Bartol Grantee Spotlight: Kulu Mele
Photo credit: www.kulumele.org.
As part of a new Q&A series, we will be getting to know the Bartol Foundation’s 2018 grantees. Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble preserves and presents the traditional dance and music of Africa and the African Diaspora, and celebrates contemporary African American culture. They received a $5,000 Bartol grant for general operating support.
These questions were answered by David Harrison, Executive Director.
What about your work keeps you up at night?
Knowing that we will never have enough resources to positively impact the lives of all the children who could benefit from engagement with Kulu Mele. But I comfort myself with this story: Every day an old man walked to the shore, where sometimes thousands of starfish lay beached by the strong currents. One by one, he tossed them back into the water. One day a young jogger stopped to talk to the old man. The jogger said, “There are thousands of star fish on this beach. What does it matter if you save a few of them?” The old man threw another fish. “It mattered to that one,” he said.
When do you know your work is making a difference?
I hear from teachers all the time that even one single Kulu Mele event such as a workshop or a school assembly performance has a lasting impact on students. Teachers tell me that for days or even weeks after a Kulu Mele service, they can document improvements in attendance, participation/engagement, behavior, attitude, and retention of information.
What is the most important thing you do to help your teaching artists do their best work?
The Bartol Foundation does a great job of both programming its own professional development opportunities AND passing along information about other learning opportunities as well. I always pass along any information I receive to our teaching artists. Thankfully, many of the opportunities are no or low cost. The biggest barrier to participation for my artists is time. Many of my teaching artists have full-time jobs (some as teachers) and the rest have to cobble together many different gigs in order to support themselves and their families as working artists, but everyone is always grateful to know how much support exists for the work that they do.
What is the best tip you can give to someone doing arts education programs like yours?
“Listen hard, change fast.” — Ben Chestnut, CEO, MailChimp.
If you could magically change one thing to make your program better, what would it be?
Without magic but with much thanks to the Youth Arts Enrichment program at the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, Kulu Mele was able to hire a very accomplished arts education consultant (Ira Bond, M.Ed., founder of the Cultural Enrichment Institute and Male Rite of Passage Facilitator at Imhotep Institute Charter High School) to conduct a formative and summative evaluation of Kulu Mele’s in-school curriculum and classroom management practices. Upon completion of his research, Bond will revise/improve Kulu Mele’s curriculum and recommend management changes based on his findings. The evaluation process will occur throughout the school year in collaboration with Community Partnership School (CPS), a highly successful private school in North Philadelphia which serves some of the very most economically disadvantaged families in all of Pennsylvania. Kulu Mele has worked in residence at CPS for more than five years. This year Kulu Mele will conduct two 24-week residencies at CPS (traditional West African dance and drumming, and hip hop).
What is your favorite field trip? (Real or imagined.)
As a kid growing up in Los Angeles I got to take several field trips to the La Brea Tar Pits, which became the burial grounds for umpteen animals over many millennia, including dinosaurs who got trapped in the sticky tar that acted like quicksand. It still fascinates me to think I could walk on the same ground as such majestic prehistoric giants.
Best. Snack. Ever.
Kiddie-sized twist cone at Rita’s. (Which is plenty big even for a big kiddie like me.)