“I don’t believe in starving artists”—Interview with Bartol Administrator Melissa Talley-Palmer
Photo courtesy of Melissa Talley-Palmer.
As part of an ongoing Q&A series, we will be learning more about the Bartol Foundation’s artistic community. Melissa Talley-Palmer is Administrator at the Bartol Foundation, joining the team in November 2017. Outside of her work at Bartol, Melissa is Administrative Assistant at Philadelphia Jazz Project, and an event planner and dance teacher.
Can you tell me a bit about your role at the Bartol Foundation?
My role here at the Bartol Foundation as the Administrator is primarily to support the Executive Director in granting applications, organizing teaching artist workshops, and general office support. I also like to do a lot of outreach, just letting the whole world know what’s happening at Bartol and extending it to new audiences.
As a dancer and teaching artist, what is most meaningful for your work in the community?
What’s most exciting for me as a teaching artist is the education component in the communities where I live and work. I’m passionate about preserving the history and culture of dance in our communities, particularly the African-American community where I learned to dance, and where that is such a deep connection to my history and family traditions. It’s really important for me to spread that joy, because it was such a joyful experience for me. With all that’s happening around the world through media, there’s such a divide amongst people. And for me, that’s disheartening. If we don’t teach our children the importance of humanity, then they lose a really valuable experience, especially when they’re young.
The demand for teaching dance in the community actually came from a lot of my peers inquiring during social events—like class reunions, family reunions—that I teach them the dances that my children and I were doing. My husband loves music and he DJs our dance classes, and my sons grew up learning how to dance, and we dance together all the time at social functions. I was taught how to dance back in my childhood in the 60s—so imagine how far back that goes for me. It takes me to my youth, and I like to give that to other people.
What would you like to contribute to the work of the Bartol Foundation?
I’m looking forward to expanding Bartol’s audience, and applying my administrative and technical skills to figuring out how we can deepen the experience for people at Bartol—whether that’s through a workshop, a grant that they receive, or whether that’s through teaching a workshop. It’s very exciting.
The Bartol Foundation experience, for me, is a new approach to the work that I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. I started doing nonprofit community arts and education work as a volunteer back in 1997 at the Village of Arts and Humanities. As a certified arts administrator, I think the work at Bartol puts me in a position to be able to make Bartol’s resources more known to a wider community. There are a lot of people who know of the Bartol Foundation, but I’m not sure if they all understand what are the ways they can engage in its resources. So, sharing the information about Bartol’s resources with the teaching artists I know.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am a two-time Art and Change Grantee with the Leeway Foundation. Because of the similarities to Bartol’s work, that’s another resource that I can bring to teaching artists, as an opportunity for them to consider applying for money to support their interests. All of these things are interconnected, and I’m looking forward to how that supports Bartol in fulfilling its mission to build teaching artists who can be more economically sound in their work—and not starve. I don’t believe in starving artists.
Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.