This article first appeared in Huffington Post.
Michelle Stoddart is a QCA board member with an inner artist.
As a child growing up surrounded by art, she was fortunate to see how her home and her life became a richer experience because of that.
No matter where her interests took her, Michelle has gravitated to art and found herself involved with the cultural scene in Queens. She has spent close to 10 years being involved with Queens Council on the Arts (QCA) eventually joining the board of directors.
I was curious. Why, exactly, is supporting QCA's work in helping artists important to her?
Here's our interview:
How does it make you feel to support the Queens Council on the Arts?
Personally, I believe in the arts, the value of art not only to individuals, but to people and the communities where they live.
To be involved with an organization that has a mission to support artists, arts & culture makes me feel I am doing work that is empowering on a multi-dimensional level. My work with QCA gives an artist the opportunity to share their art, make a business of making art, help communities, inspire others - it supports so much more than 1 person and brings out all kinds of feelings for all involved.
For artists, there is a sense of accomplishment, for neighborhoods, there is a sense of joy when their art is displayed. And when art contributes to the economic development of Queens and the city, the overall sense of pride cannot be underestimated.
My mom is an artist.
She is self taught and quite accomplished. I grew up in a home where every inch was covered with artwork. My bed was covered with her canvases. She brought me to all kinds of art shows, ceremonies and events. Her work was recognized by the Governor General of Jamaica and presented to the Queen of England. This is where my love and appreciation for the arts comes from.
When I was in school, many of my teachers were actually her students so I didn't catch any breaks growing up. I probably rebelled against the artistic expectations people had for me being my mother's daughter, which caused me to go in other directions. I didn't even know if I had any talent. But just last month, I went to my first Paint & Sip class at a fundraiser and I showed my canvas to my mom who said, "Oh, this is lovely! You painted this?"
Why was I running from this? It made me want to delve more deeply into the arts on a personal and professional level.
How would you describe QCA to a friend?
I talk to a range of people everyday and I say 2 things about what QCA does:
- It supports artists
- It is a go-to for resources
At our recent board meeting, we talked about QCA being "an umbrella organization" that spurs the development of artist communities and the world of art & culture in Queens. For me, the most important thing QCA does is provide grants for artists. Once artists know about QCA, they discover the other resources: the grant writing workshops, the artist talks and networking events. QCA is good about being in different creative spaces around the borough and does a good job bringing creative minds together to share work and find out more information. Artists can find out how to move forward with a project, how to develop a career as an artist building a successful business, what it takes to do a large city or state funded project.
The best first step for any artist is to go to the resource page on the QCA website and to look for specific topics. Pick up the phone or email for more information and to get some advice about where to go first. Everyone at QCA is very friendly!
What is the one particular thing QCA does that you feel the most strongly about?
I feel the ability for an artist to get a grant is a big draw. It brings many artists together and shows them other ways they can build community and become more involved. I believe this is the forefront of our mission.
As a board member, what is your vision for the future of QCA?
I think that our work with emerging artists is critical and must be celebrated in a larger way.
What if, for example, we worked on a project with LaGuardia Airport and committed our next grant cycle towards supporting artists from around Queens to create art that can be included in their new construction. This could be a multiyear strategy to focus and celebrate the work of borough-wide artists in a specific area, rather than having their work dispersed throughout Queens. You could think of this almost like a procurement process where you send out an RFP for work. Over time, this could be done to bring the same concentrated artistic effort to different parts of the borough such as the Rockaways, Jackson Heights, Hollis, etc. until eventually all parts of the borough are involved. I know QCA is already working with developers to make the local artist community an important part of new construction and growth of communities.
In this scenario, QCA will be gathering, supporting, vetting the artists in a greater effort to celebrate the borough's emerging artists for the benefit of the borough.
And what about working with the diversity in Queens?
I believe QCA must build strong partnerships and advocate with groups such as the Queens Theatre in the Park who champion work by Latin American artists, and Flushing Town Hall, a place known for presenting Asian art and the history of jazz and other American musical forms. Here again, I see QCA as the "umbrella", the one who starts, hosts and facilitates conversations. We are the ones to host breakfast workshops for organizations, big and small, to come together to talk about diversity in our programming, our workforce, our audiences.
QCA's work is filtered through our strategic plan which guides us to do more of one thing and less of another. Diversity is definitely a priority.
In addition to serving as a board member for QCA, Michelle is a trustee of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning, the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Queens among others. She is actively involved with the Queens Economic Development Corporation, the Queens Tourism Council, the Queens Museum and many more.
Artists, take note. Michelle has big plans for QCA to make it even easier for you to get grants and get your work out there in a big visionary way.
$5,000 is what each QCA Board member contributes so QCA can help more emerging artists every year. Maybe you can give that on your own today and brighten the lives of a group of people in your own neighborhood. Maybe 50 people can contribute and make donations of $100 apiece.
Every dollar we raise can transform your daily life into a creative experience, one artist, one project at a time.
Join Michelle in making it possible for artists to create moments of joy in your neighborhoods.
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