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

Art and Environmental Conservation: Sarah Crooks Flaire and Green Revolution

Green Revolution is an innovative museum exhibit designed by the Smithsonian Institution. The Museum of Science and History of Jacksonville, FL received all of the necessary design files and instructions digitally, and constructed the exhibit from recycled and repurposed materials found within the community. Composting, green energy, gardening and climate change are some themes of the exhibition.

Environmental artist Sarah Crooks Flaire is partnering with MOSH for the display of several of her creations in the lobby and within the exhibit. Crooks Flaire uses repurposed materials to create unique works like three-dimensional butterfly collages created from tin cans and large murals made from recycled decorative fabric. Beasts of Burden, a 16-foot hand-sewn fabric tapestry, for example, reflects on the importance of water and ways our culture has tried to twist the natural flow. Visitors are invited to participate in an evolving sculpture of hand silkscreened paper butterflies, symbolizing transformation and the interconnectedness of all life. This artwork, Transmigration II will change throughout the 4 month exhibit.

After attending the recent Convening Culture conference, Sarah Crooks Flaire spoke with the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and shared some of her work from this exhibition that bridges art and environmental conservation:

I recently attended the first Convening Culture Conference in Vero Beach FL, where it was exciting to see other artists and organizations bringing the arts and environmental conservation together. The current exhibition Green Revolution: Renewed at the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville FL exemplifies what the conference was all about: making change possible through creative collaboration.

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“Prayers for Transformation” butterflies

"Prayers for a Transformation" visitors pinning butterflies at the MOSH.

“Prayers for a Transformation” visitors pinning butterflies at the MOSH.

This collection of work incorporates recycled materials chosen for their symbolic associations and material potential. I chose to focus on a few products made from trees (paper, shipping pallets, cardboard), aluminum and petrochemical greens. Trees continue their lifecycle by becoming butterflies in Prayers for a Transformation, a site specific interactive collaboration of silkscreened butterflies . Visitors are encouraged to print their own butterflies onto recycled paper, decorate and state a wish for change while pinning them into the larger flock. By actively engaging visitors in a creative recycling process their attention is focused on changing their habitual patterns of consumption. A pdf version can be downloaded from the Museum of Science and History website. Changing over the course of four months, this shifting flock of monarchs migrate through various life forms.

"Whirlpool Feet" etching with collograph by Sarah Crooks Flaire, 22”x22”

“Whirlpool Feet” etching with collagraph by Sarah Crooks Flaire, 22”x22”

With this work I’ve asked, “How do I touch the earth? What am I wearing? Heavy shoes? Barefoot? How do I quiet my own voice and open to other lives? How do we create a new narrative? By understanding my vulnerability versus packaged perfection, by shedding my skin in order to grow, I redefine what I hold onto and ultimately what I give away.” This to me is the essence of our Green Revolution, where by changing my own lifestyle and by changing our habitual patterns of consumption and waste we become part of the whole through an even exchange.

"Quetzal sittin’..." by Sarah Crooks Flaire, recycled aluminum , vhs tape, and plastic greenery 22”x13”x4”

“Quetzal sittin’…” by Sarah Crooks Flaire, recycled aluminum , vhs tape, and plastic greenery 22”x13”x4”

Recycled soda cans become caterpillars and the ultimate rainbow in Quetzal Sittin’ on da Chain of Being. Images of imperialism are transformed into the background of a new narrative in giant 16’ tapestry drawings like Red Pearl River and the Beasts of Burden, sparking a discussion about how we connect with nature.

"Red Pearl River" by Sarah Crooks Flaire, charcoal and gesso on cotton with waterbased dye and handsewing cotton thread.

“Red Pearl River” by Sarah Crooks Flaire, charcoal and gesso on cotton with waterbased dye and handsewing cotton thread.

"Trailwalker State Bird Series" by Sarah Crooks Flaire, 22”x22” etching with unique inking on paper, chine colle' with recycled pallet frame hand made by Olivier Flaire

“Trailwalker State Bird Series” by Sarah Crooks Flaire, 22”x22” etching with unique inking on paper, chine colle’ with recycled pallet frame hand-made by Olivier Flaire

In 2009, I read an article about the “State of the Birds” report published by the Audobon Society. In it they warned that in less than fifteen years, 50% of our state birds will not be able to live in their own state due to habitat loss. This series of etchings is my response to the question of how they will adapt to a more urban lifestyle. By contrasting organic and artificial my art creates a surrealist sense of what the world would be like if we keep synthesizing nature rather than protecting it. My work invites a dialogue about what our relationship with nature would be like if it were one of communion, rather than domination.

The Green Revolution Exhibition runs through May 4, 2014.

Crooks Flaire has created mixed media work for the Jacksonville Public Library, healing centers, corporate environments and private homes. She recently won best in show at the Florida Museum for Women in the Arts for a 22′ installation of life-size intaglio self portraits. To learn more about the artist visit crooksflaire.com or themosh.org

CultureBuildsFlorida.org will be spotlighting the connections between art and environmental conservation throughout 2014. 

Spotlight On: Arts in Education and Starry Night Studio

by Tim Storhoff

Last week was National Arts in Education Week, which was established in 2010 by the House of Representatives with a resolution stating:

Arts education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential element of a complete and balanced education for all students.

To coincide with National Arts in Education Week and the beginning of a new school year, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs installed a new art exhibition in the lobby of the R.A. Gray Building in Tallahassee entitled “Growing Tall Through Arts Education: Budding Young Local Artists.” This exhibition features a series of Sunflower Paintings created by students from Starry Night Studio in Tallahassee, owned by art instructor Kathleen R. Carter.

"Growing Tall Through Arts Education" an exhibition from the Division of Cultural Affairs currently showing in the RA Gray Building in Tallahassee

“Growing Tall Through Arts Education” an exhibition currently showing in the RA Gray Building in Tallahassee.

Starry Night Studio offers individual and group art classes for children and adults. For this group exhibition, some of Kathleen’s younger students produced individual sunflower paintings with acrylic paint, using a limited palette and similar size canvases to unite the installation. The long narrow canvas size was purposefully chosen to suggest the feeling of a field of tall sunflowers. Students studied pictures and paintings of different sunflowers, then individually painted their own interpretation creating the varied depictions seen in the exhibition.

The majority of the classes at Starry Night focus on painting in acrylic, but other media is also taught through classes and individualized instruction. In order to focus on the development of each student, the class sizes are limited to five students at a time. Students learn classic academic methods of art including color theory, composition, brushwork, and more.

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Kathleen Carter working with a student on his painting at Starry Night Studio. Photo submitted and used with permission of Morgan Lewis.

“Art education is important, ultimately, because it provides unlimited opportunities for teachers to promote a student’s use of higher order thinking skills. In the arts disciplines, students are challenged and encouraged to take risks, be self-reliant, then find their own solution to a problem. Allowing students to explore many solutions to one problem promotes the ability to think creatively,” Kathleen said. “The arts are not only essential in the classroom, but to our society as a whole. I remind students and future teachers to think about Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein if they should question the importance of promoting creativity through art education in the classroom.”

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A student working on her Sunflower Painting at the Starry Night Studio last month. Photo submitted and used with permission of Kathleen Carter.

Kathleen started studying with a professional artist from age 12 to 18 in Dothan, Alabama then majored in Art with a concentration in painting at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama. She attended Florida State University where she received a Master’s in Art Education and continues her education through workshops at the Ringling School of Art and Design and studying with other professional artists. Kathleen has taught private lessons all of her adult life but officially opened Starry Night Studio four years ago. She has taught all ages, from Pre-K through college and currently works as an adjunct instructor in the elementary education program for Flagler College in Tallahassee. Kathleen works in oil on her own projects and commissions. In her work she experiments with all styles of art, from realistic to abstract.

“As an artist and art teacher, I think it is extremely important to use art as connection, connecting people to their own ideas and to each other. Besides teaching at my studio I enjoy large collaborative projects with various populations in the community. I am actively involved in volunteer projects working with different organizations. These include Boystown, Traumatic Brain Injury Association of Florida, The Tallahassee Senior Center, The National Guard, Be The Solution, Inc., local elementary schools and businesses,” she said.

“I think it is extremely important to make art accessible to all. So my mission is always to promote art and other artists in any way I can. I have shown my Starry Night students’ work at Signature Gallery, Narcissus, Purple Martin Nurseries, Connie’s Hams,That’s Mine Monogramming,  Anthony’s Bar and Grill, Maclay School Pre-K, The Chameleon Tween Boutique, Lofty Pursuits and we will have an exhibit at Sage Restaurant in December.”

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Students comparing and adding finishing touches to their sunflower paintings. Photo submitted and used with permission of Kathleen Carter.

A student working on a painting at the Starry Night Studio. Photo submitted and used with permission of Kathleen Carter.

A student working on a painting at the Starry Night Studio. Photo submitted and used with permission of Kathleen Carter.

Kathleen chose sunflowers as the theme for this exhibition because of the associations they have with the artist Vincent Van Gogh and the feelings of happiness the bright flowers can evoke. Just recently, Tallahassee has adopted the sunflower for inclusion with the “Talla-Happy” marketing campaign. Sunflowers also reflect the importance of arts education. As young students, the exposure to artistic disciplines like dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts plants a seed of creativity that can positively impact all future pursuits. And in addition to helping them in other subjects, the arts also make them more curious, engaged, and well-rounded citizens. As the economy moves forward, creativity through training in the arts will be a key element to Florida’s future success.

While National Art in Education Week may be over, artists and teachers like Kathleen understand that teaching the arts is a year-round passion. The Division of Cultural Affairs supports the view that the arts build cultural understanding, mutual respect, and strong communities, and supports arts and culture as an integral part of education and lifelong learning for all Floridians.

Learn more about arts education at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs Arts in Education page. You can find Starry Night Studio on Facebook or contact Kathleen Carter at artsmethods@comcast.net. “Growing Tall Through Arts Education: Budding Young Local Artists” will be on display in the R.A. Gray Building through the end of September.

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?

Spotlight On: Grant Season at the Division of Cultural Affairs

by Tim Storhoff

sizedcbf-dca-colorSummer is an extremely busy time here at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, particularly with all the activities related to our grant programs. We have grant periods beginning and ending with the state’s fiscal year, which starts on July 1. This means that between June and September of every year we are actively working with three years of grants: the year that just ended, the year that is just getting started, and the next year (currently in the application review stage). These grants are an extremely important part of what we do, and we know that many arts and culture organizations from across the state depend on them to keep their programs up and running. Therefore I wanted to give you some insight into what’s going on and how we keep these grants moving and on track.

2012-2013: Finishing Up and Closing Out

The official period for 2012-2013 grants ended on June 30. There were 314 total grants given to organizations in 45 Florida counties for a total of $8,868,534. This amount included a $5 million appropriation by the state legislature for General Program Support and approximately $3.9 million for Cultural Facilities (no money was appropriated in 2012-2013 for Specific Cultural Projects). For a full record of awards by county, take a look at this list.

After organizations with General Program Support grants finish up their June events, they have until July 30 to fill out their final reports online. It typically takes Sarah, Maureen, and I (the program managers for these grants) until sometime in the fall to read through everything, but it’s great to be reminded of all the wonderful activities that these grants made possible. These reports allow us to see specifically how all the grant money was used and what overall impact it had in terms of individuals from the the community who participated. In addition to getting overall numbers, we’re interested in the number of youth, elders, and artists that took part in events throughout the year. While we often stress the economic impact of the arts with Culture Builds Florida, these participation numbers help show the significance of the arts in a way that goes beyond dollars and cents. The arts create important social connections between people when they attend performances, visit museums, and perhaps most importantly, collaborate to create art together.

Some of the organizations and events funded with 2012-2013 DCA grants.

Some of the organizations and events funded with 2012-2013 DCA grants.

2013-2014: Getting Started (or at least trying to)

With the previous year’s grants ending on June 30, the current year’s grant period is scheduled to begin right away on July 1. Organizations applied for 2013-2014 grants in spring 2012. After panel meetings, eligible scores were sent to the Florida Legislature via the Department of State’s Legislative Budget Request. The Legislature appropriated $5 million for General Program Support, fully funded Specific Cultural Projects with $830,523 and funded Cultural Facilities for $3,328,000. Along with Fast Track and State Touring grants, the state totals came to 351 grants in 47 counties for $9,350,322. For a full record of awards by county, take a look at this list.

Contracts for this year’s grants typically would have been mailed out in June so payments could be processed on July 1. However, a new bill passed by the 2013 Florida Legislature (HB 5401), requires that all contracts include new elements and go through a new approval process. As one of the first state agencies to deal with these new requirements, we’ve been proactive in collecting all the required information from each grantee for insertion into the contracts. Now we’re just waiting for approval to start sending out payments. In the end this bill will provide a useful resource to Florida’s taxpayers. They’ll be able to log onto a website and see exactly where state dollars are going and what they’re being spent on. After signing the bill, Governor Scott applauded the transparency it will provide, saying, “As taxpayers, we deserve to know if we are getting a return on investment for our money.” We’re confident that through arts and culture, Floridians are getting a positive return on investment as the economic impact of the arts is clear and show that Culture Builds Florida. We just wish it didn’t create a delay in getting funds out to our grantees!

2014-2015: Looking Ahead and Panels, Panels, Panels!

In addition to dealing with grants that have just ended and are just starting, we’re spending a lot of time reviewing applications and preparing panel meetings for 2014-2015 grants. Applications were submitted on June 1 or June 15 depending on the program, and we received a total of 322 applications for General Program Support, 61 for Specific Cultural Projects, 29 for Cultural Facilities, and 169 for Individual Artist Fellowships. We’ve been busy going through and checking each application for eligibility and making sure that everything is in order to send it on to the panels. So far 125 panelists have been officially appointed for the 22 different panels that will take place between late August and early October, and additional panelists have yet to be appointed. Panelists serve on a volunteer basis and must be practicing artists or professionals who specialize in the area of the panels they serve on, and we are extremely grateful for the time they donate to this process. For the full grant panel schedule, check out our calendar.

Our file room is filled with stacks of support materials that were mailed in as part of applications.

Our file room is filled with stacks of support materials that were mailed in as part of applications.

After applications are scored, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture sends panel recommendations to the Secretary of State who then includes them with a request to the Legislature. In spring 2014 the Florida Legislature will make funding decisions and next summer this process will start all over again as organizations start their 2014-2015 grant period.

As you can see, this isn’t just a busy time for the DCA but for current grantees as well. As soon as they finish their application they need to start working on their final report while also filling out the required documentation for the grant that’s just starting. It can be a lot of work keeping everything straight while juggling three years worth of grants, and we’re rarely able to grant as much money as we’d like to Florida’s many deserving organizations. However, the end result is worth every document filed and phone call made because we believe that arts and culture are essential to the quality of life for all Floridians. The events funded through these grants stimulate tourism and enrich our communities. The arts provide jobs, bring people together, and remind us that Florida is a special place to live and work. 

If you have any questions about our grants, please contact a member of our program staff, and remember to let your community leaders and legislators know about the impact these grants have in your community so that we can continue to increase our support for Florida arts and culture.

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.

A Day in the Life: Karen Peterson and “Body without Text”

by Karen Peterson

Katrina Weaver, a dancer in Miami’s Karen Peterson and Dancers company, and I participated in a five-day dance workshop for individuals with and without disabilities in Belgrade, Serbia. I was the instructor of the inclusive movement classes and director of the final performance along with my Serbian colleagues, Boris Caksiran, the artistic director and Marko Pejovic, the managing director of Grupa “Hajde de” (group Let’s). This organization has a solid twelve-year history of inclusive arts and community social programs and serves a wide range of marginalized groups in the Balkans through hands on workshops and performance. They first brought inclusive dance to Belgrade in 2008 when London’s Canduco Company introduced equal rights in the dance studio.

Twenty six individuals, eight with documented disabilities, came from Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia came to participate in the workshop. Therapists, teachers, disability activists, students and dancers were among the participants. Many travelled six to seven hours by train or van to learn about mixed-ability dance in order to take information back to their home countries to start new groups or develop existing programs. Despite the past histories of these countries, the dance group moved seamlessly with cooperation and collaboration.

Many participants had years of dance education; others had little. However, everyone came with the curiosity of movement and the need to share and process. Self discovery was on everyone’s mind and all were encouraged to do their best and be engaged and committed to the creative process. We worked 10am – 5pm every day and dealt with movement improvisation tasks that were solved in solo, in duet or group form. Trust, honesty, challenge, understanding, patience, courage and dialogue were a few of the words that came up for discussion.  We created a safe space for communication and overcame barriers by showing what we could do by working intimately with each other.

A final structure was developed for the end performance by Boris, Marko and I. “Body without Text” looks at the labels, definitions and prejudices one places on a person before knowing the individual.  The final 35 minute performance with projections, new music and dance dealt with those many ideas.

There were eight participants with documented disabilities in the workshop (two blind, two deaf, two wheelchair users, two developmental disabilities). We were able to make a final structure for the performance where everyone participated equally. One hundred and twenty-five audience members came out to watch the performance at the Cultural Institution “Vuk Karadzic” theatre and audience members eagerly directed questions to the dancers after the showing.  New audiences experienced the joy of a diverse group moving harmoniously on stage while others cheered their favorite dance artist with audible applauds or the signing for clapping hands.

I would like to thank the sign language interpreters and the English to Serbian translators who were present for every class and rehearsal.

I would like to thank Miami Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Exchange Grant from APAP for their support in making Miami / Belgrade Dance Exchange possible. In many ways, lives were changed and new possibilities discovered.

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Karen Peterson is the Artistic Director of Miami’s Karen Peterson and Dancers, which was established in 1990. The group presents choreography created by dance artists with and without disabilities. The dancers collaborate, research, and integrate their personal movement styles and through improvisation discover an innovative dance language. The troupe acts as a positive role model for the disability community, offers new visual inspiration for traditional dance audiences, and provides the benefits of movement to children with disabilities. Learn more at karenpetersondancers.org.