Congratulations to Karen Barbosa – new Executive Director of Riverzedge Arts

karenCongratulations and best wishes to Karen Barbosa on her appointment as the new Executive Director of Riverzedge Arts in Woonsocket.

Barbosa, who assumed the position on July 10, first joined Riverzedge as director of the expanded learning opportunities program. She most recently held the position of education and youth development director.

According to her bio on the Riverzedge website, “Karen Barbosa is a self-described “teacher-nerd”; she’s been in education for over a decade and can’t get enough. Her learning journey has taken her from Colorado, to Vermont, to Boston, Massachusetts, and now Rhode Island. She is a passionate supporter of experiential education and is excited to see Woonsocket serving as a model for innovative hands-on learning programming in the state and nation.”

Congratulations, Karen. We look forward to continuing our work with you.

Grateful for the recognition – Pell Awards 2017

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Last evening (May 22nd) was the 21st Annual Pell Awards, an event hosted by Trinity Repertory Company to “celebrate outstanding contributions in the arts.”  The event was held in the spectacular new Waterfire Art Center in Providence.  RISCA was honored for its 50 years of support for the arts in Rhode Island, and shared the stage with a distinguished group of awardees:  Joe and Sally Dowling, Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, and screen and stage legend Jessica Lange.

It was a thrill and honor for RISCA to be recognized for the work it does on behalf of the arts in Rhode Island. I tried to express our gratitude in my remarks while accepting the award on behalf of the RISCA board and staff, but for me personally the best expression of our work is in the achievements of others. I couldn’t help but feel a thrill when Joe and Sally Dowling talked about their personal engagement with Trinity artistic directors and actors over the years, and how their commitment to an art form and an ensemble has meant the difference, not only for them but frankly for all of us who love the arts in Rhode Island.

I have long admired Ricardo Pitts-Wiley. He has a strong and steadfast commitment to the arts as an actor and director, and an unending work ethic. It has, sadly, been a challenge for African-American artists to build a career in the arts in this state and this country.  Frankly, agencies like ours struggle with the most appropriate ways to equitably support work by African, Asian, Native and Latino artists, and Ricardo has been one of our toughest critics, which – perversely, I know – makes him one of our most important friends.  In spite of the challenges – and with the help of his wife and partner, Bernadette – Ricardo has built Mixed Magic Theatre into an important company sharing the work of the African-American experience, among other works, with a Rhode Island audience.

Finally, I was moved by Shura Baryshnikov‘s introduction of her mother, Jessica Lange.  Shura talked about how her mother’s work and approach to life helped to shape her own as a dancer and performer, and how that inspiration is finding root in her own daughters’ lives.  This reminded me of the importance and influence of community. We Rhode Islanders take for granted the small size of our state, which I believe is one of our greatest advantages. Shura is the co-artistic director of the Doppelganger Dance Collective, and this young company has been influence by the dance, and the music, and the theatre and visual and literary arts it sees all around it.  Generations of theatre artists have been influenced by the work of Trinity Rep, and it has spawned a number of important companies and ensembles in our state.  The Rhode Island Philharmonic and its Music School have an outsized influence over the growth of music in Rhode Island. And the list goes on.

So, sure.  RISCA was absolutely honored to be recognized for 50 years of work on behalf of the arts in Rhode Island. We’re grateful to Trinity Rep and others for the award. But for those of us who work at RISCA, the excitement of helping to grow and support the arts in Rhode Island is, indeed, its own reward.

Some observations on diversity and equity as RISCA planning process begins


I’m fortunate to serve as a member of the Rhode Island College Inclusive Excellence Committee.  Under the leadership of RIC’s President, Dr. Frank Sanchez, and its wonderful Associate Vice President for Community, Equity and Diversity, Anna Cano Morales, RIC has taken a leadership role in promoting greater diversity, equity, inclusion and accountability.

Since these are issues of concern to us here at the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, I’m using my membership on this committee as a learning experience that will inform the work we do on our own strategic plan.

The committee met yesterday on the RIC campus for our first working meeting. After an introduction by President Sanchez we were led through a facilitated discussion by Dr. David E. Jones, a respected scholar-practitioner and director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.  Here are some of my take-aways from his presentation, and from the discussion that followed.

  • For the work to begin, be sure to establish a shared language, and then strive to “anchor” equity and diversity into the work of RISCA (how do we “bake it into” our work as an agency)
  • “Make folks feel comfortable with the uncomfortable” (thanks, Ray Watson, for that quote)
  • Reflection is very important to this process, and how we invite people in is critical
  • How can we ensure that this work is visible – internally and particularly externally?
  • For equity and diversity to thrive, ensure that there is an alignment of organizational culture with mission, vision and values
  • “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
  • We need the voices of privilege to speak up and speak out. A good example is the video “Cracking the Code: A Trip to the Grocery Store”, which shows that those representing the so-called privileged culture must speak out on behalf of equity and diversity for change to happen.
  • Name the inequities in policies and programs
  • Have a score card to hold you accountable
  • Best practices
    • prepare an inclusion annual report
    • have an online presence to showcase inclusion efforts – particularly on social media
    • identify an “inclusion representative”
    • reflect and support goals for inclusion in all programs
    • celebrate inclusion accomplishments and annual present awards
  • “Inclusion is not a service, placement or program. It is a Mindset.”

I’m grateful to Rhode Island College for including me and other community members in this effort.  It shows an institution that is thinking about the welfare of the entire community.  I look forward to all I will learn through my participation.