Art Talk: Jane Lindberg, President of Arts Alive Nassau

Arts Alive Nassau provides arts opportunities and educational experiences free of charge to students in Nassau County schools. We chatted with founder and president Jane Lindberg to learn more about the organization and about her career in Florida.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Tell us about the history and founding of Arts Alive Nassau.

Jane: We were formerly known as the Amelia Arts Academy. In the 1990’s, we were the only organization in our area that offered private lessons in different kinds of arts. By 2011, our original plan was not working and the organization was failing miserably. I was trying to raise funds to start a band in one of the elementary schools and went to see a potential funder. He was hesitant to support an organization that was giving lessons to kids from families who could afford to pay for them. I took this information back to our board of directors and we began to rethink our operations. There were hundreds of kids in Nassau County who were totally without any kind of cultural life… there was no visual arts curriculum in the elementary schools at all and very minimal music instruction. So we started a conversation with the school board about how our organization could provide the artists/teachers and the programming if they could provide the space and the children. This was the beginning of our organization as it is known today.

image (4)In 2012, we were “reborn” as Arts Alive Nassau and started offering three programs: a dulcimer class, an elementary school band, and a visual art class. Originally, we worked with three elementary schools and provided the classes after school. Over the past six years, we have grown to providing 20 after school classes and two classes with the ESE program during the school day. We are now a presence in each of the nine elementary schools in the county.  The schools don’t charge us anything for the use of the space and we are able to offer our instruction free of charge, in exchange. It’s a wonderful relationship because finding space and getting kids on location is often a problem. Through our partnership, the instruction happens right where they are and it has worked very well.

DCA: What is unique about the population that your organization serves?

Jane: Nassau County is very unique. The differences between the South end of Amelia Island, West County and East County are huge. Some towns such as Yulee, Callahan, and Bryceville are mostly rural and there are very few arts opportunities at all. Bryceville Elementary, for example, is so small that they don’t even have a music teacher or art teacher. But, the schools in these towns were the first to contact us with interest of seeing what we could do for their students.

DCA: What types of programming does Arts Alive Nassau offer?

IMG_3747Jane: We offer music lessons, violin, ukulele, band… one of the elementary schools has both a brass ensemble and a drumline. We still offer our dulcimer classes as well as visual arts classes in painting, drawing, and puppetry. We also have a great partnership with a theater company in South Carolina, the Baillie Players, that has helped us produce musicals at Callahan Elementary School for the past five years. This year they are doing “Snow White”. The teacher at Callahan has all the music, scripts, choreography and casts the show and then our partner company will come down to coach the kids and bring the sets, costumes, and props. There are usually 40-50 students involved and it’s such a wonderful thing for the children. In Callahan, which has a population of around 1,300, the community members and families come out in droves to see the children perform– even the mayor usually makes an appearance! It’s a great event not only for the students involved but for the community, as well.

In the past, we have also facilitated an honors chorus, which has recently developed into the First Coast Singers.

DCA: How many students are involved with your programs?

Drumlineclass2018Jane: Each year, close to 600 students are involved in our activities. Currently, we have 255 students in our classroom-based programs. We’d love to be able to reach more students but are limited, like many organizations, by our budget.

We emphasize quality over quantity. Most of our music classes have a limit of ten students. This is to ensure that our students are getting the best possible instruction at all times.

DCA: What is your role within the organization?

Jane: I am “president for life”. Our organization is very small and has no paid executive director. We are fortunate to have a wonderful board of directors made up of people who really care and really show up. They are the driving force behind everything that we do.

Four years ago, we were fortunate to receive an endowment that has enabled us to hire a program director. She has done an incredible job working with the schools and coordinating everything. We are constantly coming up with new ways to grow, and to involve students in the arts from early on. This is really important to me because I think that we, as a society, are somewhat culturally illiterate. The arts are not valued nearly as much as the value that they add.

DCA: How long have you lived and worked in Florida?

Jane: I moved here in 1998 with my husband to build an industrial plant in Yulee, for manufacturing and assemble electrical controls. For a long time, I was not very involved in the arts, but then began teaching music history at Jacksonville University. While I eventually left my teaching position due to the travel time, I still miss being around the students. College students are wonderful in the way that they think about things– it’s just a different perspective. I think I’ve always been a teacher at heart– it’s really what I love most. So right now, that’s still at the heart of what I do, even if I do most of it on a volunteer basis.

DCA: What is the best part of your job?

Close up performanceIt’s definitely seeing the children’s faces. When they get excited and they’ve just learned how to play something, they are so proud of themselves. I think that arts education presents the opportunity for children to find out who they are inside because to me, that’s what the arts give us. They allow children the opportunity to find out who they are through creativity. To see the awakening that takes place in every student and the self assurance and self esteem that comes from learning that they can perform and create in front of people is just amazing. I think that the arts are wonderful because you can have so much fun while you’re learning.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that your organization makes to the community?

Jane: It’s amazing to know that we are providing an opportunity for these children that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Our school board does the best that they can– they’re facing constant budget cuts from the legislature and we are able to fill in the gaps and provide art and music to students when the school district can’t.

In some ways, our county is very depressed, so having arts and cultural education available to students is so important. We really want to document what we’ve been able to do in Nassau County so that we can share it with others who might be able to start a similar program where they live and work.

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Bryceville Jan 2019.2 (002)

 

Jane: Florida, physically, is an absolutely beautiful state– really, there are places in Florida that are just gorgeous. But I think that arts and culture make us civilized. They soften our world and our environment tremendously. I can’t imagine living in a place without art– what a horrible thing it would be if there were nothing stimulating to see or to hear. Arts and culture make us different as human beings– and right now, I think we need culture more than ever.

For more information about Arts Alive Nassau, visit their website at: http://www.artsalivenassau.org/.

The Division thanks Jane Lindberg, President of Arts Alive Nassau, for her participation in this interview. 

Art Talk: Jennifer Sabo, Executive Director of Arts4All Florida

Arts4All Florida is a statewide service organization dedicated to making the arts accessible for everyone. We chatted with Jennifer Sabo, the organization’s executive director, to learn more the organization and about her career in Florida.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): How long have you lived and worked in Florida?

Jennifer: I attended grad school at UF and earned a Master’s in Museum Studies with a concentration in Education. After grad school, I briefly moved to LA, but ultimately came back to Florida, working at the Ringling Museum for a few years as the Youth and Families Program Manager. After that, I had the opportunity to be the founding Director of Education at the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples. That was a true labor of love! It was so exciting to be part of building something from the dirt up. I then had the not-so-brilliant idea to move north again (into the cold), but was soon looking to move back to Florida right when Arts4All Florida (formerly VSA Florida) was looking for a new Executive Director. It worked out perfectly, as I already knew a lot about the organization and had partnered with them on a few programs when I was working with Ringling and Golisano. I’ve now been the Executive Director at Arts4All Florida for a little over four years.

DCA: Tell us about your work with Arts4All Florida. What is the best part of your job?

Jennifer: There are three parts to my job. One part involves the typical Executive Director task of funding the organization—both finding funding and managing funding. A big part of our budget comes from the Florida Department of Education, so a lot of my work is managing and writing our grants, meeting deliverables, reviewing program evaluations, communicating with stakeholders, and so on.

Another big part of my job is what is typical of much nonprofit administration work, “other duties as assigned”. This includes a little bit of everything—marketing, event planning, working at summer camps, and many other things. This is one of the things that I love about the organization. We have an amazing—but small—staff, so everyone really works together and takes turns helping one another with their duties. No one is a silo!

The last part of my job involves trainings, conducting both in-person trainings for school districts and cultural organizations and webinars. We help teach others about accommodations and accessibility for all. I love this part of my job. Most of the time, the people that are at the training really want to be there and want to be more inclusive and accessible. It’s awesome when you see the lightbulb go off in someone’s head and say, “this will work for my neurotypical students, too!” Our vision is really to make the arts accessible for everybody.

DCA: What are some of the challenges involved with leading this organization?

Jennifer: Funding. Every year, the month of April is really stressful, as we wait to hear about grants and other funding sources. We are an interesting organization in that we are both public and private. A large portion of our funding comes from the Department of Education through the University of South Florida. All of our staff are USF employees, but we are also a private 501(c)(3). This makes my work interesting because we have to report to our funders, the DOE, USF, and school districts in more than 60 different counties.

DCA: How has the organization evolved over the years?

Jennifer: The organization is now 38 years old. It was founded in 1981 as a joint project between the Florida Department of Education and the Division of Cultural Affairs. Florida was incredibly proactive about facilitating arts accessibility in this regard– the organization was founded before the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was originally called Florida Arts for the Handicapped, and was part of the international organization that eventually became VSA (which stood for “Very Special Arts”). In 1986, VSA directed all affiliate organizations to become private nonprofit organizations, which was the start of the organization as it exists today.

The program has changed throughout the years based on whatever the needs have been at certain times. We have hosted conferences, residencies, trainings, and now we do a little bit of everything.

Recently, we changed our name from VSA Florida to Arts4All Florida to signify our focus on universal arts. We want everyone to be able to participate in the arts together, not just people with disabilities.

DCA: Which counties or areas do you serve?

Jennifer: For the past two years, we have served 64 different counties throughout Florida. We serve each differently based on their specific needs.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that Arts4All Florida makes to the community?

Jennifer: Our vision is to make it so that everyone can do art together, so that the arts are universally accessible to people with and without disabilities. The arts are a unifying force and they really level the playing field, so to speak. Many people who have disabilities are able to be incredibly successful in the arts. It’s really cool to see someone without a disability appreciating the art of someone with a disability.

We just wrapped up our “A Definition of Dance” program which we started four years ago. We wanted to bring world-renowned dancers with disabilities to Tampa to do community outreach and performances. The performance during the first year of the program was one of the most incredible performances that I have ever been to in my life, one of those events where everything comes together just right and amazing things happen. In year two, we expanded the program to bring in more dancers and travel to more cities. We were able to bring in 15 artists with all different kinds of abilities from eight different countries for performances in Jacksonville, Miami, and Tampa. This year, we brought in the dance crew ILL-Abilities, and they were absolutely amazing. They spoke about discovering and overcoming their disabilities through dance, and were able to translate this story into their performances. Each dancer performed solo before they came together as a crew. The coolest part was watching how kids reacted to their performance—the kids didn’t focus on the dancers’ disabilities—they just thought, “this is really cool”. That experience was really like our vision coming to life.

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Jennifer: As I mentioned before, the arts are a unifying presence for everybody, whether you are a creator or a consumer. Everybody can enjoy some type of arts and everybody gets something different out of it, either through producing art, participating in art, or viewing art. The arts relax, heal, and unite us. They are social and bring everybody together. No matter what your job is or what your abilities are, everybody can engage with the arts at some level. They make us who we are as a society and culture.

DCA: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about Arts4All Florida?

Jennifer: If there are any organizations that want to help the arts become more inclusive and accessible, please contact us! We are here as a state service organization to help you.

For more information about Arts4All Florida, visit their website at: http://vsafl.org.

The Division thanks Jennifer Sabo, Executive Director at Arts4All Florida, for her gracious participation in this interview.  

Meet the Florida Council on Arts and Culture: Nancy Turrell

The Florida Council on Arts and Culture is the 15-member advisory council appointed to advise the Secretary of State regarding cultural grant funding and on matters pertaining to culture in Florida.

Appointments to the Council are determined by the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, in consultation with the Secretary of State. The Governor manages seven seats that serve four-year terms. The President and Speaker manage four seats each, with terms of two years. The appointments are based on geographic representation, as well as demonstrated history of community service in the arts and culture.

In this bi-monthly series, we will introduce you to each member of the council and share their thoughts on the role of arts and culture in the state of Florida. This month, we chatted with Nancy Turrell. Nancy was appointed to the council in October 2017 by Senate President Negron.


NT martiesDCA: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Nancy: I am resident of Stuart, Florida, one of Florida’s great and growing small arts towns. I have been fortunate to serve as the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Martin County since April 1999…nearly 20 years. My educational background includes a Master of Arts in Philanthropy and Development from Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota and a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from New York University.

I am not an artist; however, I had opportunities as a young person growing up to be involved in the performing arts.  I played the lead role in our fifth-grade class play, “The Murder at Mother Goose’s House.” Starting in sixth grade, I began playing the flute and in seventh joined the choir, both of which I continued through my senior year in high school. Through my participation on a nationally competitive synchronized swimming team I gained an appreciation of classical music and choreography.

I am a lover of the arts. I was raised to attend concerts, go to museums, and love to be in the audience. In the past I’ve served as a board member of the Lyric Theatre and as an advisory member for Florida Arts and Dance Company.

While attending NYU, I was introduced to arts administration. During my senior year, I had an internship with the Cooper Hewitt Museum, a part of the Smithsonian Institute. I was placed in the development office and was soon covering for the membership director who went on maternity leave. My continuing love of Alexander Calder’s artwork was born there, as I was tasked with the job of translating his titles from French to English.  This was a great early lesson on the many hats an employee of an arts organization wears.  When I moved to California after college, I sought a position in an arts institution but was repeatedly told that without an arts background they weren’t interested. Needing a job, I secured a temporary position with United Way of Los Angeles County and went to work. Shortly thereafter, I found my way to Stuart in 1990, and United Way of Martin County.  When Mary Shaw (my predecessor) retired from the Arts Council in 1999, I jumped at the chance to get back to my roots in arts administration.

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Nancy: Communities across the state would be lifeless places without the spice and variety that arts and culture infuse. Florida’s most popular tourist attractions are firmly based in creativity; this industry depends on people gaining a solid education rooted in creativity and the arts.  This builds Florida’s economy, its people and culture and our shared experience as Floridians.

The arts are a vehicle to bring together people of vastly different life experiences. Today, we need to have more things that bring us together rather than split us apart. Too many societal issues challenge us and create divisiveness, where shared arts experiences bring people and communities together. This may be our most important role in “Culture Builds Florida” as we look back years from now at the legacy that is created by our actions today.

DCA: For you, what is the most inspiring part about working in the arts?

Nancy: I am inspired to build our audiences for future generations to come. I have said for many years that the goal of our arts education programs and outreach efforts isn’t really to build future artists, but rather to create an understanding and appreciation of the arts that leads to a passion for the arts.  Without an audience an artist has no purpose and our lives would be so very boring and uninteresting.

The joy that the arts brings into our lives can not go without mention. For me, the arts have created many happy memories and cherished moments.

DCA: What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Florida Council on Arts and Culture?

Nancy: I hope to change the tide of funding for the arts across the state through advocacy. I am a firm believer in the validity of the state grant process.  Having a leadership opportunity to speak out on behalf of the process and its transparency is a privilege. Being appointed to the Florida Council on Arts and Culture gives me a voice that I didn’t have before.  As the director of a small organization in a community where not many organizations receive grants, my hope is to increase the number of grant applications through the Division of Cultural Affairs from my region, the Treasure Coast.  Receiving these grant funds will further strengthen the case for the investment of state funds in local arts organizations.

Art Talk: Katchen Duncan and Bahama Village Music Program

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© Ralph de Palma Photography

Bahama Village Music Program is a community music education program that has been serving the Key West area of Bahama Village since 1999. The program is dedicated to giving underpriveleged kids the gift of music. We chatted with BVMP’s executive director, Katchen Duncan, to learn more about the program and its impact on its community. 

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): Tell us a little about the history and founding of Bahama Village Music Program.

Katchen: Bahama Village Music Program was founded in 1999 following the retirement of beloved Bahama Village piano teacher Ellen Sanchez.  Robin Kaplan, the program founder, recognized the void in the neighborhood and founded BVMP in a storage room off the stage in the Frederick Douglass Gym with a few student teachers and a dozen students. Students showed up whether it was time for their lessons or not, and it was soon realized that this was really something the neighborhood and the community at large needed.  

DCA: What is unique about the population that BVMP serves?

Katchen: BVMP’s student population is very diverse, with students from all walks of life mingling together in ensemble classes and workshops.  BVMP mainly serves low income at risk youth but any child is allowed to participate. Still, over 80% of our student’s families report an income under the ALICE level.  Many of our students are first generation americans, and some are the only english speaking members of their families.  A really unique aspect of BVMP is the student teacher model, BVMP students become teachers when they reach high school offering not only after school employment but also something to work towards!  Having the goal of becoming a student teacher inspires our students to work hard on their practicing and musicality.

DCA: What types of programs does BVMP offer?

bvmp 4

© Ralph de Palma Photography 

Katchen: BVMP offers individual lessons in piano, guitar, drums, woodwinds, brass and strings.  We also offer ensemble classes in music theory, composition, choir, a cappella, ukulele, school of rock, violin, dance, steel pan and musical theater. Through our partnership with the local school district we were able to expand our programming to offer classes before and after school at our city’s largest elementary and middle school. These popular programs have received much support from the community as the local school had cut music programs from their curriculum.

DCA: How many students are involved in BVMP programs?

Katchen: Over 175 students participate in lessons or ensemble classes at our main location with over 50 students participating at the local school we have partnered with. Over 225 students a week receive free music lessons!

DCA: You just wrapped up your third year of summer programming. Tell us about it.

Katchen: Our BVMP summer camp is the best! The campers have so much fun and really learn a ton in such an immersive environment.  Having the students for 8 hours a day five days a week really ups their musicianship and creativity.  The amazing results are evident!  Our songwriting class wrote 10 different songs!  Our ukulele class learned how to fingerpick in six weeks!  The end of summer recital brought the house down.

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

bvmp 1

© Ralph de Palma Photography 

Katchen: The best part of my job is the kids.  When they spill off the bus at the end of the day so excited to see you and get started on their music lessons, you realize you’re doing exactly the right thing.  They inspire us more than they know.  It’s even better when adult students come back and tell you how much their time at BVMP meant to them. After almost 20 years, we are starting to teach the second generation of BVMP students!

 

 

DCA: What are your hopes for BVMP in the future?

Katchen: I hope that we can continue to give the gift of music for many years to come! We are looking forward to celebrating 20 years of free music education next year and I barely believe that we’ve made it this far!

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

bvmp 2

© Ralph de Palma Photography

Katchen: Culture and art are the building blocks for a great society.  Many ancient philosophers saw this and we have all seen it to be true through our local art programs and cultural events.  These are the things that make each community unique and inspiring.  At BVMP we tout the benefits of music education on the individual; increased cognitive development, better scores on tests, enhanced problem solving skills.  But we know that putting the ideas and feelings of making music, collaborating with others without words, expressing emotions through playing and listening, make our students better human beings. More connected to their community and themselves, art and culture make everyone strive to be better and create things to make our world better.

The DCA thanks Katchen Duncan, executive director, for her participation in this post. To learn more about Bahama Village Music Program, visit: http://www.bvmpkw.org/.

Meet the Florida Council on Arts and Culture: Heather Mayo

The Florida Council on Arts and Culture is the 15-member advisory council appointed to advise the Secretary of State regarding cultural grant funding and on matters pertaining to culture in Florida.

Appointments to the Council are determined by the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, in consultation with the Secretary of State. The Governor manages seven seats that serve four-year terms. The President and Speaker manage four seats each, with terms of two years. The appointments are based on geographic representation, as well as demonstrated history of community service in the arts and culture.

In this bi-monthly series, we will introduce you to each member of the council and share their thoughts on the role of arts and culture in the state of Florida. This month, we chatted with the council’s newest member, Heather Mayo. Heather was appointed to the council in April 2018 by House Speaker Corcoran. 


Heather Mayo - HeadshotDCA: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Heather: I am a Tallahassee, Florida born-and-raised resident who has a great love for the arts. The arts have always played an integral role in my life, and my involvement in the arts began at a very young age when my mother, a ballet instructor enrolled me in dance lessons at the age of three. At seven years old, I picked up the guitar for the first time and discovered my passion for music. Throughout the years, I have played various genres on the guitar but mainly focused on studying the styles of classical and jazz guitar during my studies as an undergraduate student at the Florida State University College of Music. After completing a Bachelor of Arts in Commercial Music in 2006, I worked at a prominent recording studio on music row in Nashville, TN and learned various aspects of the music business. Four years later, I decided to return to FSU to pursue a Masters in Arts Administration and to dedicate my career to working as an arts administrator in the non-profit arts sector.

Currently, I have the privilege of working for Florida State University as the Assistant Director of Production and Community Engagement within our College of Music. In my position, I help oversee our performance hall production coordination and assist in various outreach, engagement and entrepreneurial activities of the College. As a volunteer, I am currently serving as the Immediate Past-President of the Friends of Dance Council within the College of Fine Arts at Florida State University, and I am also serving as a 2018 Catalyst with the Knight Creative Communities Institute in Tallahassee.

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Heather: When I hear “Culture Builds Florida”, I think of economic growth and social impact. In the most recent Arts and Economic Prosperity study conducted by Americans for the Arts, it was found that the arts and culture sector is a $4.68 billion industry in Florida. The arts and culture industry in our state supports 132,366 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $492.3 million in local and state government revenue [1] In my hometown of Leon County, FL the nonprofits arts and culture sector is a $201.9 million industry which supports 7,161 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $26.6 million in local and state government revenue.[2]  To me, these numbers prove that the “Arts Mean Business!” The arts support job growth, generate government revenue and attract cultural tourism in our state.

In addition to impacting our state’s economy, arts and culture contribute in countless ways to the well-being of our state by making a social impact in our everyday lives. The arts enable us to uphold our cultural identity as Floridians but also keep us moving forward in innovative ways that are relevant. Arts and culture celebrate diversity and inclusion by bringing people together under one purpose. They enable us to express ourselves, our feelings, and our beliefs creatively. They help us heal; they contribute to our health and wellness. They are vital to the education of our children. They allow us to reflect on our society, on world issues and on our own lives in meaningful ways.

 DCA: For you, what is the most inspiring part about working in the arts?

Heather: For me, the most inspiring part about working in the arts is the opportunity I have to work in an industry that makes a difference in people’s lives through a creative process. The best example of this in my own world is witnessing a performance come to fruition after our team has spent months preparing for its premiere. There is so much behind-the-scenes work that goes into each production, but the most rewarding part is to see it all come together successfully. Some of my most favorite moments are when I stand in the back of the concert hall and witness the joyful impact the performance is having on an audience member’s life. I often think to myself, “Wow, we helped create this moment for them!” Those are the times I feel most inspired.

Another aspect I love about working in the arts are the relationships that are made along the way. On a daily basis, I get to work with a fantastic team of colleagues who inspire me to be more excellent in everything I do. I also have the wonderful opportunity to work with multiple artists at the local, national and international level. Through these relationships, I have seen the power in collaboration and how we can spur on each other to new creative heights.

DCA: What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Florida Council on Arts and Culture?

Heather: First and foremost I hope to support the mission of the Department of State and the Division of Cultural Affairs through my service on this council. I genuinely believe that state arts agencies are one of the most significant vehicles our country has to fulfill our public duty to the arts. By representing all interests of the state, the Division helps ensure that the economic, educational, and civic benefits of the arts are made available to all Floridians. For that, I am thankful for the work the Division is doing for us on a daily basis and look forward to supporting their efforts.

Alongside my fellow council members, I also hope to strengthen strategic partnerships and boost arts advocacy conversations with art constituents throughout the state. It’s no secret that we are living in a time in which advocating for the arts needs to be at the forefront of our daily lives. With this in mind, I hope we as art constituents can become familiar with the economic impact of the arts within our own immediate communities and that we can also be prepared to express how the arts enhance our quality of life. In turn, I hope that through these increased conversations, we can come together as an arts community and jointly make an impact in preserving the cultural heritage of our great State of Florida.

[1] http://dos.myflorida.com/media/698818/artseconomicprosperityfl.pdf

[2] https://coca.tallahasseearts.org/uploads/documents/COCA_Arts__Economic_Prosperity_Bklt_v2.pdf

Art Talk: Gold Coast Jazz Society and Mari Mennel-Bell, founder of JazzSLAM

Gold Coast Jazz Society

Founded in 1992 to bring more jazz to the “Gold Coast” area of South Florida, the Gold Coast Jazz Society presents a seven-concert jazz series in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts each year from November through May.

Gold Coast Jazz Society has a rich history of community outreach and over the years has expanded its outreach and education programs. For those who cannot attend mainstage concerts, free outreach concerts are provided throughout the area allowing access to cultural arts programs to economically disadvantaged residents. The Jeanette M. Russell Jazz Scholarship Program has provided over $450,000 in scholarship support to qualified and aspiring young jazz students to study jazz in college or to attend summer jazz camps over the past fourteen years.

In 2010, the Society began presenting the jazz education program, JazzSLAM, at no cost, to area public schools. This program, which includes a live jazz quartet, helps students improve their reading, math and test taking skills through jazz.  In addition, Gold Coast Jazz has presented several other jazz education presentations in local elementary schools.  Gold Coast Jazz also provides the free First Friday Jazz Jam program, where local students can jam, before a live audience, with a professional jazz quartet led by local jazz musician and educator Nicole Yarling.

 JazzSLAM (Jazz Supports Language Arts and Math)

JazzSLAM 1

Designed by musician and educator, Mari Mennel-Bell, JazzSLAM is a free in-school jazz education program targeted to 4th and 5th grade students and includes a one-hour, live and interactive jazz presentation with a professional jazz quartet. The program integrates the music of jazz with elements of Language Arts, Math, and Social Studies to help students with critical thinking skills and strategies for test taking.  The program is designed to support teachers’ efforts to raise students’ test scores, motivate students to learn how to express themselves within the confines of a given form, and supports teaching with the Aural, Visual & Tactile benefits of music.  Students learn how musical forms relate to concepts such as essay writing forms, how musical rhythmic patterns relate to mathematical concepts such as percentages and how the ethnic origins of jazz relate to the geography and social studies.

We chatted with Mari Mennel-Bell to learn more about her long career in Florida and what inspired her to create JazzSLAM.

Division of Cultural Affairs (DCA): How long have you lived and worked in Florida? 

Mari: I grew up from age 11 on in Palm Beach County. There’s something so different about being in elementary school in Florida- it was just so fun! I attended college in New York and stayed in NY after graduating. In 1998, when our kids were in elementary and middle school, my husband and I decided to relocate to Broward County and we have lived and worked here ever since.

DCA: What inspired you to create JazzSLAM?

Mari:  I started JazzSLAM almost immediately after moving to Broward County. I had been doing a jazz program while working in the Hudson Valley, but one of the things that really gave me direction was seeing my sons just sitting at desks doing busy work. They were totally disengaged; they just did not want to be in school. I saw so many connections between academics and music and was inspired to really start developing the program. So, I went back to my roots. When I was in graduate school at New York University, I worked for the Children’s Television Workshop on a program which was using music to teach reading. After I graduated, I worked in a Title I school in the South Bronx that was doing the same thing- using music to teach students that were way behind in reading. I wanted to develop a program in Broward County that taught academics through jazz. I am so grateful to the Gold Coast Jazz Society for their funding and organizational support and the teachers in Broward County, who have, over the years provided wonderful feedback and suggestions that have helped me continue to develop the program.

DCA: What is the best part about your job?

Mari: Without a doubt, working with the students is the best part. Just seeing them make connections and seeing light bulbs go off in their heads is so cool. It’s always surprising, too, which students are the first to make connections. Oftentimes, it is a student with special needs that will allow the connections to become physically apparent by standing up and dancing or clapping to the music. I love to use this as an opportunity to put students that are handicapped or have special needs– students who are usually being bullied– in a leadership role. It is just super cool to be able to do this.

Teaching academics through the arts is such a powerful way to reach students. Students come in and don’t know what they’re coming to and aren’t sure they are going to like it and then we get rolling, and the fact that there’s so much music involved, it just captivates them and captures their attention in a way that straight academics don’t.

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DCA: What are some examples of how JazzSLAM integrates musical concepts with academics to enrich learning?

Mari: Our programs focus on language arts, math, and social studies concepts. For example, we use AABA song form as a parallel learning device for narrative essays. Students learn how narrative essays tell a story. Fairy tales are a perfect example: the first paragraph introduces “who, what, when, where, why”, the second develops the story, the third adds a problem, and the fourth resolves the problem. The lyrics and structure of AABA song form do the same thing.

The song “I Got Rhythm” is a great example of this. I describe it to the students as a “gratitude laundry list of good feelings that you can have”. The A sections introduce free things to be grateful for. The B section presents a problem: we are all going to have troubled times in our lives. The last A section resolves this by revisiting our gratitude list, which we can pull out when we are down in the dumps and remember all of the things that are good in life.

The day before the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, JazzSLAM gave a presentation at Silver Lakes Elementary. The school went to a “Code Red” lockdown, which turned out to be a staged, practice drill, however, the students were very frightened and lacked focus when they came in for our presentation. I used the “I Got Rhythm” lyrics to show them how to write a gratitude list to help themselves in times of stress.

After the presentation, Ms. Cline, a fourth-grade teacher, wrote, “Students learned that music can provide you with focus. That you can calm yourself with music.” Music offers logic and predictable patterns that bring us great solace in an increasingly complex world.

DCA: And how about using music to teach math?

Mari: One of the students’ favorite things is when we do a “rhythm orchestra”. Along with our drummer, Orlando Machado, I divide the room into five groups. Each group is responsible for one of five divisions of the beat: whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, and sixteenth note. Orlando demonstrates the divisions and I stand in front of the class.  Each group is given different directions and kinesthetic movements for each division of the beat, eventually all clapping together to hear how the half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes & 16th notes fit into the whole note pizza. Then, the students are asked to analyze the divisions of the beat while I show them a pie chart, i.e. “How many half notes are in the whole note pizza pie?”,  “Which fraction is each half note called?”,  “What percentage would each half note be?” Other concepts like finding the common denominator to add fractions are covered. It is purely academic and the kids are having so much fun that they don’t even realize that they are learning valuable math concepts! I think every kid in America should have the opportunity to learn this way.

DCA: How has the program grown over the years?

Mari: The first year, we probably did four or five schools with fifty students each. When we started getting grants for the program, we were able to expand. I initially thought that I could do the program for 300 students at a time, but that turned out to be overwhelming, so we limited it to groups of up to 150 to ensure that each student receives equal opportunity to participate. At one point, JazzSLAM was serving 30 schools a year. Now, we are serving about 20 schools a year and I am also focused on growing our eLearning programs.

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DCA: Tell us more about your eLearning programs.

Mari: An educator saw me do a web learning presentation for Broward County (through Broward County Board of Education TV) and encouraged me to develop a way to present JazzSLAM nationally. Now, through the Center for Innovative Learning and Collaboration (cilc.org), we offer three eLearning programs nationwide, all of which are available for free to Title I schools. It has been really cool to hear from educators in tiny towns without supermarkets across the nation that they are using and loving JazzSLAM in their classrooms. It is one of my main goals for the future of JazzSLAM to continue to develop these programs so that JazzSLAM can reach even more students nationwide.

DCA: Which counties have participating schools? How many children participate each year?

Mari: The program mainly serves Broward County, though we have on occasion travelled to North Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. In the past 16 years, the program has served around 60,000 students in South Florida.

DCA: In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution that JazzSLAM makes to your community?

Mari: It exposes students to the incredible musical heritage of our nation, which is jazz, while allowing more interactive academic experiences. Oftentimes jazz organizations have difficulty getting into school systems, but because our program is academically focused, that has opened doors.

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DCA: What do you think the future holds for JazzSLAM?

Mari: I want to know that when I leave the planet that JazzSLAM won’t leave the planet with me. I think the future for us is in continuing to give live presentations and develop the eLearning programs, so that we can reach students throughout the state of Florida and the nation. I would also love to partner with a college or university to train future teachers in the JazzSLAM methodology. I’d love to find a doctoral student who would want to research the significance of JazzSLAM concepts and using music to teach academics.  I always want JazzSLAM to be part of Gold Coast Jazz Society and for GCJS to continue serving Broward County, but I also want the program to be able to spread. When you see how much the kids love to do it and how grateful the teachers are for this whole new approach to academics, it’s like a no brainer. I have to figure out a way to get this to more teachers– to everybody!

DCA: What do you think of when you hear “Culture Builds Florida”? Why are the arts and culture important to our state?

Mari: Certainly here in South Florida, we see that arts and culture are a huge draw for snowbirds and tourists. When I was growing up in Palm Beach County, there was close to nothing to go to. There were no opportunities to hear live music other than if you went to a private party or a club or community center. There is certainly a much more vibrant arts community in South Florida than when I was a kid. The more we have for visitors and year-round residents to do, the happier everybody is with Florida!

The DCA thanks Pam Dearden, executive director of Gold Coast Jazz Society, and Mari Mennel-Bell for their participation in this post. To learn more about JazzSLAM, visit: http://jazzslam.com/. To learn more about Gold Coast Jazz Society, visit: http://www.goldcoastjazz.org.

Artist Brian R. Owens Brings Windover Woman to Life

Today we’re featuring a story about a Florida artist, Brian R. Owens.

On November 13th, a newly revised exhibit opened at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science in Cocoa, FL, about one of the first groups of people in North America. The accidental discovery of a ceremonial burial ground in 1982 resulted in the unearthing of one of the largest and most well-preserved skeletal sites on the continent. The excavation reshaped our understanding of “archaic hunter-gatherers” and how they lived 7000 to 8000 years ago, about 3000 years before the “Great Pyramid”. They are called “Windover People”. Research is constantly ongoing as new technologies emerge to analyze the remains of 168 people. Over 10,000 bones and artifacts are preserved at Florida State University. The Museum commissioned Brian R. Owens to sculpt an artistic interpretation of one particular female based on her skull. It’s the centerpiece of the new exhibit. They call her the “Windover Woman”.

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Computer-generated image based on the bones of the Windover Woman

CBF: What did you have to work from?

Lots of detailed measurements of her skull but not the skull itself. I also had some computer-generated images that were made years ago on the basis of the skull. The remains included DNA but it’s so damaged that it is of little use. At least for now. Archeologists generally agree that she was descended from Asians.

CBF: How is an artistic interpretation different from a forensic sculpture? Continue reading