When I first knew I’d go to grad school, I wasn’t sure what for. I just knew that my brand new BA in Art History from a state school that most people outside the state have never heard of wasn’t going to get me far.
A few years after finishing undergrad working at a doctor’s office, I was feeling a little antsy and got an idea. I wanted to start a community arts center. To me museums were (and are) like church. Spiritual, contemplative places that are technically open to everyone but lots of people who may appreciate art do not feel at home there. I wanted to bridge the gap between the Art Institution and the person who could benefit from making or being around art (ahem, everyone). I started to explore graduate programs. To get into communities, to connect with people, you go through the kids. My plan was to have after school art classes, maybe in a building where there are studios behind and common areas in front. Give artists discounts or free rent for teaching art classes to the kids.
So I looked at art education programs – I would learn all about arts education, while also looking into nonprofit management on my own. Then, to my surprise & joy, The Ohio State University’s huge, excellent Art Education Department contained a program called “Arts Administration.” This is a thing! I found others and applied to 4 Art Administration programs (NYU, Ohio State, Indiana, and Oregon) and University of Texas’s Art Ed program.
I talked to friends and family about the idea, they all had input about what sorts of arts would need to be in a proper community arts center. ALL of them! One friend works in film, we’d need a screening space at least, maybe even an editing / studio space. Many musical friends spoke about having a venue. I presented the idea to my brother, an excellent draftsman of comic-type characters (who was part of my inspiration for the center, as someone who loves art but would never go to museums with me). He asked whether the martial arts would be considered arts in this growing, potentially massive, art center. “Of course, if you will run that part of it!”
I spent the fall of 2004 preparing applications. My boyfriend had told me early in our relationship that he’d be happy to follow me wherever I needed to go to school. After submitting applications but before we knew where we’d end up, we decided to get married before we moved.
To my surprise, I was accepted to every program, except the Arts Education one (in my home state). My first notice was from NYU, which was a dream. I knew NYC would be an amazing setting for anything arts-based, but it’s expensive to live there. And NYU was the only private university I’d applied to. Turns out, at the time, 2 quarters of out of state graduate tuition at Ohio State was equivalent to a semester at NYU. I’m sure Columbus is a lovely place, and surely less expensive in terms of housing than NYC, but c’mon!
At NYU, whose explicitly Visual Arts Administration program I’d been particularly interested in, I had great classmates and great teachers for 2 academic years, including a summer study abroad trip with the Performing Arts Admin program.
My study abroad class in a conference room in the Hague featured in a couple of movies.
Most of the teachers in my program were people who worked full-time in the field and also taught this one class. My goals became muddied, the more I learned about the different areas of arts administration, the more I was interested in nearly all of them. I still took art education classes as my electives, and interned in the in-school education program at a nonprofit art gallery, where I later held the position of Communications Coordinator for 3 years. I always planned to stay in NYC for a little while after school finished and we were there 8 years beyond grad school graduation, for a total of 10, all in Brooklyn. Then it was time to head out and we eventually decided, after much discussion and weighing of options, to move back to Texas with our toddler-age son. We gratefully took my in-laws’ offer to land in their home in Waco to get our Texas bearings back and apply for jobs around the state. The kinds of jobs I was looking for, full time with benefits in a museum or arts organization tend to be in the bigger cities.
I grew to enjoy Waco, my husband was surprised at how much he liked it too. My mother-in-law smartly introduced me to Doreen Ravenscroft, an arts macher of the city who founded the Waco Cultural Arts Fest and runs several other programs under the umbrella of Cultural Arts of Waco. I spent a school year teaching after school art classes with Doreen. I curated an exhibition at a smaller art fest, Art on Elm Avenue that Cultural Arts Waco took over in its 5th year. Doreen and I slid easily into a colleague / mentor relationship. She knows everybody in town and has learned well how to make everything happen and to raise the money to ensure the WCAF is free for all. I was trained in the administrative aspects, and have experience in small arts orgs and bigger nonprofit institutions.
Twelve years after discovering that Arts Administration via Ohio State, I spent the weekend in Columbus Ohio – my first time there. I went for a conference about community leadership and development, via NeighborWorks America. Cultural Arts of Waco has long had a relationship to NeighborWorks Waco, who began Art on Elm. Doreen purchased a building on Elm Ave in the spring so we are now truly, literally invested in the area now. The area is East Waco, known to many as the other side of the river, what was once a business & commerce center of the historically black part of town that was severely disinvested by the city and citizens after segregation ended and the historically black Paul Quinn College moved to Dallas. The plan is to make that building into a community arts hub, with all kind of arts. Doing our best to give Wacoans, and especially East Wacoans, the opportunity to see and make arts of all kinds.
The view taking off from Waco on Oct. 20, 2016.
I had a great weekend with our team of 10 at the Community Leadership institute. I got to know folks better, I took workshops on celebrating differences in communities, fundraising, how pop culture sees and portrays stereotypes, and we even finished planning details of a neighborhood PumpkinFest next week. I didn’t see a whole lot of Columbus, as we were in a convention center hotel and the convention center itself, but they do have a great indoor stall market and we got to scope out the big 2-night Halloween festival just outside the hotel.
Sky bridge from hotel to convention center that afforded a nice view of the street fest.
Right: me on the last night after scoping out costumes from above.
I’ve come full circle, back to Texas, back to the original idea that took me off to grad school and so far away for such a long time. I am so happy to have gotten the opportunity to do all the things I have done since I left Texas the first time, and I’m really pleased and grateful to be back and be a part of making my place, my home, better than before.