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.

Inside the DCA: An Intern’s Perspective

by Bob Evans

Bob Evans, former intern and current staff member.

Bob Evans, former intern and current staff member at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

I have this theory. The kids who dream about growing up and becoming astronauts, ballerinas, or other such fantastic professions usually end up as accountants or telecommunications network engineers. Not to say that those aren’t fantastic jobs, but to the average American eight-year-old, it’s much more accessible to imagine space or the stage. But the kids who shoot for, say, architecture or constitutional law might end up being astronauts, ballerinas, or…arts administrators?

Ok, it’s a little trite, as far as theories go.

All this to say I never would have pictured myself as a musician, let alone an arts administrator, let alone working for Florida’s state arts agency. I moved to Tallahassee to pursue an arts administration degree in the Florida State University’s College of Music, and, along the way, I somehow impressed someone enough to be invited to join the Division of Cultural Affairs as an intern.

I’ll be the first to admit to pretending I know more about the various branches and tendrils of state and local government than I actually do (with apologies to my dear, sweet, high school AP Government teacher). I understood that a state arts agency was typically a grant-making organization, but I had no clue how it functioned under the purview of state government. After seven months here at the DCA, I can assuredly say that it is just as complicated as expected but more wonderful than I could have imagined.

My duties include running for coffee, picking up dry cleaning, driving people to the airport…no, that’s wrong! All throughout my internship, I’ve been treated like a staff member, and given just as many responsibilities. I’ve worked with the Florida Artists Hall of Fame and seen firsthand the wealth of artists that promote and preserve Florida’s culture. I’ve helped organize Florida’s Poetry Out Loud contest, under the guidance of the recently retired Ken Crawford. This program, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, encourages high school students to memorize and recite poetry by truly great poets. These students learn how to perform on stage, and by memorizing a poem, they internalize it, which is such an under-appreciated skill in today’s world of instant access. Along with my brilliant colleague Tim Storhoff, I co-author a monthly review of arts and culture events in Florida, titled “Culture in Florida” after the motto “Culture Builds Florida,” which we post at the end of each month on this very blog (shameless plug: check out March).

Florida Division of Cultural Affairs staff members in front of the Brokaw-McDougall House on Halloween.

Florida Division of Cultural Affairs staff members in front of the Brokaw-McDougall House on Halloween.

By far, the most heartening part of the job is reviewing reports where an individual or organization has received a grant of just a few thousand dollars and created inventive programming that is not only artistically resonant but engaging to a community. In those moments, when I realize what we’re doing at the DCA is directly impacting someone’s quality of life, I’m sure that this is what it’s all about. That’s the it.

Recently, due to my keenly honed ability to be in the right place at the right time, I was offered a part-time position working with Individual Artist Fellowships here at the Division. I can’t believe my luck! I’m getting paid to do what I love, and this blog post gets a happy ending after all.

Culture in Florida: January

Culture In Florida

by Bob Evans

Culture In Florida is a monthly news roundup to show our state’s wonderful diversity, spotlight the organizations and artists that contribute so much to our communities, and stress the comprehensive benefits of arts and culture to Florida’s economy and quality of life.

7 Days of Opening Nights

Portion of a mural on Gaines Street in Tallahassee celebrating 7 Days of Opening Nights (Photo used with permission from

Happy New Year! January has been quite an exciting month for arts and culture around the state.

First up for 2013 are the many events surrounding Viva Florida 500. This statewide initiative led by the Florida Department of State, under the leadership of Secretary of State Ken Detzner along with Governor Rick Scott, highlights the 500 years of historic people, places and events in present-day Florida since the arrival of Juan Ponce de León to the land he named La Florida in 1513For a complete listing of events, including options to filter by type of event and location, visit Make sure to check out all of the events in your area!

The Bonita Springs Historical Society, in partnership with the City of Bonita Springs, is sponsoring a 14 week series of Florida history programs at the Bonita Springs Community Center. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m., program presenter David Southall will introduce a different historical era along with the interesting characters and events that influenced those times with a Florida perspective.

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville has assembled about 40 pieces of Florida art in a new exhibition, “La Florida,” showcasing art in Florida from the past 500 years. The pieces range from jewelry of the 1500s to contemporary works by Florida artists. The exhibition will continue until October 6th.

The Marcus Roberts Octet

The Marcus Roberts Octet will present the music of Jelly Roll Morton (photo used with permission from

Seven Days of Opening Nights is Tallahassee’s premier performing arts festival, promoting Florida State University’s commitment to the arts. This year, the festival welcomes Christopher Heacox as its new director. Two new murals on Gaines Street are representing the celebration of community inspired by the festival, which continues through February. Notable performances at this year’s festival are the stunningly virtuosic violinist Hilary Hahn, the innovative and visceral choreography of Abraham.In.Motion, and many others.

The 30A Songwriters Festival took place over the weekend of January 18-20 in Walton County and brought over 125 musical acts and throngs of tourists to the area. This event has been growing each year to become one of the best regarded music festivals in the country. Everyone in Florida should be sure to check out the many art and music festivals that take place around the state, such as those in St. Augustine and Lee and Collier Counties.

Thomas Nestor, a St. Petersburg music promoter, is racing to raise funds to convert a historic YMCA building into a concert venue, music museum and space for after-school programs. His success hinges on his ability to secure the necessary $1.4 million in donations to purchase the structure within the next month.

Music is such an important part of a comprehensive education, which is the reason that students at Florida A&M University took the time to create a CD that encourages students to do well on the FCAT, Florida’s statewide standardized test. The Character Center is selling the album for $10 to raise money for its summer camp.

Opening any business during a recession can be tricky, but the Art Gallery of Viera is flourishing. From its new, larger location at The Avenue, the gallery presents exceptional educational programs in myriad media, suitable for all ages. To keep its standards at peak, the gallery only accepts top-quality local artists for membership. The Plum Art Gallery in St. Augustine is also exhibiting local and regional artists through the end of March.

Richard Blanco, a Floridian, made history this month by being the youngest poet to serve as the poet for the inauguration of President Obama. Blanco is also the first inaugural poet who is Latino and openly gay. He personally delivered his poem “One Today” in front of the U.S. Capitol on January 21st.

Manatee at Wakulla Springs State Park

A manatee making its winter home at Wakulla Springs State Park (photo by Bob Evans)

Finally, if you haven’t been, head over to Wakulla Springs State Park for a chance to see the manatees, Florida’s state marine mammal. The manatees have been making their winter home in the state park for the past 5 years or so, drawn to the water which remains between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit year round. Orange City and Blue Spring State Park hosted the 28th annual Blue Spring Manatee Festival on the 26th and 27th, with events celebrating the endangered creatures.


Remember: February is Black History Month. Governor Rick Scott, Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll, and First Lady Ann Scott today invite students in kindergarten through 12th grades to participate in the Florida Black History Month art and essay contests. They also invite students, parents, teachers and principals to nominate full-time African-American educators in elementary, middle or high schools for the Black History Month Excellence in Education Award.

Check out these calendars of events from South Florida, Florida State University, and the Nassau County Library System

Spotlight on Folklife: Batá Drummer Ezequiel Torres

by Tim Storhoff

This week, master Afro-Cuban drummer and drum builder Ezequiel Torres will travel from Miami to Tallahassee with his ensemble in order to highlight the relationships between batá drumming, dance, and the Orisha religion. His two-day residency in Tallahassee is sponsored by the Florida Folklife Program and the Center for Music of the Americas at Florida State University.

Ezequiel Torres. Image courtesy/used by permission of HistoryMiami.

Torres was born in Havana, Cuba in 1955 to a musical family, and in his teens he began working as an apprentice to some of the city’s master drum makers and players. Soon he was performing batá in ceremonies and started experimenting with creating the drums himself. By the late 1970s, Torres was teaching percussion at Havana’s Escuela Nacional de Arte and was the musical director for dance classes at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte.

The batá is an hourglass-shaped, two-headed drum based on an African prototype. Batá drums are always played in sets of three during religious ceremonies. These ceremonies are part of the Orisha religion, also known in Cuba as Santería, Regla de Ochá, or Lucumí. Dating back to the arrival of African slaves in Cuba, it is a syncretic religion based on West African Yoruba traditions that added associations with Catholic saints to its numerous deities. In religious ceremonies, each of these deities or orishas has their own rhythm played on the batá drums as well as sung vocalizations and specific dance movements. Torres and his ensemble will be demonstrating these at their performances and workshops in Tallahassee.

Since arriving in Miami in 1980, Torres has been an important part of Florida’s traditional music scene. He is recognized as one of the top batá drummers, drum-builders, and beaders in the country. In addition to performing regularly in Florida, he has performed in Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Torres has worked with the Florida Folklife Program in various ways after he arrived in the United States. In addition to teaching, performing, and receiving various honors, he was interviewed for the Music from the Sunshine State radio program. You can download or listen to his interview and performance for folklorist Bob Stone on that program here. He has also been a featured artist at the Florida Folk Festival, and you can view his ensemble performing part of a song for the orisha Eleguá at the 2012 festival in the video below.

Blaine Waide, State Folklorist and head of the Florida Folklife Program, described Torres’s history with the program and part of the purpose of this trip, which includes his first performance in the state capital:

The Florida Folklife Program has been working with Ezequiel Torres for several decades.  He has participated in our Apprenticeship Program as a Master Artist six times, passing his expert knowledge of the Afro-Cuban batá drumming tradition to seven apprentices.  In 2008, we recognized him with a Florida Folk Heritage Award, and he is the most recent Floridian to win a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, which he received in 2010. Given his many notable contributions to maintaining a living Florida tradition in his South Florida Cuban community, we are excited to introduce him to new audiences in North Florida, and the state capital, where he will be able to share his knowledge and exceptional artistry with a public audience, along with local school children and graduate students at Florida State University.

The Florida State University College of Music’s Center for Music of the Americas is co-sponsoring Mr. Torres’s visit as well as coordinating his workshop at FSU. The director of the Center, Dr. Denise Von Glahn, said about this first collaboration with the Florida Folklife Program:

The Center for Music of the Americas at Florida State University is excited to be partnering with the Florida Folklife Program and Mission San Luis in bringing master Afro-Cuban batá drummer and drum-maker, Eqezuiel Torres, to Tallahassee for a two-day artist residency.  Mr. Torres’s visit exemplifies the goals of the Center, which include encouraging scholarship, performance, and the dissemination of musics found throughout the American Hemisphere, by reaching out across the university and our larger North Florida community.

On Thursday, September 6, Mr. Torres and his ensemble will give a free public performance and presentation in the Mission Room at Mission San Luis from 7-8:30 PM. On the morning of Friday, September 7 there will be a performance and student workshop at Ruediger Elementary School, and that afternoon from 2:30-4:30, he will give a student drumming workshop in Lindsay Recital Hall in FSU’s Kuersteiner Music Building, which is free and open to the public. For more information on this event and others, follow the Florida Folklife Program on Facebook at For an additional interview with Ezequiel Torres as well as a video, check out the National Endowment for the Art’s profile of him as a 2010 National Heritage Fellow.

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: Division Staff Member Gaylen Phillips

by Ashley Kerns, Florida State University School of Theatre

Gaylen Phillips first hit the boards of a stage growing up in Jacksonville, Florida. “I did my first play when I was ten years old, and I haven’t stopped since,” says Phillips, as she prepared for her role as Jeannette Burmeister in the Florida State University School of Theatre’s performance of The Full Monty.

Dr. Gaylen Phillips

Phillips’ theatre career brought her to Florida State more than twenty years ago when she received her PhD from the School of Theatre. “I didn’t do any performing when I was getting my doctorate because I didn’t have time. Working on my PhD was the hardest thing I have ever done.” Through the years, however, Phillips has hit the FSU stage periodically to take in the energy of the student-driven environment. “I have performed several times at FSU, including Pippin and The Fifth of July. This is tremendous training for these kids. It is a special program with really high standards, which I think is evident when people from the community support it so much. They know that you’re going to get a good production.”

Phillips’ involvement in the world of the arts extends far beyond her roles on stage. She serves as the Associate Director of Arts Resources and Services for the Division of Cultural Affairs at the Florida Department of State, where she fosters the arts in Florida through grant, information, and education programs. “I never imagined that I’d end up in a government arts job but it is exciting. Over the years I’ve come to see the necessity of government funding for the arts. At the state level one of our main goals is to provide equal access to the arts. From whenever you’re born to whenever you die, we’re all over the place. The arts are involved in so much that we do that we don’t even think about it,” Phillips says with a smile. Her work at the Department of State has helped lead to arts exposure for millions of people through the years, specifically to students in grades k-12. Since opening in 1979, the State Touring Program (Florida Arts on Tour), which Phillips heads, has served over 4 million people.

When asked about the greatest challenge facing the arts today, Phillips cleverly notes that the economy isn’t necessarily the only roadblock, but that people feeling like the arts aren’t accessible to them is something that needs to be addressed. “Of course financing is a big thing but that is so obvious. It is interesting to get people to stop and think about how the arts impact their daily lives. I think if they did that they would not feel excluded. People say to me ‘well I don’t have anything to do with the arts’ and I say to them, “do you sing in your church choir?  Do you knit afghans, do you do embroidery? Do you drive a car? Someone had to design that car. There are all sorts of things that impact us. It’s broad, it is everywhere and I think that message is a hard one to convey. It’s not just about going to the theatre, although you really need to and you should, it is about everything.”

That enthusiasm for the presence of art everywhere is what brings Phillips back to FSU to share her joy with students. “These kids are just so wonderful and wild, I love listening to them. When I have the opportunity to come back to FSU and perform, it is just a dream. Everybody knows and does what they are supposed to do. It is the closest to a professional theatre and it is an amazing opportunity for these kids. Everybody is held to a high standard – these kids know it and it is a marvelous training ground for them. I wish them all luck.” Phillips says that part of what FSU (and all arts exposure) provides is the opportunity to become part of the larger world, “We cannot create kids that are so narrowly educated that then they become narrowly engaged in society as they grow up. You need to be a whole person; you need to be happy and healthy, you need to be able to contribute to society.” Nobody lives that philosophy as enthusiastically as Phillips. If all the world’s a stage then the many parts that she plays come together seamlessly, shining a very bright spotlight on all that the arts can do.

Cultural Conversation: Heather Stuyverson

by Jennifer Hoesing

Today’s post is an interview with our talented new intern, Heather Stuyverson. Heather is pursuing a Master’s degree in arts administration at the Florida State University College of Music. Why did Heather choose an arts administration career? Read on to find out.

Heather Stuyverson wears many hats. Among them - rocking the Stratocaster. (photo submitted)

How long have you been involved in arts and culture?

The arts have been a part of my life ever since I was in my mother’s womb.  My mother –a ballet teacher 30 years of her life– taught dance while she was pregnant with me. At three years old my mother put me in dance classes and my experience with the arts began.  I continued to dance throughout my childhood, but it was until I was seven I discovered my true artistic passion, music.

The instrument that drew me to music was the guitar.  Throughout my life I have played various genres on the guitar, but I mainly focused on studying the genres of classical and jazz guitar during my studies as an undergraduate at The Florida State University College of Music.  In 2006, after completing a Bachelors of Arts in Commercial Music, I worked at a prominent studio in Nashville, TN and had an amazing experience in learning the process of the music industry.  Four years later, I decided to return to FSU to pursue a Masters in Arts Administration and to dedicate my career to working for non-profit arts organizations.

Today my continued involvement with the arts includes completing my masters degree, serving as the house manager for all of the Florida State University School of Dance performances, serving on FSU’s Friends of Dance board, working at the FSU College of Music Admissions office, working as an intern for the Division of Cultural affairs, teaching guitar to seven private students, and performing around town as a guitarist in various settings.

Why have you chosen arts administration as a career path?

The arts have helped shape me into the person I am today.  Whether it is an undeniable musical progression, a dance sequence, or a color scheme in a painting, the arts strike a chord within my soul.  They have impacted me to not only see life from different perspectives but they have also enhanced and broadened my views on life.

Yet when I observe my peers it seems the arts do not have the same impact on their lives.  My friends seem to have a lack of interest in attending a symphony, theater or dance performance.  Because of this I often wonder, “Is the concert arts audience dying and specifically, is it dying within my generation?”

In today’s culture, it seems to me that popular artists are reaching their audiences in ways that other artists are not.  I think there is somewhat of an emotional disconnect occurring within our culture in regards to specific art forms. In light this disconnect, I chose to pursue a career in arts administration first because of my passion for the arts, and second because of my desire to broaden the arts audience. 

What do you think arts and culture contribute to Florida?

The arts and culture industry contribute to the State of Florida both intrinsically and extrinsically.  I often think about how our world is painted in color and not black and white.  There is an indisputable beauty that surrounds us everyday in the nature of our world.  I believe arts and culture only enhance that beauty of our world and furthermore our state.  They help us identify who we are as individuals and who we are as Floridians.  The arts and culture help bring communities together and are monumental in the education of our children.

It’s also important for business-minded individuals to see how arts and culture contribute to Florida’s economy. The question is often raised, “Why should we invest in the arts over investing in something more practical?” It has been researched and proven that for every $1 that is invested in the arts, $5 is invested back into the economy of Florida.  That is a 500% return on investment!  As well, the arts and culture industry in Florida is the third largest industry in our state.  Thus arts and culture are creating jobs and furthermore attracting tourists to Florida.

What is the single greatest contribution of arts and culture to your community?

Although Tallahassee is considered a small town compared to some of Florida’s more metropolitan areas, we still have a wealth of amazing local arts organizations, universities who are known for the arts and an incredible local arts agency.  As a Tallahassee-born-and-raised girl, I have seen how the arts and culture build relationships right here in this community.  I believe that’s the single greatest contribution.  The arts bring people together and they unify community members under one purpose.  Relationships between art teachers and students, community chorus members, fellow actors in a play, just to name a few, are invaluable and only strengthen a community.

Who’s your favorite artist or musician?

How could I choose just one?  The musicians that have been the most influential to me as an artist are Ana Vidovic (classical guitarist), Pat Metheny (jazz guitarist), Alex Fox (flamenco guitarist), Dianna Krall (jazz artist) and Alison Krauss (as an all-around musician).

Cultural Conversation: The Intersection of Dance and Deviation

by Dr. Gaylen Phillips

David Neumann researches movement for RESTLESS EYE. Image courtesy of

When Dr. Karin L. Brewster, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Demography and Population Health at Florida State University, got a call from Ansje Burdick at FSU’s Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC), she was a little puzzled. Choreographer David Neumann and his collaborator Sybil Kempson wanted a meeting with Karin to discuss statistics. David is a 2007 MANCC Choreographic Fellow who is currently on the FSU campus as a Visiting Artist where his work RESTLESS EYE is currently in development.

This piece is scheduled to premier at the New York Live Arts Partnership (supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts) on March 24, 2012. David and Sybil, accompanied by Ansje Burdick, MANCC’s Manager of Artist Services and Community Engagement, met with Karin on an October afternoon.

Dr. Karin Brewster

Karin didn’t know what to expect. What she did know is what David’s fact sheet said about his work: “Neumann’s company, advanced beginner group, will explore the realm between thought and behavior, between describing life and experiencing it . . . [they] will source various data sets and statistics based on everyday phenomena and translate this information into a deeply physical and human expression.” Sybil is developing the text.

“I liked David immediately; he has tremendous energy and charisma. What I really enjoyed was his curiosity. This drives his work,” Karin said.  David readily admits that his curiosity about everything has always been the biggest factor in his life and it is the most important tool in the development of his art. During this initial conversation, it became clear that David is interested in learning things that challenge his natural inclinations; he wants to follow where inquiry and process might lead with no preconceived ideas of the outcome.

Sybil, as the writer, was interested in the subjectivity of language/art versus the “hard rules” of science, and Karin responded that “science doesn’t exist without imagination.” But how do curiosity, data sets, and statistics translate into choreography? “That was the part I couldn’t grasp,” said Karin. “So the conversation with David and Sybil was fascinating.”

One thing the three talked about was the importance of repetition and variation to dance and to statistics; Karin even taught David and Sybil how to calculate a standard deviation, still not knowing how it would inform their work.  But, “when I attended his informal showing of the piece on October 27, I came to a new level of appreciation.” She laughed, “I’m not saying I fully understand how and what he does, but the process – the intellectual inquisitiveness – was a huge eye-opener for me. I had not thought about dance in such a way before. I now better appreciate the inspiration and originality that goes into choreographing a dance project, as well as the rigor. It was fascinating to see a performance piece in the making and, in particular, to realize the similarities in the process of creating a dance and ‘creating’ research. “

Karin was intrigued enough to ask to meet with David a second time; his visit on the FSU campus is limited and she said, “I don’t know whether this is silly, but it struck me during the October 27 showing as I listened to David explaining his process – particularly about the importance of data collection to his piece – that he might want to learn about how scientists evaluate the probability that their results represent what’s ‘true’ in the ‘real world.’ This evaluation process is where the standard deviation is truly important, and it reveals the leap of faith we make when we present our findings as reliable representations of reality.”

The second interview, then, took David a bit deeper into the underlying machinery of statistics, beyond the numbers to the realm of interpretation. “We can take ten random samples from the same population and get ten sets of statistics.  So, how do we know which set of statistics is right?  We can’t, but we can know that some sets are more likely to be right than others,” Karin recalls telling David.  “Statistics like dance is an approximation to something, a representation of some piece of the world.” This was an “aha!” moment for both of them as they realized the art of dance and the art of statistics are more connected than may at first seem obvious.

“This was one of the most fascinating and engaging encounters I have ever had,” Karin summed up. “David’s unique perspective has really given me some things to think about in my own research.”

Thanks to Karin Brewster, Ansje Burdick, Jennifer Caliennes, Ellie Couvault, Sybil Kempson and David Neumann.