Stand a Little Taller: Photography from the Portraits of Promise summer arts program with Girls Incorporated of Greater Columbia and Columbia College – guest blog by Jacqueline Adams
How do community-based arts collaborations and partnerships get started? I can tell you, it’s not always by a formal process of invitation. Often times, it’s more of a casual affair, one that takes place in the ease of a restaurant, a cozy dinner gathering, or a friendly meeting amongst those integral players of pursuit. In my arts administration graduate program this practice known as “friendship with a purpose,” is most often the origin for such dynamic arts endeavors.
In 2011 I embarked on a three-year arts partnership between Columbia College and Girls Incorporated of Greater Columbia that started over a warm brunch at one of Columbia’s favorite local dining establishments, The Original Pancake House. Vivian Gore, Executive Director of a local Girls Inc. that serves girls ages 6-18 from the Greater Columbia area, invited me to dine and talk about the possibility of creating an arts program between Columbia College and GIGC.
The Girls Inc. mission, to inspire all girls to be Strong, Smart, and Bold, is a thriving national organization where the Honorary Board Chair is First Lady, Michelle Obama. Not too shabby. Additionally, national Girls Inc. programming is research-based and covers areas such as economic and media literacy to leadership and community action, among others. The more I learned about Girls Inc. the more appealing it was to create a partnership.
Back to brunch. Devouring my favorite OPH crepe, Gore, early in the meal, became very purposeful and direct as she spoke passionately about her vision to bring GIGC and CC together through the arts. Based on my previous volunteer work with GIGC and as coordinator of the college‘s Goodall Gallery, Gore identified me as the person she entrusted to build this partnership. Throughout our meal, I appreciated the depth and potential of Gore’s proposal, and accepted the request to design and develop an arts partnership program.
One year later, over the summer of 2012, the two-week arts program we developed, Portraits of Promise (POP!), had taken place and culminated with a glowing performance and show of works. The program taught classes in photography and dance by three professional artist-educators: Michaela Pilar Brown (photography), LaQuannia Lewis (dance), and Monessa Salley (dance) to 15 girls, ages 10-16. The program also included a mentoring experience where each girl’s potential career paths were matched with a local, professional women working in fields that spanned broadcasting and the arts, to medicine and law.
The overall mission of the POP! arts program was to explore and create original dance and photography works that identified and valued the power of promise existing within a girl and the shared relationships within her community.
The exhibit entitled, Stand a Little Taller, features the photography works from the 15 girls who participated in POP! along with a series of mentor photography by Michaela Pilar Brown, who encouraged the girls to take ownership over the show by naming the exhibit themselves. The show’s title, Stand a Little Taller, is a line from the Kelly Clarkson song, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”. I later listened to the song and its lyrics and can understand why the students were inspired by Clarkson’s music; it is a positive force of encouragement to be strong, smart, and bold.
Michaela Pilar Brown, the program’s photography instructor, is a powerful contemporary female artist in her own right. Brown’s own professional work, which includes a repertoire of photography, sculpture, mixed media, and installation, delves into ideas and concepts around identity, especially for females and their relationships to the self, community and society. Brown’s goal in the program was to “teach students to see, to take in their environments in a comprehensive way and to process the information…that allowed them to communicate visually, to become storytellers. We hope students learned to value their own voice and to find agency in one’s own ability to communicate their needs, dreams...their stories.”
On the evening of Friday, February 22, the gallery hosted a reception for the 15 students, inviting them back for a formal showing of their work. Seeing these young ladies back together was like a reunion, and had solidified the outcome of a successful community-based arts partnership. The girls had grown much more comfortable in themselves and in the learning they had gained during POP! The shy and reserved nature I had witnessed last summer was replaced by glowing smiles, growing confidence and genuine conversations about their promising futures under the warm spotlight of having their creative selves on display.
“Stand a Little Taller: Photography from the Portraits of Promise summer arts program with Girls Incorporated of Greater Columbia and Columbia College” opens February 20 with works on view through Sunday, March 24. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public. The Columbia College Goodall Galley is located inside the Spears Center for the Arts at 1301 Columbia College Drive in downtown Columbia off of North Main Street. Gallery Hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. For further information about exhibits please visit www.columbiasc.edu or call (803) 786-3899. For more information about Girls Incorporated of Greater Columbia please visit GIGC on Facebook.