All posts by Dawn Heinen

Podcast: Pioneering Youth Entrepreneurship & Sustainability

Susan RodgersonOn the Mass Cultural Council’s podcast, Creative Minds Out Loud, we spoke with Susan Rodgerson of Artists For Humanity (AFH).

AFH was founded 25 years ago by Susan Rodgerson with a seemingly simple idea: Engaging urban young people in collaborative art making gives them a voice in the arts – and business – community. Rodgerson describes the evolution of AFH’s creative jobs program, which now employs 300 kids annually and earned just under $1.5 million last year. Committed to a sustainable future, Rodgerson also shares expansion plans for the EpiCenter, AFH’s building and first Platinum LEED building in Boston.

Listen to the episode.

Read the transcript.

Check out other episodes featuring Creative Youth Development leaders.

Nano-Interview with Tony Jones of Enchanted Circle Theater

Tony JonesName: Tony Jones
Organization: Enchanted Circle Theater
Title: Teaching & Performing Artist
Artistic Genre: Performance Arts
Years in the Field: 27

What do you do at Enchanted Circle Theater?
As a Teaching and Performing Artist, I work in the classroom, in communities, and anywhere learning happens using the arts as a tool to teach, to empower, and to bring about change!

Why do you do what you do?
I wouldn’t know what else to do. I have spent my entire career as an actor and educator. It is my heartbeat.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Connecting with people whose voices get silenced comes naturally to me. I know what it’s like to feel unheard and unseen. My objective is to make everyone’s voice count.

What challenges you in this work?
I wish there were more time in the day.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
My community becomes an example of how education and the arts are stepping stones for further advancement. Working with disadvantaged youth and being an example of what could be if you work hard and work for change is the example I am always trying to set. I want every community to have a voice.

How do you blow off steam?
I read. I cook. I eat. I listen. I learn.

What do you create in your free time?
I write a lot of poetry. I create spoken-word. I create a peaceful atmosphere around me.

Whose work in the CYD field do you admire and why?
I admire everyone’s work in this field. It all matters.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
Erykah Badu, Whitney Houston, Black Star, Conscious Hip-Hop

Do you live with any animals?
I want a dog so bad, but I am never home long enough to take care of one.

Seen any good movies lately?
Get Out was excellent!

What are you currently reading?
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Maria Kondo

The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
Slow and Steady Wins the Race

What’s next?
Rehearsal

Nano-Interview with Rebecca Frost of Margarita Muñiz Academy

Rebecca FrostName: Rebecca Frost
Organization: Margarita Muñiz Academy
Title: Lead Teacher of El Sistema-Inspired Music Program
Music Genre: Varied Genres – Wind Ensemble
Years in the Field: 9

What do you do at Margarita Muñiz Academy?
I teach instrumental music (wind ensemble) to high school students ranging from beginners to students with 3-4 years of experience.  On a typical day, I coach students in sectionals and/or direct full ensembles.  When in sectionals, I work mostly with woodwind players, while our faculty who specialize in brass and percussion typically work with those sections accordingly.

Why do you do what you do?
Since I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to go into music, and then I fell in love with teaching when I was in college.  I love watching students grow as people and as musicians; their excitement fuels my motivation on a daily basis!  I am also passionate about providing quality music education to students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Teaching beginners.  They are eager to learn and their enthusiasm at every accomplishment fuels their motivation to continue learning more and improving.

What challenges you in this work?
Supporting students through many challenging situations that happen outside of school.  It is hard for me to imagine what many of my students live with on a daily basis – violence, interrupted schooling, language barriers, living in a shelter, or being the primary caretaker at home.  I am constantly wondering how we can better support our students not only as musicians, but as people.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
There is a need for high quality music programs in Boston Public Schools, and the Margarita Muñiz Academy attracts students not only for its dual-language curriculum, but also for its music program.  We also provide opportunities for teaching artists at local universities and music organizations to come in and work with our students, in addition to accepting student teachers from Boston Conservatory/Berklee.  Our students participate in collaborative community events with the El Sistema community, Boston Public Schools community, Charles River Wind Ensemble, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra through their residency program in Jamaica Plain.

What do you create in your free time?
I try to “create” space to relax in and focus on life.  I practice flute regularly and I fill-in as a flautist with various local ensembles.  I also enjoy making modern needlepoint artwork.  I have many of them framed in my apartment, and I make them for friends sometimes too.  I also “create” time to volunteer.  In the past, I have volunteered weekly at a soup kitchen and a senior home; I am currently volunteering at Daily Table in Dorchester – a non-for-profit grocery store that provides high quality healthy food at affordable prices.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
I like a wide variety of music, and what I listen to depends on my mood.  I like classical music, especially Shostakovich, Copland, and Mahler.  I also really like a lot of international music – lots of Latin music and sometimes Irish music.  I am a huge fan of Broadway shows, so I often shuffle some Broadway soundtracks into my listening.  Right now, I’m listening to a lot of “Hamilton”, “Les Miserables”, and “Book of Mormon.”

Nano-Interview with Bithyah Israel of City Strings United

BITHYAH ISRAELName: Bithyah Israel
Organization: City Strings United
Title: Founder and Executive Director
Music Genre: Cello! Varied styles
Years in the Field: 20

What do you do at City Strings United?
At City Strings United (CSU) I run all operations from recruiting teachers and students, teaching classes, replacing instruments, recruiting volunteers, and donor relations.

Why do you do what you do?
I do this work because when I was a child, I received free cello lessons, since my family could not afford them. A symphony cellist took it upon himself to do this, which gave me opportunities to perform in youth and civic orchestras. That experience lifted my heart and made my spirit soar. I want more children to experience such overwhelming joy. Having been blessed with such support growing up, I had hope even during trying times. I wish the same for today’s children.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
The easiest part of this work is dealing with children.  They show that they feel valued and they reciprocate. Kids are just fun. One day, as I was rushing down the aisle of the church we teach out of, probably to locate rosin or a cello pin holder for a student, I heard a little voice: “Lady, lady!” a high-pitched voice said. I noticed a 3-year old little girl looking up at me. She had been observing our cello class – probably a student’s little cousin. I stopped in my tracks. She looked up at me and confidently said, “I need a violin.” This took the cake. She saw that all the other children there had an instrument, and she knew she deserved one, too. Moments like that refresh me and push me forward, reiterating to me the vision for which I strive.

What challenges you in this work?
What challenges me is operating amidst a lack of adequate financial support for our grassroots organization. I must work long hours freelancing, so that I can pay my bills in addition to running CSU. I have many projects within CSU just waiting to be completed, when funds provide a staffer’s hours to do them. It’s scary every year when our resources become scarce, and grant applications, on top of all else I’m doing for the kids, are time consuming and not promised. Every year, I find I am able to accomplish more and more – this year, 4 grant apps have gone out…improving!!

What does it mean to do this work in this community?
The community tells me we give them hope, and that our program is providing our students a great platform. In the five years we’ve been running, we’ve appeared in The Boston Globe twice, on New England Cable News, at the Museum of Fine Arts, and been invited to collaborate in shared performances with a Boston Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble and Celebrity Series of Boston. We’ve also performed with a Grammy-awarded drummer Terri Lynn Carrington and saxophonist Walter Beasley. So, the community is inspired with the great accomplishments and recognition our students have received in a relatively short amount of time. I have countless inspiring stories.

How do you blow off steam?
Let’s see… I talk it out with my friends or executive coach, drive to the beach, watch a movie, say a prayer, listen to gospel music, play my cello, laugh, exercise, and just take a nap (it took me 2-3 years to understand part of survival is to just STOP and REST.)

What do you create in your free time?
I enjoy writing music, cooking, and reaching out to loved ones and also community members who have been exceptionally supportive. I also like telling about my experiences or self in a comedic way, making others laugh. I get pleasure out of making others chuckle, even at my own expense. Being transparent seems to have a cathartic effect on others.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
I listen to gospel, jazz, classical, pop (I have a ‘Road Tripping’ station on Pandora) and classic rock “Dream On…”

Seen any good movies lately?
I recently saw Hidden Figures. Once again, I am inspired by stories of triumph despite initial conditions of little support or appreciation. Integrity always wins.

What are you currently reading?
The autobiography of Frederick Douglass.

What’s next?
Hopefully succeeding in fulfilling our modest $50,000/year budget, then heading to the $100,000 level.

Besides writing music for CSU students to perform, I’ve begun writing music and acting in theatrical productions, usually historical plays. I hope to continue building my professional composing portfolio.

A New Vision and Strategic Plan

The Mass Cultural Council is pleased to share its new strategic plan and new vision — the Power of Culture — with the public. The plan is grounded on a vision of our Commonwealth where:

  • Culture elevates the quality of life and well-being of all communities
  • Culture drives growth and opportunity through the creative economy
  • Culture is inclusive, accessible, and embraces our diversity
  • Culture empowers a new generation through creative youth development and education

The result of more than a year of planning and thousands of conversations with our constituents, our new vision will guide our work through the next five years and beyond.

Mass Cultural Council Spending Plan Includes $2.2M for Creative Youth

This week the Mass Cultural Council released a spending plan for the new fiscal year that will invest more than $12 million in programs and initiatives that drive economic growth and opportunity, elevate the quality of life in communities, embrace accessibility and inclusion, and empower a new generation through education and creative youth development.

Included in the spending plan is $2.2 million for Creative Youth Development & Education. With this investment Mass Cultural Council will work to expand access to quality, creative learning experiences for young people in school and community settings through:

  • YouthReach, which supports nonprofit organizations that provide in-depth arts, humanities, and science programs for young people at risk. See FY18 funding list.
  • SerHacer, supporting intensive, ensemble-based programs that use music as a vehicle for youth development and social change. Through grants and technical assistance, Mass Cultural Council fosters this emerging field of music education across the Commonwealth. See FY18 funding list.
  • STARS Residencies connect artists and creative educators in the humanities and sciences with elementary and secondary schools with deep learning experiences that help students grow, develop new skills, and expand their imaginations.
  • Big Yellow School Bus grants help schools meet the transportation costs of educational field trips to cultural institutions across Massachusetts.
  • Poetry Out Loud, a national competition in which high school students perform classic and contemporary poems while exploring elements of slam poetry, spoken word, and theatre in their English and drama classes. The Huntington Theatre Co. has expanded Poetry Out Loud to more than 50,000 Massachusetts students each school year. It is funded with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).