Fiber Exploration with Deb Cholewicki

During the summer of 2022, I explored fiber arts techniques with professional artist Deb Cholewicki. Our individualized work together included 10 hours on topics such as weaving construction and sculptural fiber compositions. These sessions enabled to incorporate professional weaving techniques into her mixed media artwork.

These professional development activities provided the time and space for me explore fiber techniques with the skilled teaching of Deb Cholewicki. The new skills I learned will be incorporated into future works of art and shared with the community at large through galleries and exhibitions.

Time and space dedicated to professional learning and development is incredibly valuable, as it offers the opportunity for reflection and a new way of thinking. All of this leads to a more successful creative endeavor for me as an artist. Special thanks to the Michigan Arts and Culture Council and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing for their support!

Distilling your passion into advocacy

An exercise to Develop Your Six-Word Reason, Adapted from Living Proof by John Capecci and Timothy Cage, as presented to Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center stakeholders, Fall 2018

John Capecci recently encouraged a crowd full of people at the Michigan Museums Association to develop a six-word phrase that defines their personal reason for involvement in museums. After the exercise, I volunteered to visit my legislator in order to receive a free copy of his book, which helped me understand the importance of sharing my story. I’ll share more about your assignment with you in a minute, I promise. But first, I would like the opportunity to entertain you with my story.

I would like to confess that I am an overachiever. I always have been. I found out recently while taking Leadership Lansing, there’s a “strength” for that. Achieving. However, at times I feel like I should join a support group.

As a measure of my success, I would like to provide you a few examples of my earliest achievements.

I eagerly arrived in the world several weeks earlier than anyone else anticipated. Despite my preemie status, I made it past the incubator. In fact, I climbed out of my crib at 10 months, brazenly headed down the stairs, and surprised my mom in the kitchen while my older siblings were napping.

When I was 8, I was the shortest student in my third grade class. By more than an inch. But that didn’t stop my short little legs from spinning faster than anyone else’s, earning me the title of fastest runner on the playground.

Actually, I began the process of overcoming adversity even earlier than that. My dad died in a plane crash when I was 3 years old, but that didn’t stop me from absolutely loving to fly. In fact, I find it rather spiritual. Most people don’t know this, but my dad was an artist, too.

After 15 years in arts and culture and two advanced degrees, this is where I choose to be, overachieving for you. For Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center.

Because the arts matter.

I found out that the arts matter as a bit of a diversion from my parents’ anticipated journey for me. My academically driven primary school experiences offered me success (and achievement) but little satisfaction. And then I discovered musical theatre. I sang and danced my way through high school, college, and across the country.

I took a Basic Drawing Class in college as a theatre credit, and I felt as if my heart stopped. It was not the professor’s looks, although Tom Rice often made my classmates swoon. Tom’s course completely changed my paradigm. I learned how to SEE differently, encountering the world as light and shadows, as edges and spaces. It completely transformed my life. Over the next three years, I lost hours while drawing and painting, honing my craft and learning to develop a visual narrative for my work.

The visual arts offer me a way to be completely unique. I create infinite color studies and make my ownachievements, which hold intrinsic meaning, if only for me.

In my role as an artist, educator, and administrator, my goals are to drive access for ALL people to this piece of our humanity. We quantitatively know that the arts are a driver for the economy, a vehicle for attraction and retention, and a means for community interaction. More importantly, the arts offer freedom of expression. They make people think. And feel. And discuss. They offer social commentary and are a first amendment right. For so many reasons, my six-word phrase is: THE ARTS MAKE LIFE WORTHWHILE.

I would like to highlight our collective achievements since I returned to the Gallery as the Director just over 3 years ago, which are impressive. We have doubled our Board, landed in the black at the close of the last fiscal year, established a dedicated arts education fund in memory of Dan’s daughter Erin Warmels, and hired two of the most qualified and dedicated arts leaders I have encountered in nearly 2 decades of service in the local, statewide, and national arts field.

What I want to achieve next is quickly becoming recognized as a national movement and was addressed at the National Americans for the Arts convention this past summer. I want to drive access to the arts in our community for ALL people. The Gallery is free and accessible, yes. But are we truly accessible to all people?

I recognize that our current strategic plan addressed priority areas as funding, brand, and location. These continue to drive our actions. However, I am equally as concerned that we should be leading the movement to provide equitable access and to seek diversity in all our stakeholders.

I would argue that we, as a collective, are poised to make a greater difference in our community and beyond. We can amplify this message. You are the group equipped to inspire systemic change for this organization.

I believe we should focus on continuing excellent, truly extraordinary programs, and focus on driving attendance to enjoy them. What would it look like if we tripled visitation next year? You can bet that would translate into increased sales and greater revenue.

What would it look like if we enlisted a cohort of not 5 dedicated volunteers, but 25. Docents and assistants can help with tours and workshops, become members or friends, and help amplify word of mouth about the Gallery and Education Center as a gem in our region.

I also believe that we must drive increased revenue to retain our current leadership. Attrition is not an option if we want to grow and be successful as an institution. Together, we can increase attendance, engagement, and ultimately, revenue.

I want to have the most excited Board and eager staff in any organization in our area. I challenge our team to consider presenting nationally, this time about Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center as a positive change agent.

I believe that you each have your own, unique version of why the arts matter. Now I want to give each of you a few minutes to consider a moment that changed your paradigm, shifted your perspective, or gave you that “a-ha” feeling. Why do you believe the arts matter? Why are the bright spots for you as an artist, art collector, patron, or volunteer? I will give you three minutes to freely write down your ideas, and then I will ask who would like to reveal their 6-word phrase.

Some other examples include

  • a gay-rights activist fighting for his two moms:
  • “Love is What Makes My Family”
  • “Gilda’s Club Gave Me a Home”
  • “An Art Mentor Changed My Life”

As an aside, this exercise is about the result, but also about the journey. It’s about a reason, not a goal. Think of your values and core belief system. This will help you share your story, distilling your passion as an advocate. And that’s one of the things I most want to achieve this evening.

Shifting My Paradigm

I have shifted my paradigm in terms of my own civic responsibility. Laws and politics previously held little interest for me; I believed that my role in society simply included doing good personally and doing well professionally.

Based on my research and recent political events, I now understand the critical role policy plays in our society, as well as my own obligation to take action. We are not in a post-civil rights era, and I have a critical responsibility to combat hatred, bigotry, and misogyny.

I can no longer stand by on the sidelines. I must address the serious injustices perpetuated in our country. Based on systemic racism as a factor in arts education, the temporary nature of ESSA, and our country’s human rights history as both instigator and outlier, I have established a rationale for upholding positive human rights in the USA and am proposing the inclusion of education as a positive right within a revised framework of the United States Constitution.

Distinguished Service

Acceptance speech, Distinguished Service Award, Michigan Art Education Association, 201

As teachers we are always learning, aren’t we? In order to teach a subject, we must learn it systematically and understand it profoundly. This was recently impressed upon me as I joined the faculty at MSU. My learning curve primarily involved online coursework, D2L, and my dedicated transformation to proficiency through their 24-7 hotline for tech support. Learning isn’t always easy, and persistence can be key.

I wasn’t that far removed from academia. After D2L tech support, I would like to thank University of Michigan – Flint, where I served as a nontraditional learner from 2014 -2017.  Dr. Sarah Lippert and Professor Nicole Broughton bravely supported my research and thesis about Arts Education as a Fundamental Right for Youth in the United States. They had no idea what they were in for when they accepted my application for graduate school.

My nontraditional internship, then nontraditional independent study, then nontraditional thesis research at U of M developed as part of an arts education research fellowship through Americans for the Arts called the Gap Analysis. I want to thank Kristen Engebretsen, who helped me be a better researcher and honestly, a better human. Together, we did discover gaps. We began to prove that although the arts improve students’ performance in school, work, and life, only some students are afforded these opportunities. I say this is unacceptable, and that together we can change that. If you agree, could you please give your table neighbors a high five?

To their credit, champions have helped me develop this argument along the way. Among many, Leslie Donaldson, Chad Badgero, Dawn Gorman, Sarah Triplett, John Bracey and Catherine Babcock helped me develop a vision for my work and pivot to positivity during a professional crisis in Lansing. I owe a debt of gratitude to our team at Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center for the opportunity to pursue arts education research and advocacy. Of course, I want to thank M-A-E-A, Kim Cairy, and my nominators Kerry Staple-bolt and Heidi Irvine, whose work I deeply admire. Could I please get a few snaps for them? My students recently taught me this. It’s similar to applauding but less interruptive, historically derivative of beatnik poetry, and super hip. Now you know.

Since graduating just over a year ago, I have worked closely with the MAEIA team and would like to thank both Kathys – Dewsbury White, Ana Luisa Cardona, Heather Vaughan-Southard for their inspiring leadership and team mentality to truly uplift our field. I would also like to thank my colleagues at MSU who have shared resources and served as mentors.

Finally, I would like to thank my family. My parents fostered a home where education was valued as a profession, a past time, and a primary focus for children. As an adult, I have been fortunate to enjoy a life filled with art and love with my husband Jon Whitney. As you can imagine, I am grateful that he believes in continued learning, too. Thank you, enjoy your camaraderi tonight, and be inspired!