by Tim Storhoff
Alison Schaeffler-Murphy is the new Poetry Out Loud coordinator for state of Florida. Alison previously worked as an intern here at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs before joining the staff full-time this September. In addition to coordinating Poetry Out Loud, Alison is a program manager for our Individual Artist Fellowships, works with Citizens for Florida Arts, and helps coordinate many of our art exhibitions. Alison recently completed two graduate degrees at Florida State University in art history and arts administration. Prior to this, Alison owned Tints and Reflections Studios where she designed and fabricated one-of-a-kind fused and leaded art glass creations, which have been exhibited at regional and national glass expos, indoor and outdoor art shows, and in a variety of galleries and museums. She has also spent time directing art festivals, judging art shows, and serving as a board member for various arts associations.
Right now Alison is busy reaching out to language arts teachers across the state and distributing Poetry Out Loud information packets to schools, but she was able to take some time to answer a few of my questions about her background in the arts and how programs like Poetry Out Loud contribute to our state.
DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember?
Alison: Looking back I can see that creative expression has always been important to me. During my elementary school years, I enjoyed being in school plays and lived for those extraordinary visits to art and music classes. I fondly remember tinkering at my grandparents’ piano, and I eventually became a flute player. Although I was sure in high school that I was destined to be a writer, my primary creative focus has since been with the visual arts. Correspondingly, while earning my MA in Art History I revisited my early interest in being a writer and now relish researching and writing about artists and their work.
DCA: What made you decide on a career in the arts?
Alison: I credit my sister with bringing me back around to studying the arts. For a very short time I seriously considered being a nutritional doctor, but one day my sister noted how perplexed she was that I wasn’t studying art. Kim noted that she only knew me to be completely at peace when I was involved in creative self-expression. Her statement gave me a sudden illumination of self-knowledge, and that’s when I decided to become an art teacher. While earning my bachelor’s degree in art education at Florida State, I took a class in stained glass and I’ve been creating glass art ever since.
Alison: In addition to writing poetry in high school, I read quite a bit and favored Robert Frost’s poems. Over the years I’ve continued to write poems. In fact, I’ve created a glass art series I call my “Haiku Series,” that incorporates self-authored haiku poems that evolve alongside the glass art piece itself.
Although I haven’t seriously studied poetry in a very long time, as the Poetry Out Loud State Program Coordinator, I’m falling in love with poetry all over again. I’m enjoying revisiting some past beloved poets like Basho, Frost, Hesse, Thoreau, and Whitman as well as discovering new contemporary favorites like Lisa Zaran.
DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.” What do you think when you hear that phrase? How do you think programs like Poetry Out Loud contribute to our state?
Alison: I love the DCA’s “Culture Builds Florida” slogan because it highlights how importantly the arts influence not only Florida’s economic growth but also their power to build a sense of community between people. In addition to the positive effects that the arts have on individuals’ intellectual, spiritual, and physical well-being, the arts foster cultural, environmental, and global awareness.
The Poetry Out Loud program is important to this end because poetry has the expressive ability to paint images with words that can bring awareness to individual and collective concerns. Students who participate learn important public speaking skills while increasing their self confidence, creativity, and empathy. It’s also valuable to see our Florida teachers and students working together toward the common goal of sending one of our many talented high school students to Washington, DC to compete in the National Finals.
For more information on Poetry Out Loud, take a look at the blog entry from last year’s state finals and visit the Division of Cultural Affairs Poetry Out Loud page. If you are a teacher who would like to participate in Poetry Out Loud, contact Alison Schaeffler-Murphy for more information.