Inside the Incubator: Womanly Magazine

Brooklyn Arts Council’s Arts+ Innovation Incubator is a fiscal sponsorship program for individual artists and nonprofit cultural 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.

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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.

Seniors at Phillip Howard Naturally Occurring Retirement Community learn how to make their own beaded shekeres from gourds with Cheryl Thomas 2

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.”

Cheryl e-blast graphic

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.

Check out some of the art you’ll see at AccessArt 2018!

 

Do you have your tickets to BAC’s annual affordable art sale? AccessArt is taking place on Thursday, October 25th this year at Usagi NY in DUMBO and you don’t want to miss out on your chance to add some affordable art to your collection! Read on to hear from a handful of this year’s artists about their contributed works:

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Meet Toni Williams, BAC’s New Board Chair!

This week, BAC’s Board of Directors was pleased to announce the election of Antonia (Toni) Yuille Williams as the new Chair of the Board. Toni most recently served as Vice Chair of the Board, and has been a strong presence in Brooklyn’s community development sector for years. We’re thrilled to see Toni take the helm of this influential group of leaders helping to guide BAC’s vision moving forward! We caught up with Toni recently to pick her brain about working with the BAC Board, her observations of Brooklyn, and her hopes for BAC for the future:

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Antonia (Toni) Yuille Williams

What attracted you to joining the BAC Board of Directors initially? 

I was introduced to the great work of Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) when I first joined Con Edison back in 1990. Con Ed had been and continues to be a long time partner of BAC, back when the organization was referred to as BACA, the Brooklyn Arts and Culture Association. During that iteration, BACA was everywhere….in concerts, in local parks in Brooklyn, at Lincoln Center, and in Downtown Brooklyn, nurturing playwrights. I was an actress in another life, and have always appreciated, consumed, and loved to be immersed in the art world—all aspects of art, visual, and performance. Who wouldn’t be attracted to an organization that nurtures and preserves arts and culture?

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Stop-motion animation and murals bring students together

We’re celebrating National Arts in Education Week by sharing stories of how #ArtsEdChangesLives. Step into two residencies with us to see how students across Brooklyn learn and grow through BAC’s arts education initiatives: 

FY18_PS95_VISUAL_SydneyToon (20) - CopyBAC teaching artists provide hands-on learning experiences for K-12 students in a variety of arts disciplines including dance, digital media, theater, music, visual arts, literary arts, and more. Our residencies foster creativity and imagination as well as community-building and problem-solving by bringing customized programs to schools and students across Brooklyn.

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Mind Your Body

Dance education offers many opportunities for students to explore movement and rhythm physically, while also gaining valuable cardio-vascular exercise.  But learning through dance provides benefits that surpass strengthening muscles and improving one’s heart beat.  As BAC’s Dance Teaching Artists know, the art form can build a range of cognitive abilities and socio-emotional skills.

For example, pre-K students at PS 29 in Brooklyn, who studied dance foundations with Teaching Artist Asma Feyijinmi, practiced moving from high to low and in different directions.  These exercises helped them develop their spatial awareness while also increasing their sense of self-control, which is important for any four-year-old.

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Exploring NYC Through the Arts

FY16 217K Visual Culminating Event (14)

This past summer, second and fourth grade students at PS 217 in Brooklyn participated in BAC theater and visual arts residencies investigating the theme “Exploring New York City”. These residencies, supported through a long-established partnership with Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC), allowed students to bring their home town to life in fresh and personally-relevant ways.

Over the course 8 sessions, teaching artist Valerie Hager led students in creating an original performance piece which depicted life and landmarks in the students’ native city. “What is it you want other people to know about New York?” This question guided and grounded the fourth graders’ show plotline, which ultimately highlighted the various occupations and daily routines of New Yorkers.

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