Get to Know the Grantee: ArtWell

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.

Get to Know the Grantee: Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture

In 2020, we made our selections for the grantee winners just as the COVID-19 pandemic closed all schools and community programs. In recognition of these difficult circumstances, we enabled each organization to define how they could use the funding to strengthen their programming during the shutdown (e.g. developing curriculum, delivering remote programs, etc).

We are excited to welcome Mohannad Ghawanmeh as the new Executive Director of Al-Bustan.  Mohannad will be the second Executive Director of Al-Bustan, taking over from its founder Hazami Sayed. 

Tell us a bit about your journey that brought you to become the new Executive Director of Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture.

 The journey began with cofounding the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival in 2002, in response to the Sep 11 attacks, as an effort to affirm the breadth and complexity of Arab culture and to defy malign and then intensely propagated stereotypes of Arab and Muslim people. Thus the festival was founded in the same year as Al-Bustan and was motivated by similar impulses and was programmed by Mizna an Arab American Arts organization that does work similar to Al-Bustan’s. I went on to direct/curate four editions of this festival and led the first edition of two others, including the film festival organized by the Arab American National Museum. I continued to work with both of these Arab cultural organizations for years to come, including as I attended PhD school for a degree in Cinema and Media Studies, which I acquired in June.

You moved from California to take on this role. What drew you all the way across the country to become part of Al-Bustan?

Al-Bustan is such an accomplished, impactful organization and I am so committed to cultural production that empowers and inspires that applying to lead Al-Bustan, to succeed its venerated Founding Director Hazami Sayed was an “all-brainer”!

What are you most excited to do or learn in the next year?

 Arts and education programming is the facet that most excites me about my work, I do admit. However, guiding Al-Bustan through the unpredictable, choppy waters of the months to come and preparing the organization for a transition to serving a constituency no longer threatened by COVID19 is what commands my attention most.

Part of a continuing series featuring our 2020 Bartol Grantees.

Get to Know the Grantee: Power Street Theatre

In 2020, we made our selections for the grantee winners just as the COVID-19 pandemic closed all schools and community programs. In recognition of these difficult circumstances, we enabled each organization to define how they could use the funding to strengthen their programming during the shutdown (e.g. developing curriculum, delivering remote programs, etc). Erlina Ortiz, playwright and play maker for Power Street Theatre, describes how their organization adapted to these unprecedented times: 

How are you adapting your project or organization during quarantine/this political moment?
 
We have moved everything online. Our classes will be going online in the Spring and we are doing A LOT of brainstorming on how to make that a successful venture that serves our mission and values. 
 
 
Has the quarantine resulted in opportunities to take your practice online in any way?  If so, tell us about it.
 
We had a Children’s Festival that went virtual and was a success, a Digital Rally for Philly Arts that took over social media for two days, and we’ll be doing an online reading series and community discussions this fall.
 
 
There is also value in sharing challenges.  If you are comfortable doing this, what are some of the challenges that you are dealing with? Short-term? Long-term? Who knows?
 
The way we have connected with our North Philly community has been by knocking on doors, going to bodegas, talking to folks in the park, sharing a meal – it’s being in the community. Being IN community. That’s basically against the law right now so figuring out how to stay connected with our base of supporters safely is a real challenge. 
 
 
Have you found moments of creativity or grace in the past few months?
 
I have, thankfully, though I can only speak for myself. I’ve been writing a lot mostly which has actually always been my coping mechanism through rough times. I also took the Yale free online Science of Well Being class and that was very enlightening. I’ve been using the skills I learned to keep me balanced. 
 
 
And always our favorite question.  Best. (Quarantine) Snack. Ever.
 
 
Is pizza too basic? Nachos? Literally anything greasy or fatty that hides my feelings. Half of Power Street is basically vegan now though so this answer may be controversial.  
 

Part of a continuing series featuring our 2020 Bartol Grantees.