Teaching Artist Spotlight: Margo Brooks

Welcome to our teaching artist spotlight series! Today we’re highlighting Margo Brooks, a theater professional whose SU-CASA residencies bring seniors and middle school students together to create performances based on their own experiences. Margo has been a teaching artist with BAC since 2016. Read on to learn about her most recent production with students and seniors in Brownsville: ‘Change is Constant… But Still We Rise’ A History Alive! Show About Immigration, Discrimination, and Aspirations.

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Margo Brooks (back row, fifth from left) with the Brownsville Players, students and seniors from her 2018 SU-CASA residency

How did you get involved with Brooklyn Arts Council?

I started with BAC when ESTA [Elders Share The Arts] hired me; BAC funded the program so they were aware of my work. I was leading an inter-generational program in Brownsville. A representative from BAC attended the final event and they sent a photographer. The next year BAC offered me an after school program in the Bronx. From that point on I was a BAC teaching artist.

What do you like about teaching inter-generational groups?

Personally, I prefer to work with adults, but those opportunities are few and far between. This is the only after school program where I get to work with adults. In the room, I enjoy watching relationships build between the adults and the students bonding with each other and across generations. Last year all of the adults became friends, and they still keep in touch with each other. The participants prefer to work with the other age group and will feel cheated if they are in a group with just their peers. Additionally, inter-generational programs build community. My participants come from the same area. The teens bump into the seniors on the bus and at the store. When you build a bridge between separate groups, it has an impact outside of our room that can be seen in the surrounding community. The students have learned about a lot of programs in their neighborhood, and the seniors know the latest trends in the area. I love seeing the ripple effects of the program. Continue reading →

Inside the Incubator: Womanly Magazine

Brooklyn Arts Council’s Arts+ Innovation Incubator is a fiscal sponsorship program for individual artists and emerging organizations. The Incubator supports new artistic projects and ideas by enabling artists and groups to raise funds for nonprofit activities through tax-deductible, charitable contributions. Through the Arts+ Innovation Incubator, Brooklyn artists and arts organizations can take advantage of our online fundraising platform, receive advice and coaching on project management and development, and more.

Today we’re spotlighting Womanly Magazine, a health and art publication that successfully raised $18,000 in 2018 as a BAC fiscal sponsee! Womanly aims to lift up narratives often omitted in women’s magazines, highlighting discrimination in the health care system, inter-generational concerns, and issues of physical and sexual health expression. We asked founder and editor-in-chief Attia Taylor about the magazine and her experience with BAC’s Arts+ Innovation Incubator.

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Dementia & Alzheimer’s, illustration by Maia Boakye from Womanly Magazine Issue No. 3

What sparked the idea for Womanly? How did you decide to combine art and health in one publication?

Growing up, I noticed major cultural barriers and information gaps that prevented important discussions about very common health concerns in my family and community. Womanly Magazine was born out of a need to see the health experiences of women who look like me reflected in accessible media. We created this magazine to fill the information gaps that we often see in our communities due to stigma, shame, inequality, and miseducation. As an artist, it felt natural for me to look to other creatives to build a publication that could reach people through art – whether that be through film, music, literary, or visual art. It’s a bit like hiding the medicine in the food.

Continue reading →

Guiding through gourds with Cheryl Thomas

In some grade-school hallways, she’s known as The Gourd Lady.

“It really warms me that I’ve made such an impression on these kids through gourds,” says BAC teaching artist Cheryl Thomas. For years, Cheryl could be found working in schools and libraries throughout New York City, teaching the art of making shekere instruments from gourds to students of all ages. An expert at both playing and making the instrument, Cheryl carefully talks students through the process: washing gourds that she obtains straight from the farms, cutting them, hollowing them out, and stringing and beading them for embellishment.

“I’ve seen so many children and adults blossombecause it’s something they don’t think they can do at first. But I’m here to work with them step by step.”

Cheryl emphasizes walking participants through her entire process for full engagement, so the learning can be shared with family and friends. Cheryl’s artistic practice, which spans nearly four decades, goes far beyond the classroom.

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Cheryl demonstrating gourd beading technique. Photo by Christopher Mulé.

Over the span of 40 years, Cheryl has made 100,000 shekere instruments. A frequent supplier to music, dance, and theatrical companies, Cheryl is an impressive one-woman assembly line, accustomed to filling her living room wall-to-wall with gourds during high-demand seasons.

An established traditional folk artist working in Brooklyn, Cheryl’s entrée into her art form could be described as untraditional at best. After the birth of her daughter in her 20s, she attended a Gil Scott-Heron concert in Brooklyn where she first heard the shekere as part of the soul and funk musician’s ensemble, and knew, that it was meant to be her instrument.

From there, Cheryl connected with local musicians and folklorists working with shekeres, eventually coming under the mentorship of James Hawthorne “Chief Bey,” the accomplished jazz percussionist and African folklorist (who passed in 2004). By participating and performing in African American cultural celebrations, Cheryl honed her skills of both performance and craft.

Through her growing artists network, Cheryl first encountered Brooklyn Arts Council in the 1980s while it was still BACA, the Brooklyn Arts and Cultural Association. Here, she met Dr. Kay Turner, who first founded BAC’s Folk Arts department. Cheryl’s initial involvement with BAC was primarily through public performances and events throughout the borough. After taking a pause from her artistic practice to attend to her family, Cheryl reconnected with BAC again in 2014 through current Folk Arts Director Christopher Mulé. A regular attendee at his Folk Arts Society meetings, Cheryl joined an organizing team of folk artists whose voices help contribute to real programming and decision making—from which a support network of artists has emerged. This past summer, Cheryl led gourd workshops at the The Art & History of J’Ouvert and was on the organizing team of the Brooklyn Roots Festival as part of BAC Folk Arts’ Tradition as Resistance series.

“It gave me more of a sense of worth and purpose as a folk artist to see other traditional artists in their forms, and see that they could relate to me,” said Cheryl. “I have more of a sense of inclusion as a folk artist now.”

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In addition to supporting programs through BAC’s Folk Arts department, Cheryl works with senior citizens throughout Brooklyn as a teaching artist for our SU-CASA creative aging residencies. Most recently, Cheryl worked at the Hazel Brooks Senior Center in Flatbush leading a Guide to Gourd residency, a comprehensive exploration of the history and craft behind gourd instruments.

“As I’ve gotten older myself, I’ve been fascinated working with older adults. It’s a different experience but I use the same process of teaching,” said Cheryl. “The seniors are really tickled by everythingthe activity sheets, the gourd puzzles, the word searches. We’ve had some funny responses but great interaction and inspiration with them.”

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Cheryl and residency participants at the Hazel Brooks Senior Center. Photo by Sydney Toon.

Many of the seniors Cheryl has encountered have immigrant backgrounds and are oftentimes familiar with gourds in their own traditions, providing an opportunity for more storytelling and cultural exploration. While working in the school system, Cheryl has also observed an increase in more diverse student populations over the years, bringing more cultural backgrounds into the room. Here, children become “Cultural Gourd Detectives,” using the gourd as an object of inquiry to interview family members, asking them what significance gourds might have in their home countries. Opportunities like these help foster cultural pride while bringing generations of a family closer together.

“Everyone’s learning without realizing that they’re learning,” says Cheryl. “It’s fun, different, and unique.”

 

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BAC is proud to work with Cheryl as just one of countless artists whose talents are amplified by BAC’s programs and services. Artists like Cheryl need BAC’s services to thrive, but we can’t do our work alone.

During this season of giving, we hope we can count on your generosity so we can continue to sustain Brooklyn’s artists where they live and work. We know that when artists succeed, Brooklyn’s communities flourish. You can be a part of that effort today.

Between now and December 31, 2018, your donation to Brooklyn Arts Council will be matched dollar for dollar by BAC’s Board of directors – doubling the impact of your giving. If you can, please consider making a gift here.

Grantee Spotlight: Apogee Journal

Brooklyn Arts Council has been providing Community Arts Grants to Brooklyn’s artists, cultural ambassadors, arts organizations, and communities for almost 40 years, putting city and state cultural dollars directly into the hands of the artists and organizations. In our Grantee Spotlight series, we’re highlighting some of those artists and groups who contribute so much to the cultural vitality of Brooklyn. 

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Credit: Victoria Sin, Film still from Part Four/Cthulhu Through the Looking Glass, 2017.

Organization: Apogee Journal

Apogee is an art and literary journal whose mission is to provide a platform for underrepresented voices, engaging identity politics and activism in works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art. This spring, Apogee’s Writing Resistance workshop series offered affordable and inclusive classes taught by Apogee editors and contributors, and just last week the journal published its eleventh issue. Read on for more about how Apogee used their BAC grant, challenges they currently face, and where they turn for inspiration. 

What has your BAC grant helped you accomplish?

Apogee Journal is committed to keeping writing relevant and accessible. Our BAC grant helped us to put our beliefs into practice, to grow our literary community, and to provide space, time, and some creative nourishment to NYC writers.

How have you grown from your first BAC grant? In what ways is Apogee a different organization now?

The Writing Resistance workshops have very much changed our organization. Many of the participants from the workshops have joined Apogee’s team, or sent us work during our reading periods. The workshops have expanded Apogee beyond the journal page and into the world of NYC writers. We love the workshops so much that they’ve become a part of our annual programming, which we hope to continue for many years to come.

Continue reading →

Supporting artists like Danielle, all over Brooklyn

Danielle Brown is an artist whose work makes Brooklyn a better place. As a teaching artist, performer, and a Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) Community Arts Grants recipient,  Danielle works with BAC in a multitude of ways to share her talents with communities across the borough. Read on to find out how Danielle’s multi-faceted artistic approach brings together music, dance, writing, and more.

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Danielle is a musician and scholar whose work focuses on the music of the Caribbean and the intersection of music, spirituality, and healing. Since 2014, her publishing and production company, My People Tell Stories, has provided workshops, seminars, performances, and resources aimed at encouraging people of color and other historically marginalized groups to share their own stories. Her book, East of Flatbush, North of Love, is an ethnographic memoir about community, music, and growing up in East Flatbush. We recently asked Danielle about her work with BAC and what she has coming down the pipeline.

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How did you first get involved with BAC?

I first became involved with BAC after receiving a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Fund to launch my project My Music, My Culture: The Caribbean Diaspora in Brooklyn, a musical adaptation of my book East of Flatbush, North of Love: An Ethnography of Home.

Your work is so multi-faceted, how would you describe your artistic practice?

My artistic practice is essentially about using the arts—whether music, dance, or literature—to educate people about something. Teaching or educating has always been a part of my artistic practice and is an integral function of my work. Directly or indirectly, music can be used to teach an array of topics—from food to psychology—and so I want to use music to get people to think, and to think especially about how they can make themselves and/or the world in which they live better. Continue reading →

Help support artists like Aeilushi

Artists come to BAC with a need – for funding, skill development, employment, networking, and more – and we in turn open countless doors to support and share their work with Brooklynites. From distributing grants, to providing arts education programs, to supporting professional development for artists, to commissioning public artworks, BAC creates avenues for each artist to develop and present art that inspires and reflects residents of all of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods.

One such wide-reaching BAC artist is Aeilushi Mistry. A dancer born and raised in India and trained in Bharatnatyam dance, Aeilushi moved to the United States in 2001. She won her first BAC grant to fund her work in 2013, and we’re proud to say she has been with us ever since – enlivening BAC’s work in myriad ways just in the past year:

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Aeilushi is just one of thousands of artists whose talents are amplified by BAC’s programs and services. Artists like Aeilushi need BAC’s services to thrive, but we can’t do our work alone.

During this season of giving, we hope we can count on your generosity so we can continue to sustain Brooklyn’s artists where they live and work. We know that when artists succeed, Brooklyn’s communities flourish. You can be a part of that effort today. Between now and December 31, 2018, your donation to Brooklyn Arts Council will be matched dollar for dollar by BAC’s Board of directors – doubling the impact of your giving. If you can, please consider making a gift here.

Thank you for your continued support, and best wishes for a healthy and joyful holiday season!

Grantee Spotlight: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

Follow our Grantee Spotlight series as we catch up with previous BAC grantees to learn more about the kind of work this funding can help support, and what these artists and organizations are up to now.

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The cover of MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora, edited by Laylah Amatullah Barrayn and Adama Delphine Fawundu.

Artist: Laylah Amatullah Barrayn

Laylah Amatullah Barrayn is a documentary photographer whose work has been published by the New York Times, The Washington Post, the BBC, Vogue, and more. She is the curator of an upcoming exhibition of photographs from the McKinley Collection that focuses on constructions of African womanhood. 

What sector of the arts do you dedicate yourself to and why?

I am mainly a documentary photographer, I am learning video and hope to be more skilled in that medium.

What has your BAC grant helped you accomplish?

The last BAC grant that I received allowed me to publish MFON, which is an anthology featuring the works of women photographers of African descent. It is the first book of its kind since 1986. Continue reading →