Rhode Island Cultural Anchor: Elizabeth Duffy

beth2017-elizabeth-duffy.jpgElizabeth Duffy is a multidisciplinary artist whose current work explores the subject of incarceration and its intersection with domestic life. Her work is influenced by feminist art, interior decoration and craft, and the complicated ideals of home. She is the 2019 RISCA Fellow in Three Dimensional Art, and Merit Fellow in Craft.

We asked her a few questions about her life and art-making in Rhode Island for our series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.

 

RISCA: What do you love about the art community/scene in Rhode Island?

ED: I love how Rhode Island embraces artists who live here. I 1rhodelslandinstallationsm - elizabeth duffylove that space is affordable, so you can have a decent studio (with a window!) to make work. I came here from New York City 13 years ago, and I’ve felt the resources and engaged community here have really helped me find new directions in my work. I’m fascinated by the long history of making in Rhode Island, and the way those spaces and tools are being reused to make art. Anything feels possible in Rhode Island.

RISCA: What are you the most excited about right now in your art practice?

ED: I’ve been so inspired by the myriad historic spaces in and around Rhode Island. I love historic house museums and sites and these have motivated me to explore the role of place in my work more deeply.

Duffy_3-Unraveling-Chase-Bank-Prison-Funding-project-elizabeth-duffy.jpgRISCA: Why do you do what you do? What inspires you, drives you, to create or enable the creation of art?

ED: I’m in awe of the majestic beauty that surrounds us here in Rhode Island–its natural beauty and its architecture is inspiring. I’m also driven to make work about social justice issues & I want my work to reflect the fury in our national conversation, past and present.

Rhode Island Cultural Anchor: Dr. David Neves

NevesPhoto1 - David Neves

Dr. David Neves is the Director of Youth Wind Ensembles for the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School and coordinator of music education at the University of Rhode Island. In June, 2017, Dr. Neves retired from his position as Director of Fine and Performing Arts for the Needham Public Schools, Needham, Massachusetts, completing 41 years of full time work in public school music education. Prior to Needham, Dr. Neves served 29 years as a Music Teacher, Supervisor and Director of Bands in Scituate, Rhode Island.

We asked him a few questions about his life and art-making in Rhode Island for our new series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.

RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday- what did you do in both your personal and professional life.

DN: My typical day begins with a daily walk and exercise program to clear my mind, work on my body (which needs a LOT of work) and generally get energized for the work. Being retired from full-time work enables me to spend my time doing what I love to do on my own terms. Currently, that means spending about 2 hours a day playing my horns (saxophone, clarinet, flute), 1 to 2 hours reviewing /studying scores for Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble (RIPYWE) rehearsals and future concert repertoire, and then on to work for my position as URI Coordinator of Music Education. This might include reviewing student teacher reflections, videos of teaching, prepping for upcoming seminar lectures, and researching topics and trends in music education. I also, at times, am preparing for workshops, clinics, and other supportive meetings I take on with local music teachers, school bands, and music programs, who reach out for advice. I also am able to keep up with professional readings on music education and our musical culture in general. Finally, in addition to my conducting, playing, and clinicing, I have a few private saxophone students who I adore that I teach weekly. In addition to the pure joy of teaching them, it keeps me engaged with many of the same challenges that my URI student teachers deal with in their placements. So, in a nutshell, I spend my days only doing what I absolutely love to do: teach music, play music, support music educators, promote music education as a vital part of every single student’s education, and keep myself growing musically and intellectually — while still having the extra time for the most important joys of life, my family–my wife Janice, my daughters Kristin, Jennifer and Amanda, and of course my two insanely wonderful grandsons, Alex and William!

RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?

DN: My parents, both immigrants from Portugal, chose to make RI their home, and thus mine. The rich mixture of our Portuguese heritage with the potpourri of the entire American melting pot is easily accessible, and always visible in our state. I guess I am a bit of a “home body” having been born here, grown up here, gone to school nearby (Boston), and then with my professional life primarily here and in nearby Massachusetts. Though I’ve never called any other place home, I’ve traveled enough, and seen enough to know that RI is still where I always want to come back to – my heritage and history is here, and I love being able to relive it and be reminded of how lucky I’ve been every single day. AND, at the same time, being so relatively “close” to other incredible cultural centers, including Boston, NYC, Canada and even Western Europe makes it a great place to call my home base.

RISCA: Why do you do what you do? What inspires you, drives you, to create or enable the creation of art?

DN: I can’t imagine a world without it – and I know the power of music to transform lives for the better – the more music, the more joy and beauty in the world! I cannot thank enough my parents for mandating that I start taking lessons on my saxophone when I was 8, and “making” me practice! Neither of them were musicians in any way yet, for some reason, they just knew it was a super great thing to make their kids do! Thanks Mom and Dad!!

RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?

DN: We need to change the pervasive concept that so many adults, including some of our own artist/musicians and most educational leaders, have: that high level music experiences are just for those who are especially gifted and talented, or have an ingrained personal desire for it. Music is no different then math: some people figure it out more easily and quickly then others, but EVERYONE has the ability to be musically expressive in some way, and our educational institutions need to make it a priority for all students through college. This will eventually transform all adults into much more collegial, connected, expressive, sensitive, empathetic human beings whose lives will be enhanced and transformed via intimate involvement with the beauty of the arts. RI started down a great path back in the early 2000s, when we “mandated” that all students needed to demonstrate proficiency in one of the arts in order to graduate. We need to revisit that and make it authentic again for all students.

Rhode Island Cultural Anchor: Chris Dalpe

dalpe makeupChris Dalpe is the Communications and Events Manager at The Steel Yard by day (and also evenings and weekends) and super engaged in creating and supporting other creatives by night (and daytime and weekends). He’s been in Providence for five years, with no plans to ever leave.

We asked him a few questions about his life and art making in Rhode Island for our new series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.

RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday- what did you do in both your personal and professional life.

CD: When it’s not event season at The Steel Yard it’s not uncommon to see me with my face buried in my phone or on my computer – the curse of the tech-obsessed disconnected millennial, you ask? I’d like to believe not. I’m usually promoting an event, designing posters/booklets/marketing materials…or posting a story about something cool that steel yard (51 of 59) - Chris Dalpehappened. Yesterday specifically? I worked with a phenomenal local illustrator, Pitch Canker, finalizing the design for our Halloween Iron Pour Posters. After work, I scooted over to Cranston to Volunteer at AIDS Care Ocean State’s first Drag Queen Bingo of the season.

RISCA: What do you love about the art community/scene in Rhode Island?

CD: Our ability to collaborate and the enthusiasm I often find in helping one another realize our visions – it’s a little city that packs a big punch.

RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?

CD: Wowza, it’s been 5 years! I finished up school in Portland, ME, got my degree in Digital Art while I was working pretty hardcore for a bunch of local non-profits. My partner at the time shipped off to Michigan to become a master jeweler and change the face of contemporary jewelry as we know it, and I decided to move down to PVD and hang with my sister.  She’s a fantastic local RI horror author who just published her first novel, ‘Parasite Life’ by Victoria Dalpe- check it out!. So here I was… I fell in love with the quirkiness, the roughness of this city… it was a weird place. In just a few years both my brother and other sister moved into town and we considered it a full Dalpe-Family take over of the city and we ain’t goin’ nowhere.

RISCA: What are you the most excited about right now in your art practice and your work as an arts and culture administrator?

calpe-2.jpgCD: AT THIS VERY MOMENT, the next big thing is The Steel Yard’s 13th Annual Halloween Iron Pour and it’s going to be spectacular. Over the past couple months I’ve watched nearly 30 volunteers fabricate larger than life dinosaur sculptures and seen our Studio Managers Ben & Michelle work with a phenomenal group of foundry artists. ALL OF THIS work leads to one spectacular, hot, and inspiring night that we play with fire (safely).

As far as Death Drop Gorgeous goes, this weekend we will be paying homage to David Lynch/ Twink Peaks by recreating the iconic discovery of Laura Palmer’s body on the shore…. but, ya know, with a DDG twist.

RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?

CD: Money. Lol…. duh. (Even though some of the best, most inspiring and beautiful work comes from working with whatever the hell you’ve got money or not). But really, we need space and freedom to be weird and experimental. The moment we limit ourselves and attempt to make our work align with particular expectations before it’s even had a chance to breathe I think cut ourselves short. I repeat, get weird with stuff.

Rhode Island Cultural Anchor: Veronica Mays

Veronica in braids - Conaky MaysVeronica Mays began quilting in 2004, and got serious quilt fever in 2015. She is based in Portsmouth, RI and works to preserve African-American heritage and history, as well as her family’s history, through her quilts. She received a Project Grant for Individuals last year to create quilts celebrating African American history, as well as demonstrations, classes, and public showings of these pieces.

We asked her a few questions about her life and art making in Rhode Island for our new series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.

RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday – what did you do in both your personal and professional life.

VM: Yesterday I went to church, then entertained my Aunt Marsha who is visiting from California – I took her out for a lobster roll. After that, I prepared lessons for my week as an English teacher and got my clothes, lunches and thoughts together. I took a long leisurelyBlack Regiment - Conaky Mays nap, which I regretted because I woke up at four in the morning – tossing and turning for an hour. I woke up and cooked three nights worth of dinner – baked chicken wings, steak and onions, a big pot of yellow eyed-beans, oven fries, broccoli, and fried monk fish. When I was done with these obligations, I returned to the love of my art life – quilting. I prepped three quilted post cards, created a Barack Obama quilt pattern, and continued to spread material all over the living room, two bedrooms, and the dining room table.

RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?

VM: I was born and raised in Newport in 1961. I have lived in three far away places – Long Beach, California, Fairbanks, Alaska, and Naples, Italy – but I always return home.

RISCA: What are you the most excited about right now in your art practice?

VM: When it comes to quilting I am like a kid in a candy store! This year I learned several new (to me) techniques including multi-media collage, fabric painting, quilted quilted-post-cards-conaky-mays.jpgpost cards, bottles and blooms, and accidental landscapes. However, the quilted post cards have taken on a life of their own.

RISCA: What is the biggest challenge for you in your art life?

VM: The biggest challenge is having to put my supplies away so that my family can have the space to use for its original intended purpose! This creates a wrinkle in my fluidity.

RISCA:What Rhode Island artists and/or arts organizations most inspire you and why?

VM: I am inspired by URI Professor Robert Dilworth. He is an art professor, painter, and has recently become an incredible quilter. In addition, I love two organizations I am a part of: Quilter’s By the Sea and Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). Both of these organizations expose me to artists and techniques that enhance my skills and creativity.

See more of Veronica’s work on facebook or instagram, and catch her at the Broadway Street Fair in Newport on October 6th.

Rhode Island Cultural Anchor: Eric Bennett

Eric-Bennet-1 - Eric BennettEric Bennett is a Providence based writer and Associate Professor of English at Providence College. He is this year’s fiction fellowship recipient, for his novel Make Yourself Decent.

We asked him a few questions about his life and art making in Rhode Island for our new series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.

 

RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday – what did you do in both your personal and professional life.

EB: After dinner I polished a 250-word endorsement of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man for the student newspaper at Providence College; googled clips of the Chinese internet celebrity HoneyCC; read about Meitu apps that transform Shanghai selfies into universal fantasies of perfection and drive the booming business in plastic surgery in Chengdu; kept trying to record a MIDI part for “Broke My Heart on You” for the forthcoming Hopper album, Hopperesque; and typed up some notes on William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale.

RISCA: What Rhode Island artist or arts organization most inspires you?

EB: The painter Todd Ingham, now in exile in Oregon City, was an undervalued civic marvel throughout the years he roved the streets sorting plastic, gluing memory boards, painting the beauty in defunct bridges and saggy wires, and postulating how the divine delight of numbers, coursing invisibly all around us, structured reality, including the street plan of Elmwood.

RISCA: What do you love about the art community/scene in Rhode Island?

EB: On Monday and Thursday nights you can walk from your apartment in the West End big enough lieto band practice at the Wurks. On Tuesday night you can walk an even shorter distance to your writing group, comprised of brilliant, serious writers, meeting just off Dexter Field. On Wednesday night you can drive down to Cranston and drink a beer with Andy Davis at subModern Studios as he runs punk vocals through a wurlitzer and humors your affection for Bob Seger’s “Fire Lake.” On Friday, at Ada Books (also a short walk) you can browse comics drawn by locals, then head over to an opening at RISD or a play at The Players on Benefit Street. On Saturday afternoon you can chat with Mike Samos at Empire Guitar about what the band Geraldine’s up to. Do I sound like a promotional magazine? Who cares? This place is the best!

RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?

EB: Authentic German rouladen.

You can read more about Eric at ericbennett.org, and catch him at Writers Night during the Fellowship Exhibition at the Warwick Center for the Arts in March 2019!

New Exhibition, Block Island Airport Gallery

Kate Wilson at Block IslandThe Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) is pleased to present works by artist Kate Wilson on exhibit through September 18, 2018 at the Block Island Airport Gallery. The Block Island Airport Gallery presents the work of contemporary Rhode Island artists in quarterly exhibitions.

Kate Wilson is a fine artist who blends photography and graphic design to transform reality by elevating ordinary objects into fine art on a grand scale. Each artwork has a love note or positive word, hidden within to ignite wonder & curiosity.

Graduating from Skidmore with a BS in Education & Liberal Studies, studio art concentration, Wilson has taught both elementary school and studio art. She furthered her studies in the RISD CE graphic design program, and taught herself the art and craft of photography.  She has run her own graphic design and photography business before devoting herself full-time to fine art. Exhibiting widely throughout the New England region, Kate is represented by Candita Clayton Gallery in Pawtucket and Atelier Newport.

Exhibitors for the Block Island Airport Gallery were selected by juror Lisa Robb, Block Island’s public schools arts educator.

The Block Island Airport Gallery, a partnership between the Rhode Island Council on the Arts and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, promotes outstanding work by artists living and working in Rhode Island.  The gallery will present art to an ever-changing audience of local, national and international travelers.

About RISCA: The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts is a state agency supported by appropriations from the Rhode Island General Assembly and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. RISCA provides grants, technical assistance and staff support to arts organizations and artists, schools, community centers, social service organizations and local governments to bring the arts into the lives of Rhode Islanders.

About RIAC:

The Rhode Island Airport Corporation operates T.F. Green Airport, the Block Island Airport and four other general aviation airports in Rhode Island. A long-time supporter of public art in Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation has worked with the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts on a number ofpublic art commissions.

 

Droppin’ Knowledge: If the truth is told, the youth can grow.

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Left to Right: Eric Axelman, Oliver ‘Syde-Sho’ Arias & Taylor Lomba

The African-American proverb ‘each one teach one’ reflects a time in history when slaves in America were prohibited from learning how to read, do math, or anything that resembled gaining an education. It reflects the responsibility for every person to pass on the knowledge by teaching someone else. A local nonprofit, Pushed Learning and Media, has taken this proverb to heart- they visit middle schools, high schools, and universities, using a hip hop based curriculum to “promote critical thinking on the complexities of privilege, identity, and oppression,” and producing short documentaries and social justice based curriculum. Founded in 2016 by three friends, Eric Axelman, Oliver ‘SydeSho’ Arias, and Nikolos Gonzales, they came together as artists and educators to develop a bicultural and multiracial teaching cohort model. I had the opportunity to sit down with Eric and Oliver to talk about their organization, the evolution of their own racial biases, and their goals for the future of Pushed Learning and Media. Note: interview edited for length.

Precious: Thank you guys for taking the time to sit with me, much appreciated. Ok, let’s get started! Tell me about yourselves.

Oliver: I’m Oliver Arias, my artist name is ‘SydeSho’, I am the Program Director of Pushed Learning and Media.

Eric: Indeed! I’m Eric, Executive Director and co-founder of Pushed, SydeSho and I brought it together in 2016 and I’m also a hip hop artist – I rap; but these days I do a lot of film making as well, about half hip hop anti-racist work and half film making. It’s all anti-racist work, but right now the film making is on a variety of topics. So, right now the major film we’re working on is about the American-Jewish relationship to Israel/Palestine.

Oliver: A major part of the organization itself uses hip-hop culture as a vehicle or tool to open the conversation with youth, teachers and/or organizations about race, racial inequality, and social injustice – just about everything that’s going on in the country and what’s happening in local areas. So, specifically with Providence, we talk about the demographics and how now it’s predominantly a city of color but also touching on the fact that over 90% of the kids in the Providence public school system are of color but about 70% of the teachers are white. The racial disparity in the Providence school system and having the ability to have these conversations with teachers and students about instances people of color face every day is what we want to bring forth with our work but these conversations never happen; so, we use hip hop culture to engage in these dialogues, using relevant artists to talk about these topics.

Engaging students with a difficult yet all too common issue for people of color with instances of just ‘sitting while being a person of color’, ‘walking while being a person of color’ and ‘driving while being a person of color’ are everyday occurrences people of color will face. The reality of the matter is people of color will forever endure microaggressions and racial biases no matter how successful, well dressed, and/or educated.

Eric: You know, racism is kind of like the elephant in the room in all educational settings and all our educational settings are either majority students of color with white teachers or just all white students and white teachers. So, we basically have this system where white people are in control of the educational systems and then just never talk about it or the racial dynamics. In Rhode Island, you know, most of our work is with students of color but we also work with schools that are predominantly white. There are a couple of pockets in Rhode Island where the schools are relatively balanced but they’re the exception to the rule, and the rule is its basically all students of color or all white kids.

Precious: How have your own experiences prepared you or not prepared you for the racial disparities you see in your community and the world?

Eric:  I was told a story by a white RI principal, as a kid he was caught doing graffiti once, the cop asked me where he was from and instantly *snaps fingers* he was let go. It was like he told him what school he went to and immediately he was let go. And, as a white person, I can name many examples from my own life where I’ve broken the law, not in huge ways, but clearly broken the law and cops have noticed me breaking the law and have done nothing. I think about how intensely segregated Newport and Providence are, and what we do is use the unbelievably obvious nature of segregation in American society as a jumping off point to talk about the larger impacts psychologically and structurally of how racism operates. And I think segregation really underpins a lot on how it operates because we are so physically separated, the great majority. I grew up in rural Maine, so both physically separated on a large scale and then also in our individual cities, so again, you can grow up in rural Maine and never interact with a person of color and you can be in Newport in a city that is fairly diverse and never interact with a person of color. It took me a long time to process how very racist the area of Maine I grew up in is and if a person of color would walk by in my town, the stares would be so shocking. Our white neighborhoods in the inner cities can also be racist just as the rural areas, they might be more liberal and progressive on things but they’re just as racist and ignorant of the lives of other people since they’re not interacting with them in the same way.

Oliver: When I’m on the east side.. *pauses* when I’m walking you can feel it; and that’s the thing about racial tension, it’s something you can’t point out on paper or really pinpoint but people of color know that feeling all too well.

 

Precious: Of the schools you’ve visited in Rhode Island and the New England area, from predominantly minority public schools to predominantly white private charter and/or academy schools, do you see there is a lack of cultural competence between the students and teachers?

Oliver: It’s interesting because a lot of the teachers that work in Providence are predominantly white but they also don’t come from here. I can safely say they are not immersed in the culture or understand the situation of the kids and where they’re coming from. There are situations where [students are] mostly kids of color and the teachers are white, I still feel like there isn’t any cultural exchange where they’re learning from each other; because they’re just there to sit in a room and learn about an academic subject. There are no talks about how they grew up, a child expressing their situation at home, and of course we don’t want to get into a student’s private life but also, we want to break down those barriers. I think when a person of color can express their experience it can open sympathy or empathy for the individual and there’s more of an understanding as to why he/she is acting out or misbehaving.

Eric: You know…Every person of color must deal with, in most cases of their life, being the only person of color in the room whereas a white person can live their entire lives and never have to be the only white person in the room.

Oliver: A person of color can almost never escape having to interact with a person who is white versus a person who is white can find a situation where they don’t have to interact with a person/people of color.

Eric: And sometimes even when the white person does go into those situations its often as a position of authority and even myself dealing with my own internalize racism and things I’ve done is a difficult thing. One of the first teaching gigs I got was I had just graduated from college, so I was very qualified being a college grad *sarcasm* and was hired by an inner-city arts program and it was my first time working with students of color – I should not have been hired. I didn’t know how to interact with the kids, they thought I was this random white dude coming in. My first interaction with them was as an authority figure, it was a five-week program and I did not do a good job, I failed those kids. But often again white people including myself come in and take positions of authority with very little knowledge of the context and it doesn’t serve the kids or the teacher. I mean I also think that white people can obviously do a good job and can interact with people of color BUT if you don’t have that cultural context then you’re just a white authority figure and it’s not good for you or for them and you’re just going to be living a stereotype to a certain extent.

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When it comes to teachers, particularly white teachers in predominantly minority schools, I believe having a level of cultural competency is imperative to an overall multicultural learning experience. The ability to have awareness of your own cultural identity and views about difference, and the capacity to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families can help close the gap in education where cultural diversity receives scant attention. While some if not many students may remain in their homogenized communities through higher education and adulthood, teachers still have a responsibility not just to themselves but to their students as well to introduce multicultural curriculum that’s inclusive about ‘the other’.

Precious: How do schools reach out to Pushed Media and Learning? Are schools reaching out to you because they’re having an issue with these topics amongst the students?

Oliver: When we first started this work, you know and with every organization you must put the work in yourself and get out there. We’d done a few other schools which had given us our first opportunities, we made sure to document our time and experience with the students from past schools and from that they were really impressed with our approach, the way we interacted with the kids and of course our hip hop opening that really drew them into our presentation. Some schools have reached out to us and let us know what topics they’d like us to touch upon, like cultural appropriation and police brutality. Some schools are just more general, they just love our open discussion with the students. At this point, we’ve gotten a network of schools from private and boarding schools who want us to come out and have these conversation with their students. We also wanted to bring these conversations to cities like Providence with kids of color, Eric and I have totally different experiences and what’s great is that we’re able to come to a middle ground and talk about our experiences so openly and realize these instances happen all the time.

Eric: When we work with kids of color we are confirming this stuff is real and having outsiders confirming that is a positive thing and it’s not my place to tell people how messed up the world is and it’s a painful thing. I realize I’m a white dude telling you this and I’m so sorry this is how the world is but at least I can be open and honest and confirm what you already know. And often, we, as white people, we don’t really want to deal with the repercussions of racism and that’s because we don’t have to and I think it is positive to have white people be very real and honest.

Precious: So, what does the future hold for Pushed Learning and Media?

Oliver: We will continue to do the work with schools that we’ve been building relationships with, including expanding to Boston Public Schools, to just spread our message as much as possible throughout the country and if there’s an opportunity to go international, that would be cool. Obviously, we want the organization to grow. We want to have a broader staff, people that come from different backgrounds and perspectives that have different stories to tell. We’re giving the male perspective and there’ve been times where we’ve gotten called out by women because we don’t understand what it’s like. My whole goal with Pushed Learning and Media is specifically educate kids of color on the actual adversities they’ll face. My main goal is to educate them on American history and the way it plays a role in structural racism in America.

Eric: This is the first time we’re getting invitations from colleges and universities to share our curriculum, so that’s really cool for us. Unfortunately, we are still part time and it’ll take a while before we can be full time with Pushed Learning and Media, and we’re currently working on a nonprofit status for the organization. We really try to challenge kids to think about what their racist perceptions are of other people, even if you have good intentions they ultimately grow up in a place that’s racist, I grew up in a place that was ultimately racist. Often its painful for people to have to deal with their own internalized racism even if you don’t mean to be racist you’re going to have racist thoughts.