In my role as Dean of Communication Arts, Humanities, and Fine Arts at CLC, I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done broaden and deepen our relationships with a number of key community partners across our district, particularly our work to support and promote artists and student artists of color in Waukegan. Indeed, under my leadership, we have adopted a community outreach and engagement plan for the arts as one of our strategic priorities as a division–which in addition to developing/sponsoring a number of academic and community initiatives and events, has entailed playing a convening role with a range of public and private stakeholders to expand support for the arts across the county.
CLC has had extensive programs in the visual and performing arts for decades, with particularly strong community engagement in our music, theatre, painting, and ceramics programs. The Robert T. Wright Community Gallery of Art has also served as a vital resource and cultural hub for community members to engage with one another through arts education, shows, and events on our Grayslake campus.
Despite this long and storied history, however, there was a perception among many district residents that the college had become quite insular, neglecting many artists and communities–particularly those that have been historically marginalized and under-represented in higher education Recognizing an opportunity not only to rebuild and modernize our programs, but to provide strategic leadership as a true community arts partner, we set about re-establishing connections with the diverse visual and performing arts communities within the county.
Over the past three years, we have takes several steps to revitalize our connections with the fine and performing arts partners in the community. First, we were so honored to be able to hire Ann Rintz as curator for our permanent collection and director of our Wright Gallery, which has allowed us to rebuild relationships with a host of community arts organizations. Ann has been pivotal throughout the recent pandemic in keeping our community members, students, faculty and staff connected to the Wright Gallery through digital exhibitions.
Second, we began meeting regularly with important community arts organizations in Waukegan, including the Waukegan Arts Council, Waukegan Main Street, Three Brothers Theatre, and the Genesee Theatre. This work has including having several representatives from our Division serving on the executive boards of these groups, but proving coordination and support within and between these groups with an eye towards creating a more comprehensive plan for arts outreach and education across the city and the county.
Third, we created a new position within the division, Community Outreach and Engagement in the Arts Coordinator, and were fortunate to hire Katrina Davis-Salazar into the role. As part of our strategic plan, Katrina has worked with CLC art faculty and area artists to plan two community arts series in Waukegan: Engaging Arts Scholars in Excellence (EASE) is our youth program that aims to support high school students in seeing their own potential as creators; while Artist to Artist (A2A) is meant to support working artists through workshops co-facilitated by CLC art faculty and community artists.
Finally, I’ve engaged faculty across our division to embark on a community focused interdisciplinary initiative we are calling Voices of Lake County, which seeks to engage students and district residents in a range of story-telling activities aimed at documenting and celebrating the lived experiences of their communities. Envisioned as a multi-year initiative, our focus this year is on, “The Postcards Project.” Participants are encouraged to think both literally and metaphorically about postcards, “to explore issues of identity and place using a variety of mediums–textual, visual, and auditory.” As part of this initiative, two of our Community Arts engagement workshops will also focus on “postcards” as a way creating additional connection and synergy across these different efforts.
We are currently seeking external funding to support this work, including major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and private foundations.
Most of these initiatives are being implemented now, but we have developed a number of metrics by which we will assess the impact and success of this work, including in-person and online engagement, participation, and ultimately, student perceptions of their engagement in “active and collaborative learning” through surveys such as Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE).
On a purely personal note, however, I was extremely touched and honored to be bestowed an Honorary Citizenship Award by the City of Waukegan in recognition for our work to engage, support, and promote the flourishing arts community in the city and the county.