Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The New Price Hill Arts Council

In 2014, hundreds of residents of Price Hill participated in a neighborhood planning process. The process led to seven focus areas, and implementation teams were created to work on the goals within each focus area. One of those areas that emerged was Arts and Culture, and one of the goals was to create a Price Hill Arts Council. In my role at Price Hill Will, I have been helping coordinate the meetings (scheduling, recruiting, hosting) as the Arts Council gets off the ground, and I’ve been learning a lot in the process. It’s interesting to see how it’s developing; it’s so new, and I hope that it can become a strong, positive force in the neighborhood.

The Arts Council had it’s first meeting in September, 2015, and included many members from the Arts and Culture Implementation Team, as well as leaders of arts organizations in the community, and neighborhood artists. There have been about 20 people at each meeting. So far, this group has met four times. This past meeting, Daniel Hughes, a pastor at a local church, led part one of what will be a two part visioning session.

During the visioning session, we split into five groups, and Daniel asked us to think about who we are. Two words that kept coming up were “connections” and “opportunities.” Next month, we’ll discuss the “why.” Through this process we hope to get a little closer to dreaming big and then formulating a plan to action.

Are you part of an arts council where you live? If so, please share with us any of your successes, or what you have learned. I am excited to see where this group of engaged art-enthusiasts, artists, and arts-leaders will go.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Reflections on MYCincinnati after almost five years: Serendipity and Intrinsic Motivation

Last week, MYCincinnati performed at the opening concert for ArtsWave’s annual community campaign. ArtsWave will raise over $12 million dollars during the next few months – funds that will help keep Cincinnati the vibrant, thriving arts city that I’ve grown to love. This year, Awadagin Pratt, a renowned pianist and faculty at CCM, is co-chairing the campaign, and was performing at the concert, along with UC President Santa Ono. These two gentlemen reminded me of some moments in the development of MYCincinnati.

The first moment was at the ArtsWave Campaign kick-off at UC back in 2013, where a few MYCincinnati students performed. It was the first time we met Santa Ono, who hosted the event at his (then) house. After the kids played, Ono asked to borrow the cello from Keyonte, one of the students who had just performed. For the rest of the event, he sat “jamming” with the kids. Keyonte looked on with amusement and just a hint of irritation, as the President of UC monopolized his cello for the next hour.  It turns out that Ono had barely touched the cello in the past (many) years - and the MYCincinnati kids had inspired him to pick it up again. Now, he plays frequently around the city, including a concert with the MYCincinnati Ambassadors last year, and at this 2016 ArtsWave Kickoff Concert that just happened – exactly three years after we first met him.

The second moment I want to mention is the first meeting I had in Cincinnati about starting MYCincinnati, back in March 2011. It was with Awadagin Pratt, at the Lackman in OTR (his choice). He was very encouraging, and this of course led to many more meetings, and eventually the founding of MYCincinnati. Now, five years later, it is exciting to have finally had the chance to collaborate with him at the ArtsWave Kickoff concert. The concert took place on February 1st, exactly one month after winter break ended. In the middle of winter break, I had a funny conversation with current MYCincinnati Director Eddy Kwon. Keep in mind that MYCincinnati was founded four and a half years ago, and that most students in the top MYCincinnati Orchestra (the Chamber Orchestra) have been playing between two and four years. The conversation went like this:

Eddy: “I just met with Awadagin, and the MYCincinnati Chamber Orchestra is going to be performing at the ArtsWave Kickoff Concert at CCM.”

Me: “Cool! What are you guys going to play?”

Eddy: “Well, we’re going to play the Scherzo from the Brahms F minor Piano Quintet.”

Me: “……..what?”

Eddy: “And the concert is on February 1st.”

If you are a classical music aficionado, you probably know that this piece would challenge any professional musician, and four weeks, with potential for snow days, was not a long time. I was not sure how they were going to pull it off. If you want to know what I mean, check out this YouTube video of the piece.  But Eddy had decided to go for it, and I’d seen him work miracles before, so I figured it would be fine. What impressed me most over the last few weeks at MYCincinnati was the need the students felt to play this piece well. Despite being way over their head they worked at it harder than I’ve ever seen them work on another piece. Here’s another conversation I overheard. This happened right after the first rehearsal with Awadagin, just two days before the concert:

MYCincinnati student, to Eddy: “Did Professor Pratt say anything about how bad the violas sounded at that one spot?”

Eddy: “Of course not. He said he had a great time playing with you. He knows this piece really well, and that spot will be fine.”

Student: “I know, but I can’t play that one part. Well, I can play it, just not up to tempo.”

Eddy: “Well, you have the weekend – spend some time practicing.”

I wish I could convey the tone in this student’s voice, and how desperately she wanted to succeed. If MYCincinnati is instilling that hunger for achievement in the students, it’s definitely doing something right.

Seeing the student’s hard work throughout the month, and the result (we’ll have the video soon), inspired me. Okay, so it might not have been a spotlessly perfect interpretation of the Brahms Quintet, but it was really good, and it did have energy, passion, and dedication. It was a reminder of how important it is to be challenged, to work hard, and that no matter what, everything we do is still a work in progress. What I can say, though, is that if I could have seen forward in time five years from my first meeting with Awadagin, right up to this concert, the knowledge of what we would achieve would have made the last five years way easier!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Las Posadas in Price Hill

The first big event I helped plan in my new position at Price Hill Will as Director of Creative Placemaking and Community Arts Initiatives was a Posada. It was based off of the traditional Mexican Christmas celebration called Las Posadas. The event featured homemade Mexican food, a performance by MYCincinnati, Salsa music by a live band, and lots and lots of piñatas. Groups from all around Price Hill got together throughout the month of December to make and decorate piñatas. Here are a few photos from some of our piñata-making parties:

Here are photos of all the piñatas hanging from the ceiling of the Firehouse, where the event was held: 

As you can see, it was a packed house! Throughout the event, everyone voted for their favorite piñata, and prizes were given out. Here are just a few of the spectacular piñatas made by community members:

Near the end of the event, after a lot of eating and dancing, we broke open the piñatas – here are some photos: Zhiarah helping her little brother hit one of the piñatas, sharing candy, and an action shot.

Next year I hope we can expand this event to include an educational component about the tradition of Las Posadas, and an even more competitive edge to the piñata competition. There will also be more community involvement in the planning, and a committee will start planning next year's event in September. My favorite part of our first Posada was working with community members to make and decorate the piñatas - a reminder that everyone is an artist!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Creative Placemaking

It’s been a while since my last blog post. While I was in the Sistema Fellows program at New England Conservatory (2010-2011), I posted about my experiences in Venezuela. Since then, I moved to Cincinnati, where I founded an El Sistema-inspired program called MYCincinnati. I was Director of the program for four years, during which time it grew from 11 to 80 students. I am thrilled with the success the program as had, thanks in large part to a huge amount of support from the Cincinnati community. In September, Eddy Kwon, an inspiring musician, teacher, and person, took over as Director of MYCincinnati. We had been working together at MYCincinnati since the program was founded, and under his able guidance, MYCincinnati is thriving. 

So what am I up to now that I am not running MYCincinnati? First, a little more background. MYCincinnati is a program of a non-profit community development corporation called Price Hill Will. As an organization, their focus is on neighborhood revitalization through physical redevelopment (mostly housing rehab), economic development (business district improvement), and a variety of community engagement initiatives, including MYCincinnati. In June, Price Hill Will received two-year funding from the Kresge Foundation through LISC to do “Creative Placemaking,” which they used to form a new position at Price Hill Will – Director of Creative Placemaking – the position that I took on in September. 

So now that I am doing Creative Placemaking, you may be wondering:  what is creative placemaking? This is something that I am still figuring out, and I hope through this blog you will be able to take that journey with me over the next year and a half. LISC defines creativeplacemaking as “residents coming together to make social, physical, andeconomic changes in their neighborhood through the arts and culture.” So arts and culture become a strategy for redevelopment work. It’s something that Price Hill Will had already been doing through MYCincinnati, and other initiatives, but this new position gives the organization a greater capacity to experiment with new ways to engage Price Hill residents in making their neighborhood a better place.

An exciting aspect of this position is that learning and experimentation are encouraged, and that is just what I have been doing. In my next post, I will write about some things I’ve been working on since September, and also a little more about the term “creative placemaking.” More soon. In the meantime, check out these photos from our Las Posadas celebration on December 18th!

MYCincinnati Performs at the Posada
Getting Ready to smash the piñata

More photos from the event can be found here.