Photo courtesy of Catzie Vilayphonh.
As part of an ongoing Q&A series, we will be learning more about the Bartol Foundation’s artistic community. Catzie Vilayphonh is an award-winning writer, spoken word poet, and multi-media artist. We welcomed Catzie to the Bartol team in January 2019 as part of our cohort of three new board members. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram to learn more about her work.
Can you tell me a bit about your background in the arts?
I began my career as an artist when I was 18 and had just graduated from high school. My first foray into the arts outside of school was through a workshop at Asian Arts Initiative (a longtime Bartol grantee) where we wrote monologues based on our own stories and performed them on stage. Once I performed as part of that group, I would go to more practice groups or anything improv or theatre arts-related, and we also got to perform at Fringe Festival. That experience was an eye-opener in terms of what performing arts could be, because in my mind it was always just acting, rather than actually writing our own scripts. I realized just how transformative performance could be for a person. That experience set the trajectory of me constantly finding different art forms to express whatever I was trying to say at the time.
When I was growing up, there also wasn’t a lot of representation of Asian-Americans in media, so it was really empowering to be able to share my story with audiences. I felt a responsibility to do my part to make sure the stories that are told about us are authentic and true to ourselves and by real people.
What attracted you to becoming involved with the Bartol Foundation as a board member?
I had been following along with the Bartol Foundation’s email newsletter for a while. I learned that Bartol was looking for new board members through Gayle Isa, who, up until recently, was the Executive Director of the Asian Arts Initiative. Gayle is somebody who I’ve known for a long, long time and was one of the first people I met when I became involved in the arts, and knowing that this was something she recommended made me want to participate. Being an artist who sometimes has to work another job, I’m not able to be involved in the arts as much as I would like. Participating with Bartol is a great way for me to stay connected to that network and learn more about the kind of support that’s out there for artists, even if it doesn’t come from Bartol directly.
What are you most looking forward to accomplishing in your time on the Bartol board?
I’m looking forward to learning more about the different organizations in Philadelphia and seeing what they have to offer, regardless of whether or not they get the grants. As someone who runs an art organization myself, I’m always interested in learning what other organizations are doing. I’m looking forward to seeing how teachers teach a hands-on class, how organizations offer youth and adult programs, or even what kinds of art forms are being highlighted.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m really happy to be part of this group of women. I’m looking forward to it.
Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.