Highlights from the Staten Island Arts’ Expanding Audiences Initiative

Photo Credit: SIArts

I am pleased to provide an update on Staten Island ArtsExpanding Audiences and Cultural Participation Initiative, which I first blogged about in June 2017. The two-year initiative, which was the dream of SIA’s Executive Director Elizabeth Bennett, is working with 10 local arts organizations. The goal of the initiative is to develop new strategies for audience development that incorporate the needs and interests of Staten Island’s growing diverse population of immigrants from a diverse array of countries, including Sri Lanka, Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa and Mexico.

My team—Toni HendrixRichard Pelzer II—and I helped launch the initiative. Since the announcement of the 10 local arts organizations this past Spring, we have continuously worked with the grantees, including helping to foster new initiatives; develop staff; engage prospective audiences through social media, coached them on marketing and new audience development. In this week’s Arts & Culture Connections, I am delighted to report on the efforts of three of the grantees, which clearly demonstrate they are determinedly engaging diverse audiences in-line with their goals.

Alice Austen House—Intergenerational Story Telling Through Photography:

In July, The Alice Austen House began its grant program by offering six sessions of photographic instruction to a group consisting of 11 senior citizens, high school seniors and allied members of SAGE-Pride Center of Staten Island. Representatives of the Gay Straight Alliance and leaders from local high schools collaborated with Alice Austen House Executive Director Victoria Munro and noted Staten Island Fine Artist Gwen Shockey to plan the six week course. Since April, two sessions have taken place in local schools.

Additional events were generated from this project: Ms. Munro participated in the annual SAGE-Pride borough-wide trip to Fire Island; a workshop and lunch was held at Alice Austen House, in conjunction with the Mayor’s office, and the group from SAGE-Pride heard a presentation from Carmelyn Malalis, the chairperson of the New York Commission on Human Rights. And all of the program participants are a part of the three-month Education Showcase Exhibition at AAH, which opened September 15, 2018.

Historic Richmond Town—Building Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

My company, Walker International Communications Group, has worked closely with the curator of Historic Richmond Town to hire a firm to look at the organization’s hiring practices and its efforts to reach a more racially diverse candidate pool. HRT worked with Future Work Institute to create a customized survey, which was sent to more than 200 members of its board, staff, women’s auxiliaries, contracted employees, and volunteers. The results were used by Future Work Institute to create a curriculum for two workshops on “Understanding Unconscious Bias,” which were each 3.5 hours in length. Based on the enthusiastic response from the participants, which included staff, board members and key stakeholders, a third workshop has been added. The curator also receives ongoing coaching on social media expansion and building partnerships.

Maker Park Radio—Open Airwaves!

Maker Park Radio, a community-based, streaming radio station, launched a combined programing and marketing initiative targeting African-Americans and Latinx-Americans, featuring month-long programing and special events seeking to engage these audiences. The special programing included guest DJs,local talent and live events. Maker Park Radio featured Hip-Hop music during the month of September, culminating with live performances featuring nine local artists. During the month of October,Latinx music has featured as part of the NYC Day of the Dead Festival, presented by Staten Island artist Irma Bohorquez-Geisler. And November’s programing focus includes a live gospel concert, featuring four local gospel quires. Maker Park Radio co-founder Kristin Wallace is creating two, hour-long radio shoes featuring each of the organizations participating in the Expanding Audiences Initiative.

Staten Island MakerSpace – Parent Creative Alliance

Staten Island MakerSpace launched Parent Creative Alliance, an initiative to promote their facilities to low-income and immigrant families, offering access for learning new skills, working on creative projects, or building their own small businesses. Staten Island MakerSpace hired Deborah Adewale as the Community Outreach Manger assigned to manage the Parent Creative Alliance. Ms. Adewale, who is an immigrant from Nigeria raised on Staten Island, created a Facebook group and seasonal newsletter to establish consistent and ongoing communication with families. More than just sharing information, she solicited their opinions about the skills they would like to learn and the types of programs that would be most beneficial. Ms. Adewale attends community events and has developed new community-based partners. Staten Island MakerSpace also has hosted several programs, including an Open House, a community garden outreach, woodworking and painting sessions for children, and participated in the Nigerian American Community Association’s annual “African Fest-NYC,” on Staten Island.

Through our team’s interaction with the grantees, we’ve learned that each arts organization is implementing its audience and cultural development initiatives based on their unique circumstances, resources, programming and the audiences they hope to develop. I am confident that this program is providing the tools to hire staff and develop program opportunities for building diverse audiences. Each organization’s capacity to consistently maintain and expand upon the benefits of this initiative will remain a challenge. However, the commitment and resolve of the organization’s leadership, along with the resources provided by the Staten Island Arts’ grant, make all of the difference.

I am looking forward to sharing the final results of this program when it concludes in April. We’ll have lots of accomplishments to celebrate and will have built a great foundation from which we can continue to cultivate and grow diverse audiences and cultural participation.