An Introduction to “Jessica Says”

An Introduction to "Jessica Says"
Photo credit above and feature slider: Shelley Dignum

Welcome to “Jessica Says,” a new column that will cover anything and everything I find interesting regarding the intersection of arts, culture, education, advocacy, technology and politics.

As I initiate my CFR blog tenure, I feel compelled to tell you a brief story of how I got here and the topics I’m interested writing about.

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Whenever someone asks me, “What do you do?” first, I always state proudly that I am a tap dancer and choreographer from Ohio. For those unfamiliar with this information I often receive a puzzled, “Really?” type of response. Yes, really. After a twenty-five year career and taking a four-year professional hiatus I’m seriously considering the notion of lacing up my tap shoes once again.

Second, I am an educator. I look back to age five when I first took a dance class and can see even then I was politely telling my dance partner friends what to do. I would show up to class early, break down the steps, then practice over and over again until they got it right – this was a skill I knew well at an early age and continue to practice politely educating others today.

After completing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees with a dance education focus and managing my own dance company on the side (Seven years of college – in that time I could have become a doctor or a lawyer), professionally I became a K-12 arts specialist where I spent a few years teaching dance in public and private schools to kids in both Ohio and Florida. I also taught “the big kids” for a while at the college level too. I think I liked the little kids better.

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Currently I am a non-profit arts education administrator, consultant and arts advocate living and working in New York City. For the past five years I have mentored and supervised teaching artists. I go into public, private and charter schools, observe artists teaching kids a specific art form like dance, music, theater, visual art while continuing to find ways to integrate these experiences into a classroom’s curriculum so that the arts remain a “legitimate” part of a child’s education. Believe it or not, some students no longer even get recess.

I look forward to writing about the newest education buzzword being so casually thrown around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). How can the STEM conversation be transformed into “STEAM” by including the arts? In order for a well-rounded human being to think creatively and to be innovative the arts are what it means to be human. Not a privilege for a select few, the arts should never be considered an option in early education.

What is this blogging thing?

My blogging career began two years ago when I was elected to the arts education council with Americans for the Arts. Through this affiliation I was asked to write for AFTA’s popular ARTSblog. At first I wasn’t quite sure what I had to say mattered and then surprised to find several of my blog posts were reaching the top of the site’s most viewed list. People were actually listening to what I had to say.

One topic in particular that struck a nerve was a two-part series about the mid-career arts professional and how within the non-profit culture people at this level (including myself) are being squandered in more ways than one. Why Continue a Career in the Arts? Part I and Part II created a bit of heat and I look forward to bringing this conversation back to the table here at the Clyde Fitch Report.

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Last summer, on a whim, I entered myself into a “Cover the Conventions” contest with the Huffington Post. Never imagining I would actually be taken seriously, I was one of eight people selected from across the country to blog for Off the Bus, specifically reporting from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL. The press credentials have been nice, now I’m trying to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to be doing with this new access.

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A few other topics that are burning on my brain:

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The Center for Arts Education in New York City is preparing to launch an arts education advocacy campaign that will align with the upcoming NYC mayoral race. With cities like Los Angeles, Portland and Chicago leading the way in mandating the arts as part of every child’s education, why can’t New York City be a leader too?

A new organization called One Percent For Culture, recently endorsed by NY City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, intends to make the case that the arts and culture sector is a critical economic engine and therefore needs to be taken seriously when city budget planning takes place. Is one percent enough? What are other cities doing nationally around this topic?

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I recently attended the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference and was pleasantly surprised to hear the whimper of a poor economy finally transform into dialogue around having to actually change. I’ll be interviewing APAP’s president Mario Garcia Durham about how his organization’s leadership is helping its members adapt to the current economic reality.

These topics are part of a longer list of ideas I’m looking forward to writing about for CFR. Whatever “Jessica Says,” I’m thrilled to lend my voice to the Clyde Fitch Report team and reaching out to a new and diverse audience.