We are excited to welcome Briana Clarke as the new Program Manager at ArtWell. Check out this interview to learn more about her journey.

Tell us a bit about your journey that brought you to become the new Program Manager at ArtWell.

My background consists of diverse community and arts involvement independently and within Philadelphia organizations, including Providence Center, Spiral Q, FAB Youth Philly, and Camp Sojourner Girl Leadership Camp. I’ve been involved with ArtWell since 2016. I started as a Teaching Artist, then Artwell experienced organizational changes, and the Program Coordinator position opened. Because I truly believed in the work of Artwell, there was a strong foundation and sense of community, and I was committed to supporting youth, Teaching Artists, and my community, I  wanted to support the strengthening of the organization. So, I applied for the position to have a greater leadership role and impact on ArtWells growth and direction. I was later promoted to Program Manager, and the journey so far has been fulfilling.

You have had to adapt your programs to teach different disciplines virtually in your school residencies.  What has worked well and what has been challenging?

Overall, trial and error, shifting expectations, and operating with the sense that business is personal and allowing human connection to exist in the workspace has helped and has been the driving force. Our school partnerships are extremely relational, and it played a big factor in adapting our programs. We have centered our teaching around social justice, identity, and the social-emotional learning component of our program during this time. We have coordinated supply distribution to as many partners as possible. The art is still happening virtually; however, students’ opportunities to participate in dialogue about topics they care about, connect, and express have been crucial and our priority.

It was challenging to move forward with some of our school partners this year due to schools and teachers adapting themselves. And although we have seen an increase over the months, and students express excitement for classes, student engagement is still one of our challenges. Youth are Zoomed out!  

We are hearing from our grantees that some things you did out of necessity during COVID, you will continue to do even after COVID has passed.  What might you continue to do even after COVID?

When the pandemic hit, and through the racial unrest, we reached out to our partners and connected with them individually to determine what supports they needed. In response, we began customizing engagements. This involved lots of meetings with principals, classroom teachers, teaching artists, and other community partners. We worked to involve everyone as much as possible throughout the process, which we already do; however, I believe there is a higher level of grace and involvement. For some of our partners, we are carrying out our traditional programs virtually. However, for other partners, we have gone deeper. We are offering additional program supports like clubs, office hours, and school-wide town halls. We have also offered virtual engagements for the general public during COVID. This time has highlighted the deeper involvement we can have from our community. Not just at the beginning and end, but throughout. We hope to preserve this level of community involvement post-COVID.

You have your own creative practice outside of your work with ArtWell.  Tell us more!

Yes, I’m a painter who primarily focuses on highlighting the joy and pain connected to Black Lives through vibrant colors, juxtaposition, metaphors, and symbolism. I also spend time designing social media graphics and fliers.

How are you caring for yourself and your teaching artists during this time?

Checking in with Teaching Artists personally, professionally, and consistently. Holding more team meetings, having compassion, patience, calling, texting, and allowing people to just be sometimes. In addition to one on one check-ins, we have monthly skill builds for our Teaching Artists. This has been an important time to connect, preserve the sense of community virtually, enhance online teaching toolkits, play, and promote self and collective care. 

As far as me, I try to paint as much as I can. It’s unfortunate because we rely on technology more than ever to stay connected to people; however, I also try to take breaks from social media, texts, and calls for brain breaks and self-care. Youtube rabbit holes and music, period. 

Best. Snack. Ever.

Not a healthy one, but I love salami! Cured meats…a well-made charcuterie board, is loooove.  

Part of a continuing series featuring our 2020 Bartol Grantees.

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