As part of an occasional series, we will be learning more about the Bartol Foundation’s board members and teaching artists. Jeannine Osayande is a teaching artist, choreographer, and performer of West African dance (Mali Empire) for 35 years. She is founder and director of Dunya Performing Arts Company, specializing in Art in Education programs, commissioned choreographic works, lecture demonstrations, and Art for Social Change projects. She is currently in her fourth year as a Bartol Foundation board member.
Can you tell me a bit about your work at Dunya Performing Arts Company?
I’ve been involved in the arts for over 35 years; I’ve done a lot of stage work, stage performance, all of that. One of the things that’s most important for me is a focus on having community right inside of dance and dance inside of community. If you’re looking at West African drum and dance culture, dance is about life itself. It’s not just happening on stage, but showing up where life is happening—funerals, weddings, etc. I like bringing dance into those places so that people know where it’s from.
My work at Dunya has evolved and changed, sometimes based on what the community is asking for, and other times based on where my life is. For example, when I started out years ago, we were more focused on performance. In the last 15 years, the focus has been through two different paths—one of them has been having a choreographic voice, and the other has been through being a teaching artist. Most of our focus has been the teaching artist model where we go into schools and do residencies, typically six weeks. At the end of that residency, the students that we work with—mostly third graders—do a performance alongside the curriculum that we’re working with.
What attracted you to becoming involved with the Bartol Foundation as a board member and workshop leader?
Just to be able to do more as an artist, as a person who’s an educator and an artist. Bartol, as a board, is a community of people who are able to come together and do good on both a very large level and small level. That’s what was attractive to me, that I could be sitting there with this board, making decisions on where money could go to supporting the arts in Philadelphia.
How Bartol makes the selection for organizations that receive funding is so thorough and well-thought-out. That also really stood out to me. This is an organization that I want to be with because they’re so thorough and mindful of what they’re doing—and I could maybe learn something, too.
What’s been the most rewarding moment from your time working with the Bartol Foundation?
The diversity of the board is something that stood out to me. One of the first “wows” was when I had my first board meeting, as the different women were coming into the room and I had the opportunity to meet them. I soon discovered that with the diversity of the women on the board, a lot of work was able to get done, a lot of voices were heard, a lot of discussions were being had—which, I felt, improved all of us as who we were, and added value to the work that we do. And I feel smarter because of it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I always have my little proverbs. There’s this one African proverb that goes something like “a single bracelet does not jingle.” That’s when I’m thinking about the board and thinking about the Bartol Foundation and the mission that Mr. Bartol had, and moving this mission forward. We’re having all these bracelets added to the wrist; otherwise, the work that we do couldn’t be done so well.
To learn more about Jeannine’s work, visit https://www.facebook.com/MsJeannineDunyaPAC/.
Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity