Art Talk: Alison Schaeffler-Murphy and Poetry Out Loud

by Tim Storhoff

Alison Schaeffler-Murphy

Alison Schaeffler-Murphy

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.

EventImg-PoetryOutLoudDCA: You are the new Poetry Out Loud coordinator. Are you a fan of poetry? Do you have any favorite poems or poets?

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.

Alison while in France studying Parisian arts and culture as an International Exchange Student. Photo submitted and used by permission of Alison Schaeffler-Murphy.

Alison while in France studying Parisian arts and culture as an International Exchange Student. Photo submitted by and used with permission of Alison Schaeffler-Murphy.

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.

Art Talk: Division Intern Katherine Laursen

by Tim Storhoff

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Katherine Laursen joined the team at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs at the end of August as an intern for the 2013-2014 school year. Born and raised in Dunedin, Florida, Katherine graduated with honors from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Music Education in 2005 and a Masters of Music Education in 2011. She taught in the Pinellas County Schools for six years: first as the Assistant Director of Band and Chorus at Largo High School for three years and then as the Director of Chorus and Strings at Dunedin Highland Middle School. Katherine has been a member of the Festival Singers of Florida since its formation in 2008 and has previously been a member of groups including the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, the Zielinski Singers, Opera Tampa, and Tapped In, a professional tap company. In addition to all of that, she is also actively involved in the Scottish dance community, is a staff singer and Chorister Assistant at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and has another internship at the Tallahassee Ballet. Currently, she is working on her MA in Arts Administration at the Florida State University. I recently asked Katherine about her artistic background and her thoughts on the importance of the arts in Florida.

DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember?

Katherine: My earliest memory has to be from when I was around 4 years old. I remember dancing around in my bathing suit and Sunday school tights to Kiss Me, Kate, my favorite musical at the time. I grew up in a house filled with music. My great-uncle worked for MGM, so we would watch every movie musical he worked on. My parents realized they couldn’t wait any longer, so they enrolled me in ballet at Patricia Ann Dance Studio in Dunedin, FL. They couldn’t have known then what a great home it would become for me.

DCA: What made you decide on a career in the arts?

Katherine: Growing up whenever I was dancing, singing, playing, writing or making something, I knew who I was. I would spend hours at the dance studio only to come home to practice my flute. I wrote poem after poem in my journals. In the summers, my parents sent me to the Dunedin Fine Arts Center for classes, Writer’s Camp or the Florida Dance Festival multi-week intensives. When I got older, I added theater and voice to my experience. It was only in my senior year of high school that I chose voice as my main area of study. I continued to study dance and flute and my teaching experiences led me to add guitar, color-guard and viola to my arsenal. With the arts, you are never done learning and growing. I can’t imagine my life without the arts, so it makes perfect sense that my goal is to provide access to the arts to everyone who wants it.

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Katherine dancing with other members of Tapped In, Inc. during an event in Tampa in 2011. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

DCA: While your arts background is largely in music, you’ll be working with arts more broadly here at the Division of Cultural Affairs.  What are some of your artistic interests outside of musical performance?

Katherine: My connections to the arts originally came from dance. I always make my way back to ballet because I feel the most connected to who I am there. Ballet has been in my life since my first memories, so I believe it’s connected to every part of who I am now. When I go back to dance class, even as an adult, the world disappears and everything is focused on the beauty of the art. Because of this connection, I am able to carry that passion and focus into all other aspects of art in my life. I discovered my love for music in dance class. I discovered my love of design and color through costumes and lighting. Dance is beautiful, but it is enhanced and complimented by all of the arts and that relationship goes both ways.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.”  What do you think when you hear that phrase?  Why do you believe arts and culture matter to our state?

Katherine: I know that I cannot separate the arts from their impact on my life. In that same way, I don’t think that you can separate the culture of Florida from its impact on building our state economically and otherwise. There is so much to be said for loving where you live. As a Florida native, I have grown up watching my state find its identity. When people feel a part of the place they live, they are more likely to contribute to making it better. Incorporating the diverse culture of our state is a challenge, but how lucky are we as Floridians to have such a plethora of arts and culture to embrace?

Art Talk: Guiding Success with Richard Cuff

Richard Cuff with Ashlyn after she is fitted for her violin. Image used with permission of Richard Cuff.

Richard Cuff with Ashlyn after she was fitted for her violin. Image used with permission of Richard Cuff.

by Tim Storhoff

Guiding Success is a kindergarten to college pathway initiative, and The J.H. Walker String Ensemble is the only voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) orchestra program in the State of Florida. I spoke with Richard Cuff, who started these programs, about his work using music to unlock the potential of pre-kindergarten students that will allow them to have success through college and beyond.

What inspired the creation of Guiding Success?

Guiding Success unfolded over a number of years as a result of several failed attempts to find the perfect cultural fit.  The program was originally called No Strings Attached and the inspiration for this program initially came from my daughter, Korah.  Now a sixteen-year old, soon-to-be-junior at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Korah began reading on her own at eighteen months old.  By the time she was two years old she would walk around the house pretending to play the violin. She initially started studying violin at four years old. As a gift for her fifth birthday we gave her a violin as we threw her a surprise birthday party at the home of her violin teacher. This was her first private lesson. On the way home from her first lesson she was very excited and she asked if I would buy a violin for all of her friends in her kindergarten class as she called out each of their names. At first I said to her that there was no way that I would do that; but even while one side of brain was saying no, the other side of my brain was calculating the cost and mapping out the structure of the program.  By the time my daughter was ten years old our program had begun to take shape and was first featured in this news clip.

Four years later I was hired to serve as consultant to the Jacksonville Symphony Association and take on the role as manager of the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra (JSYO).  As orchestra manager, having the opportunity to see for myself from the inside out, I understood why there was very little minority participation in the JSYO.  I eventually designed, developed and launched two programs to increase minority participation in the JSYO.  The first program, Jump Start Strings is still being managed by the Jacksonville Symphony in six different elementary schools and the second program, Guiding Success, I continued to work on after my contract ended with the symphony ended.  In 2011 we partnered with All About Kids, Inc. to create the All About Kids VPK Music Academy. That summer we began with four students and today we have 35 students in the program with the expectation to increase that number to 74 by the end of this summer.

Ivan shows his form during a class on proper bowing technique.

Ivan shows his form during a class on proper bowing technique. Image used with permission of Richard Cuff.

This is the only Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) orchestra program in the state. Why is it so important to get these children involved at the pre-school level?  

Most professionals agree that the best time to get a child involved in music education is around five years old. Very few professionals start earlier than that because of the challenges that come with a young child’s behavior. This poses a special challenge for minority children because by the time they are exposed to music at a later age in public school (if at all) they have also been exposed to the surrounding culture of rap and R&B that often makes listening to classical music unappealing. However, by beginning as early as three-years old we are able to capture the child’s mind while it is still shaping the child’s likes and dislike. Another major benefit is that at this young age the children do not become easily bored with repetition; in fact, they enjoy going over the same songs and basic lessons again and again. By the time they are four years old these children have habitually developed the discipline to begin learning the techniques that will help them master the skills to play the violin at a third grade level even before they are out of the K-5 kindergarten level.

How will that help guide them to success through college?

Each child, at the beginning of the program, learns the Rules of Music and the Musicians Pledge and repeats them on a daily basis.  These rules and the pledge sum up how this process helps guide them to success through college: 

Rules of Music – “Feet on the floor, hands to yourself, eyes on the teacher, ears open, and mouth closed so that you may breathe and relax.”
The Musician’s Pledge – “Because I am a well-behaved musician, I listen and follow directions, use self-control, respect people, instruments, and materials, and always do my best.”  

Initially it takes the parents and music mentors to remind them of the importance of the rules and the pledge, but eventually they become ingrained into the child’s mind and become the foundational tracks onto which everything else is built.

This is certainly not a solo act and it’s not every day that you see a program like this. Who are some of your partners and key people on your team?  What is your secret for success? 

If there is a secret for success it would be that we began in the early learning environment by partnering with All About Kids Preschool owned by Joann Walker, a retired Duval County Public School teacher.  She has been providing quality childcare for twenty five years and was will to underwrite the cost of the program in the first two years.  Ms. Walker already had a great relationship with the Department of Children and Families, the Duval County Early Learning Coalition, and the United Way’s Success By Six program.  This created the perfect environment in which we could build our program.  The next step was to get the buy-in of the parents and get them to understand that our program would treat the parent as the child’s first teacher and greatest mentor, holding them accountable for the child’s success.  Within the first few months we began to see evidence that the program was destined for success.

What method are you using to help the children learn so quickly; are you using any special type of music curriculum?

The moment Ms. Walker and I agreed to start this program I called on my good friend Andy Bruck, a violinist with the Jacksonville Symphony. Andy started playing violin as a child for over 45 years ago and fully understood the challenges we faced. He was also instrumental in helping me to launch the Jump Start Strings Program. He researched best practices, incorporated proven techniques, and even develop a special music notation system that helped accelerate the rate at which the children could learn to read music. We have a proven method that works and we now call it The Bruck Early Learning Music Method.

Guiding Success is now a couple of years old. Can you speak to some of the successes or impact the program has already had? 

The program is impacting the children in several ways. You only need to sit through one group practice session to know that the confidence level of the children is off the charts.  They have also developed a love for learning and sharing what they have learned with each other. One of our greatest success stories is Cedric Livingston (we call him Ceddy Bear). When he came into the program, because of being in an unstable protected custody environment, he was a shy introvert and would not talk much nor participate in class activities. After about three weeks I noticed he was beginning to clap his hands ever so slightly. Today Cedric is one of our best students. His out-going personality and brilliant smile would not give you a clue that this talkative, fun-loving, six-year old was once a shy three-year old introvert. All of our students are excelling in class as kindergarteners; our two oldest students (2nd grader and sixth-grader) are excelling as well.  After only four months in our program, then 5th grader Sarah auditioned on violin for Lavilla School of the Arts and was accepted, and this year, 2nd grader Daija will be auditioning for the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra.  There are now 35 students (a few of them adults) that are taking either daily or weekly music lessons. In the summer of 2011 we started with four students.

In addition to musical training, the program also provides other useful resources to the students and their families. How is something like a college savings account reinforced by the musical aspect of the program?

We teach our students and their parents that practice does not make perfect because, “You were perfect when you walked in the door.” Practice makes improvement. It is improvement in every area of life for which we strive. Our mission is to encourage literacy through entrepreneurship and the arts. This literacy component includes financial literacy as well as literacy for health and wellness. A college savings saving account allows us the help the parent and the child develop the habit of saving while at the same time developing the mindset to incorporate other wealth-building principles including investing and home ownership.

On the set at Fox 30 Action News during the morning show. This was the first public television performance for the students. Photo used by permission of Richard Cuff.

On the set at Fox 30 Action News during the morning show. This was the first public television performance for the students. Photo used by permission of Richard Cuff.

How do you see Guiding Success moving forward in the future?

I see Guiding Success becoming a statewide initiative and a national model. The program will become voucher-based and serve as wraparound funding to supplement VPK dollars on the State level and Head Start dollars on the Federal level. Each of our centers will feed into local public and private K-5 programs. Ultimately, I see Guiding Success being responsible for the State of Florida truly being known as a State of the Arts.  

The Division of Cultural Affairs truly believes that “Culture Builds Florida.” How will this program benefit Florida economically and otherwise as you work on expanding it to be statewide? 

This program will benefit Florida economically because as more people are encouraged to invest private dollars into early childhood education initiatives more of our young people will choose to stay in school rather than drop out, blighted buildings will be turned into rehearsal halls, parental involvement will become the norm rather than the exception and recidivism will become a thing of the past as the path to prison is circumvented by giving our children a clear path to college. It is well-known that for every dollar invested in early childhood education the state will see a return of $7 dollars. But that ROI is not only a monetary return it is also a return in social capital. Through Guiding Success we are building better citizens and equipping future leaders who now have a gift that can never be taken away and can only flourish in this positive environment.  

To learn more about Guiding Success and the J.H. Walker String Ensemble or to contact Richard about bringing this program to your community, visit guidingsuccess.org.

Art Talk: Accessibility with Division Staff Member Maureen McKloski

By Tim Storhoff

Maureen McKloskiMaureen McKloski joined the Division’s staff in July of 2012. Prior to her work at the Division, she was the visual arts coordinator for Pyramid Studios, an art center serving developmentally disabled adults. She is a painter and restorer of fine art and antiques. Maureen earned Bachelor of Fine Art degrees in Art Education and Ceramics. As the Division’s Accessibility Coordinator, I wanted to ask her about the importance of accessibility in the arts.

Along with managing grant programs, overseeing arts in education and underserved communities, you are the Division’s accessibility coordinator. Accessibility is clearly important to all aspects of life, but what makes accessibility especially important to the arts?

Accessibility is a word that simply envelops and provides inclusion for all.  People with disabilities are as diverse as any people. They have diverse experiences, expectations, and preferences. They use diverse interaction techniques, adaptive strategies, and assistive technology configurations. People have different disabilities: auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual — and some have multiple disabilities. Even within one category, there is extreme variation; for example, “visual disability” includes people who have been totally blind since birth, people who have distortion in their central vision from age-related degeneration, and people who temporarily have blurry vision from an injury or disease.

As we all age, we find ourselves utilizing more provided accessibility services, whether we fully recognize and label them as disabilities or not. We find that these considerations, when seamlessly integrated, are helpful to every user. Accessibility is especially important in the arts because it encompasses and directly affects everyone – whether they are an audience member, a listener, a patron or an artist.

The therapeutic aspects of art, whether we are actively or passively engaged, have the potential to greatly impact our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.  It also can have an economic impact on the individuals that create or perform art – opening up an opportunity for individuals to earn income, as well as benefit of increased revenue for arts communities that hold accessible and inclusive events.

The Division believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida” and stressing the economic value the arts have for our state. How do you see accessibility relating to Culture Builds Florida? 

The arts are integral to the lives of our citizens. We appreciate them for their intrinsic benefits — their beauty and vision and how they inspire, soothe, provoke, and connect us. The arts ennoble us as people. They provide bridges between cultures. They embody the accumulated wisdom, intellect, and imagination of humankind. Government and private-sector support are essential to promote full access to and participation in exhibitions, performances, arts education, and other cultural events regardless of family income.  The arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities and our nation. They improve the quality of life in our cities and towns. They enhance community development; spur urban renewal; attract new businesses; draw tourism dollars; and create an environment that attracts skilled, educated workers which build an innovative workforce.

Do you know what all of the Disability Access Symbols mean? Learn about them and download them for your own use at https://www.graphicartistsguild.org/resources/disability-access-symbols/

Do you know what all of the Disability Access Symbols mean? Learn about them and download them for your own use at https://www.graphicartistsguild.org/resources/disability-access-symbols/

If you could name just one or two low-cost things that arts organizations and businesses can do to improve their accessibility, what would they be?

Many organizations are already accessible in a number of ways.  One of the first things that an organization can do is to include appropriate accessibility symbols in all of their marketing materials – from brochures to email blasts. Another low-cost practice would be to provide large print versions of all printed material. Generally information is typed out in word format before included in a distributed format. If an organization changed the font and the font size, they could easily provide information in this format. Another low-cost practice would be to walk through their facility with a three-foot ruler or stick to make sure that all routes are easily accessible to wheelchairs and make sure that nothing blocks doorways or access to any of the facilities amenities.

Where should arts organizations and businesses go for more information about accessibility in the arts?

We have provided information to our grantees regarding their 504 plan, people first language, accessibility symbols, and more.  We are providing this information on our website, and the informative links there are continually updated. We are also providing a series of six webinars in 2013 for our constituents catered to their desire to learn more about and provide services to those individuals with disabilities in partnership with VSA. For more information on the upcoming webinars, subscribe to our e-mail list and like us on Facebook.

Art Talk: Division Intern Bob Evans

by Tim Storhoff

Bob Evans joined the Division of Cultural Affairs team at the end of August. Originally from Coxsackie, New York, Bob studied bassoon performance and music education at the University of South Carolina. He came to Florida State University in 2011 to pursue a Master’s degree in Arts Administration. As the Division intern through the spring, Bob will have the opportunity to participate in many of our different programs. He has already been working with Poetry Out Loud, the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and some of our grant programs. I recently spoke with Bob about his background in the arts and the importance of the arts for the state of Florida.

Bob Evans with his bassoon. Photo submitted and used by permission of Bob Evans.

DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember?
Bob: I don’t remember many specific arts experiences in my childhood. I feel like they were so ingrained into everyday life for me that maybe I just took them for granted. My father is a painter who idolizes Dalí, so I recall many of his prints in our house, and everyone in my family sings well, even if it’s just with the radio.

In terms of a significant arts experience, I don’t recall anything sticking out until I was about 14. I’d been playing bassoon for a year and made it into a local youth orchestra. I was pretty nervous before that first rehearsal because I had never played in an ensemble with strings before, so I wasn’t sure what it would be like. We started with Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” from Pictures at an Exhibition. I knew in that moment that I’d never be the same. That feeling of frisson when I heard those opening bars was what propelled me into a musical career. Of course, it was immediately dampened by my inability to read tenor clef and my complete lack of technical facility, but, thankfully, positive reinforcement trumps negative reinforcement.

DCA: You’re actively pursuing a degree in Arts Administration. What made you decide on a career in the arts?
Bob: Why does anyone decide on a career in the arts? The arts are important. They’re a basic human need essential for survival just as much as food, water, and shelter. Look at the creation of visual art and music in concentration camps during the Holocaust where, while fighting for their lives, people still produced powerful, meaningful art. I often think about that whenever I feel like I’m losing focus.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.” What do you think when you hear that phrase? Why do you believe arts and culture are important to our state?
Bob: I love hearing Culture Builds Florida! I wish we could adopt a “Culture Builds America” slogan. Imagine THAT on some bumper stickers! Culture Builds Florida says so much about what the arts can mean for a willing society. I know that in Florida, so much revenue comes from the arts: a single dollar’s investment can mean a return of 5 dollars! It’s amazing, but the trick is getting people to realize it. That’s another reason that I chose this career path. The arts mean business, not just here in Florida, but around the nation. I want to work to make sure that’s the case for a long time.

Art Talk: Division Staff Member Tim Storhoff

by Jennifer Hoesing

Tim Storhoff joined the Division of Cultural Affairs staff last month. He works with the Division’s programs for individual artists, including the Individual Artist Fellowship program, Capitol Complex Exhibitions and the Department of State Art Collection. A native of Fargo, North Dakota, Tim is a doctoral candidate at the Florida State University College of Music. He is currently writing his dissertation on U.S.-Cuban musical interaction. Tim took time to answer a few of my questions about his background in the arts, the importance of individual artists and his belief that Culture Builds Florida.

DCA: What’s the first arts experience you can remember?
Tim: The first arts experience I remember was seeing and hearing my grandfather play the harmonica and then playing with him. He’s a self-taught performer who will occasionally play just for fun. It was a great instrument for a three-year-old me to put to my mouth because it’s easy to make a sound and feel like you’re doing something right. Making an early musical connection with someone important in my life that way was a great, formative experience.

DCA: You’re working on a PhD in musicology with an emphasis in ethnomusicology, and I know this work has taken you to Cuba. What was your most surprising discovery researching music outside of the US?

Tim rehearsing drum patterns with a member of the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional in Havana, Cuba. Photo submitted and used by permission of Tim Storhoff.

Tim: One thing that really surprised me was how common it was to hear people listening to pop music from the United States. I heard Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga all over Havana. Cuban music was pervasive too, of course. It seemed like whoever I started a conversation with on the street gave me unique advice when I mentioned I was there to learn about music. Everyone knew different dance instructors (or were instructors themselves), suggested different venues to visit each night, and recommended other musicians that I should talk to. It was almost dizzying trying to keep up. I can’t wait to go back.

DCA: Why have you decided on a career in the arts? What’s your ultimate career goal?
Tim: The arts are a huge part of what makes it worth getting up every morning, and they enrich all of our lives. Because they have always been such a major part of my life, choosing to pursue a career in the arts was easy. I love teaching and writing about music and popular culture, so I hope to pursue a career that allows me to do that. Ultimately, I would like to work with the arts in a university setting.

Tim building a djembe. Photo submitted and used by permission of Tim Storhoff.

DCA: You’re working with the Division’s individual artist programs. What do you believe individual artists contribute to the fabric of American culture? What do you believe is most important about their work?
Tim: Individual artists are very important to American culture, and we have historically celebrated the achievements of the individual with good reason. Not to discount the institutions and collaborators that contribute to artistic work, but we typically look to the individual to give art its definitive voice and make an artistic statement. I’m really happy we have programs to support individual artists and the work they find personally meaningful, because in the end it is those creations that enrich our communities and the world around us.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.” What do you think when you hear that phrase? Why do you believe arts and culture are important to our state?
Tim: I think that is a great motto because the arts and culture are really important to our state socially and economically. Florida is extremely diverse, and the arts are the best way to showcase the cultural diversity our state has to offer. At the same time, art is great at bringing people together and building bridges between individuals and groups that otherwise might not interact. Culture makes Florida the vibrant state that it is, and embracing it opens up all kinds of new possibilities.

Art Talk with Nathan Selikoff

by Jennifer Hoesing

Nathan Selikoff

I first met Nathan Selikoff when he participated in a Creative Capital Professional Development Program (PDP) workshop for artists hosted by Citizens for Florida Arts, Inc. with support from the Division of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts. His work blurs the lines between art, math and computers and explores their junctions. Nathan is participating in a second Creative Capital PDP in Tallahassee this weekend, and in advance of that experience, I asked him a few questions via email about his work.

DCA: Your work experiments with the overlap between art, math and computer programming. What have you discovered about the intersections between these disciplines?

Untiled Faces at Process & Influence. Image courtesy and used by permission of Nathan Selikoff.

Nathan: This is where all the interesting things happen! Many people think art and math are somehow incompatible, or have nothing to do with each other. While they do represent different ways of thinking, I see beauty in both and many connections between them. Furthermore, I believe both are, in their own ways, seeking to uncover beauty and truth.
I have always been drawn to the polymath or “renaissance man” – another way of saying this is that I am most satisfied when both the left and right sides of my brain are engaged. Leonardo da Vinci is the classic example of a polymath, but there are many, many others that inspire me and let me know I’m in good company as I explore the blending of art, math, science, nature, algorithms, and computers. Just a few examples from the past would include Dürer, Escher, Hofstadter, and Laposky. More recent examples include Mandelbrot, Moscovich, Pickover, the Algorists, Scott Snibbe, Jared Tarbell, Marius Watz, Casey Reas, Ben Fry… the list goes on.
DCA: Speaking of intersections, you’ve collaborated with composers in Orlando, Miami and Brooklyn. What was it like seeing your art set to music? Has that experienced further altered the way you consider your work?

Full Dimensions rehearsal, a collaboration with Keith Lay, Marc Pinsky, Full Sail University, the Orlando Philharmonic, and Maestro Dirk Meyer. Image courtesy and used by permission of Nathan Selikoff.

Nathan: My recent projects with composers have been really enjoyable and eye-opening, on many levels. Collaborating with musicians is fun, exciting and challenging, and has introduced me to a new source of inspiration and way of working. I listen to a piece of music and just close my eyes and let my imagination go. I think about how the piece makes me feel and the images and shapes it brings to mind, and work to interpret it visually to bring about that same emotion in the visual realm.
Music and sound are always experienced temporally, so in many ways they are more akin to mediums such as video, animation, and performance. I have spent a lot of time working with static images in the past (my fine art prints), and it has been great to get back to the moving image and the element of time, which engages people in a completely different way.
I also want to mention that I find the community of musicians to be very open, welcoming, and supportive of one another. They experience the same kinds of struggles and triumphs that visual artists do, and I believe we have a lot to learn from one another and from collaboration.
DCA: Your website features some stunning images of your work as a part of interior design. How were you inspired to feature your work in interior design settings?

Image from Nathan Selikoff online store. Image courtesy and used by permission of Nathan Selikoff.

Nathan: Most of those images are either staged or simulated with some Photoshop magic, and I created them specifically to target high-end, high-tech, modern and contemporary interior design settings as a market for my fine art. This is based on my research and on conversations with my supporters and collectors. I think these types of spaces would look fantastic with my artwork hanging in them 🙂
DCA: You’ve been a part exhibitions in all kinds of spaces, from the most traditional gallery settings to up and coming collaborative work spaces and even an exhibition at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. What has been your takeaway from being a part of a diverse collection of cultural venues?

Untitled Faces. Image courtesy and used by permission of Nathan Selikoff.

Nathan: Confusion! Just kidding – kind of. As an emerging artist, I have taken opportunities as they come and tried to cast a wide net and see what I catch. Most of these exhibitions have been wonderful experiences. However, I am getting to a point where I need to tighten my focus and pursue the opportunities that will best contribute to the sustainability of my career (financially and otherwise).
DCA: This weekend you will be participating in a Creative Capital Professional Development Workshop. How did attendance at your first Creative Capital workshop help you advance your career? What are you looking forward to in the weekend ahead?
As I have alluded to in the previous two answers, one of my questions at the workshop this weekend will be how to narrow my focus and choose those opportunities and relationships that will be fruitful to my career. I have committed myself to a long-term, sustainable career as an artist, and I need help getting there!
Creative Capital’s Professional Development Workshops have already been instrumental in my development as a fine artist. Specifically, since the previous workshop I attended two years ago, I have been in my first one- and two-person exhibitions; opened up some new sources of income with lectures, performances, and online sales; and perhaps most significantly, left a full-time job to return to freelancing and focusing on my art career. Some of the highlights from the previous workshop were learning and practicing negotiating skills, diving into an analysis of how I actually spend my time, and understanding how to use social media in the context of my art career. I was a Facebook hold-out for a long time, but decided to jump in for the purpose of marketing myself and my artwork, and it has been a good decision.
Being an artist can be a lonely and solitary pursuit at times. Besides providing practical information, I find workshops like this essential for connecting more deeply with other artists who share my journey.
DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.” What do you think when you hear that phrase? Why do you believe arts and culture are important to our state?
When I hear “Culture Builds Florida” it makes me proud. I am so glad that there are organizations like the Division of Cultural Affairs and people like you who understand the importance of the arts and culture to the overall health and strength of our society – emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, and economic. Arts and culture help us see ourselves as we were, as we are, and as we could be.