One] important form of engagement is ‘attracting others to invest in the community. Others who have invested significant amounts into the community have stated outright that they were inspired to do so by the work of the Catskill Mountain Foundation.’ …

” ‘Historically,’ Finn said, ‘the Town of Hunter was once known as a bar town. Today, it is known as a family arts community.’ ”

Read more at Inside Philanthropy, here.

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Photo: Shelly Davidov/Miami New Times
In Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, street art transformed Jose de Diego Middle School.

It’s interesting to see how street art can be a route to gallery representation for painters, especially if they apply their tagging to public projects.

Ahmed Fakhr writes at Rolling Stone about how painting the walls in a Florida neighborhood helped some artists gain wider recognition.

“Miami is becoming a destination for global collectors looking for a multimillion-dollar Jeff Koons sculpture or one-off by Gerhard Richter. While some opt for the hallowed white-walled galleries to sip white wine, other local artists continue to gain notoriety when by taking to the streets to paint huge murals on bare walls with cans of spray paint. This graffiti explosion was the creation of the street art scene in Wynwood.

“In 2007, Wynwood was a rundown textile and manufacturing area. Then a cohort of street artists decided to bring attention to their neighborhood, but as a way to establish their own art.

“Slowly the area transformed into a haven for creative people looking for a way to express themselves. Soon enough, a developer purchased the properties and capitalized on the growing art culture in the gentrifying area now known as the Wynwood Arts District. …

“Native Robert de los Rios, founder of the RAW project, has been entrenched in street art scene in Miami for years, so he used this opportunity as a way bring art to underfunded schools in the area. ‘Art budgets for schools in the Wynwood area were slashed to zero,’ Rios says.

“So he decided to approach the area school district and street artists from around the world to paint murals on the indoor and outdoor walls of the school. By doing so, Rios hoped this would jumpstart the issue of funding art in schools again and to inspire kids’ creativity. ‘They felt like they were coming to a prison before,’ he says. ‘But now they come to school excited and happy.’ …

“While Rios prides himself in being able to bring an international graffiti scene together to transform the aesthetic of the school, he also collaborated with multiple Miami artists – Ahol Sniffs Glue, Typoe, Santiago Rubino and FL.Mingo – to bring challenging concepts to the school’s campus.

“Typoe, one third of an art collective known as Primary Flight, along with Cristina Gonzalez and Books Bischof, started in Wynwood when Art Basel launched in 2007. Having no luck at the fair, the trio decided street art was more lucrative. … Now they have a gallery space in the Design District.”

Read about more of the artists at Rolling Stone, here, including the one who prefers to stick to illegal tagging of trains and remain anonymous.

I’d be very curious to know how all this has affected the students at the middle school. Perhaps some are aiming to become artists now or are just feeling more special.

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Photo: Lisa Nolan
A child called Melissa painted artist Lisa Nolan’s portrait of her at Lowell’s Making Art with Artists program in 2015. When artists work with children, freedom to create is the name of the game.

Did you catch the National Public Radio story about a free art camp in Michigan? I read about it at ArtsJournal, one of my favorite sources.

My friend and former boss Meredith Fife Day led a similar program in Lowell, Massachusetts, called Making Art with Artists. It was amazing.

Zak Rosen at NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday interviewed one of artists behind the Michigan arts camp.

“In Hamtramck, Mich., a working class city almost surrounded by Detroit, camp is not affordable for many kids. An artist has started a camp inspired by adventure playgrounds and neighborhood artists. …

“Hamtramck is formerly a working-class Polish city. But in recent years, there’s been a huge surge of other immigrants, many from Bangladesh and Yemen. Accompanying that surge have been lots of artists who work to put community at the center of their practice, people like Faina Lerman. [Lerman and her husband have] eight open lots.

“They garden on a few of them, but that still leaves plenty of space for other stuff. And in this part of the city, there aren’t any playgrounds. So this summer, Lerman and some neighborhood artists started a free, week-long day camp. …

“Camp Carpenter does not have a stated mission. If it did, it might be, let’s just do this and see what happens. And adults are here to help, not to lead.

“LERMAN: I feel like everything is just very over structured for kids. Like, they don’t have even the space to make their own decisions or to let their minds expand to different ways of learning or gathering information.

“ROSEN: So here, the structure is intentionally loose. But by the end of the week, there is the start of an adventure playground, built in part by the campers. …

“ROSEN: One young camper, Jimmy Engalan, is learning how to use a hammer. A less patient adult may have allowed him a few whacks of the nail and then taken over — but not teaching artist Liza Bielby. …

“She watches Jimmy until he drives the nail all the way down into a wood pallet. It takes 258 knocks. I counted — 258. But he does it. …

“ANGILENA OMOLARA-FOX: I’m Angilena Omolara-Fox, and I am 11 years old. I made a pillow. I made a dress. I helped with the little fort thing over there.

“ROSEN: So would you come back to camp?

“ANGILENA: Yes, because I don’t really get a lot of chances to use tools and to make, like, things that I would like to make.”

More at NPR, here.

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091617-Lowell-mill-girlsMico Kaufman’s 1984 “Homage to Women” captures the determination of Lowell’s 19th century mill girls.

Like many of New England’s postindustrial cities struggling to reinvent themselves, Lowell has attracted a thriving artistic community to its old warehouses.

And as a magnet for generations of immigrants since the Merrimack and Concord rivers were harnessed to power cotton mills in the 19th century, the city has also attract a rich array of cuisines and cultures.

The late U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas helped to create a popular national park in Lowell. Today, others are building on the city’s arts reputation to attract tourists while strengthening ties among the various nationalities.

Yesterday I decided to check out one of the city’s newest festivals, “Creaticity.” Despite good weather, music, food, giant bubbles, and booths that featured artisans of many ethnicities, the event didn’t have anything like the attendance of the city’s 31-year-old folk festival. But you couldn’t expect that. It probably just needs time to get established.

Here are a few Lowell scenes to give you a taste. The last photo is an editorial comment on how challenging it can be to unlock all the inherent beauty of a city like Lowell.

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Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Sing For Hope
Jon Batiste performing on June 5 at the 6th Annual Sing for Hope Pianos Kickoff Event at 28 Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan. You may know Batiste from Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.

Many of the artists, musicians, and theater people who live and work in New York City believe in the importance of bringing the arts to children in underserved schools. And they are turning their beliefs into action by supporting Sing for Hope.

On June 5, Sing for Hope sent out a press release on the unveiling of 60 new artist-designed pianos destined to go to public schools after a summer on the streets.

“Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader and Sing for Hope Board Member Jon Batiste kicked off the performances at 12 noon, followed by a special performance of Bach’s Prelude in C performed by 45 pianists simultaneously on 30 Sing for Hope Pianos. Other performances included renowned pianist Michael Fennelly, who played Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’

“Each year, Sing for Hope selects local and international artists to create unique piano artworks that are placed in parks and other public spaces for anyone and everyone to play. This year, through a special partnership with the New York City Department of Education, Sing for Hope will place all of the Sing for Hope Pianos in permanent homes in NYC public schools after the pianos’ time on the streets, benefiting an estimated 15,000 New York City school children. …

“This summer marks the placement of the 400th Sing for Hope Piano to date, making NYC host to more street pianos than any other city in the world. …

“In time for the big reveal of the 2017 Sing for Hope Pianos, the world’s first-ever mobile app for street piano discovery and engagement is now available. The app helps people to discover, visit and play the pianos – and then share their experiences via social media. Now in its third year, the app will allow people to take curated tours of the pianos, discover special concerts by artists and performers taking place at the pianos, and sign up to give their own pop-up performances on the pianos. The app, designed and developed by Craver Inc., is free to download and available in the App Store.”

More here.

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Art: Neal Personeus
This humorous piece, exhibited in 2015 at the Block Island Airport, is called “Yeah … but the view.”

People know Rhode Island for its beaches, its cuisine — and, of course, its arts. Perhaps the cluster of arts activities started with the Rhode Island School of Design. Perhaps people who attended RISD stayed around after graduation. It’s hard to say.

But there is no doubt that the state saw what a treasure artists were and decided to create incentives to get them to stick around and contribute.

Dustin Waters has details in Charleston City Paper.

“Little Rhody has become a powerhouse when it comes to attracting artists and art lovers to its shores. And the method by which state leaders have leveraged Rhode Island’s tax code to benefit the creative community could serve as a model for other states looking to cultivate a stronger arts economy.

” ‘When artists populate an area, it tends to get energized,’ says Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the Rhode Island State Council of the Arts.

“Targeting specific neighborhoods in need of revitalization, Rhode Island’s General Assembly realized that an excellent way to breathe life into these areas was to foster the growth of arts in these communities. Establishing designated arts districts throughout the state in 1996 with the goal of attracting and keeping talented artists, state leaders offered two tax incentives for artists who were willing to live and work in these districts, according to Rosenbaum.

“First, all works of art created in these districts could be purchased exempt from state sales tax. This tax break extended to dealers, galleries, and shops within each district. …

“The second benefit proved to be a major boon. [Income] received by artists from work produced and sold in a designated arts district was exempt from personal state income tax. B…

“Finally, in 2013, the Rhode Island General Assembly extended the sales tax incentive throughout the entire state. This decision came after a meeting between artists, politicians, and businesspeople who saw the plan as a way to turn the state’s creative community into an economic driver. …

“In a 2015 report to the Rhode Island General Assembly prepared by the Rhode Island State Council of the Arts, participating artists were surveyed to find out how they felt about the first year of business under the state’s new guidelines. Not surprisingly, the general consensus among the artistic community was positive.

“Almost 58 percent of artists surveyed reported that their sales increased from the previous year before the sales-tax exemption was instituted. …

“While Rhode Island hopes to spread the news about the state’s arts incentives, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for more states to start taking better care of their artists — before all the local creatives start heading up to Providence.”

More here.

Hat Tip: ArtsJournal.

 

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