“Work that changes people’s lives”—Interview with Bartol Board Chair Toni Shapiro-Phim
As part of an ongoing Q&A series, we will be learning more about the Bartol Foundation’s artistic community. Toni Shapiro-Phim is Director of Programs at the Philadelphia Folklore Project. She is currently chair of the Bartol Foundation’s board, and is beginning her second three-year term on the board after taking a break while living in Cambodia.
Can you tell me a bit about your work at Philadelphia Folklore Project?
Philadelphia Folklore Project is a nonprofit arts and social justice organization. We work to sustain vital and diverse cultural heritage in our communities through collaborative projects, research, documentation, and education. We prioritize folk and traditional arts in service of social change. To that end, we identify local traditional artists and community organizations and support their artistic growth. We produce public programs (exhibitions, performances, forums, workshops, etc.) advancing cultural traditions significant to Philadelphia communities, and we also document outstanding practitioners and practices.
We’re particularly committed, at the moment, to engaging in informed, respectful, and sensitive ways with community members who have experienced trauma given their histories of displacement, violence, and loss, or even their current circumstances here in Philadelphia. Part of what keeps communities strong and vital is their local cultural knowledge. This is reflected in traditional cultural practices including rituals, food, and stories shared through performance, words, images, etc. So, each of the communities with which we engage has valued ways of making meaning in the world that, with some nurturing from our collaborative efforts, might help deepen and expand community cohesion and constructive action in the face of pressing local concerns.
What attracted you to becoming involved with the Bartol Foundation as a board member?
Philanthropy, I believe, has the potential to have a profoundly constructive impact. I also believe in the Bartol Foundation’s mission, and I’ve long appreciated the respectful way in which Bartol staff engages with communities in Philadelphia, and with applicants for and recipients of Bartol funding. The Folklore Project has been a recipient of Bartol funding, so I’ve had the experience from that end.
The Bartol Foundation has a unique niche here. It’s in a position to recognize and support organizations doing work on the ground—work that changes people’s lives through creation of and participation in meaningful arts programs and activities—and also to provide thought-provoking and skill-building professional development trainings for teaching artists and others working in community-focused arts in our city.
What’s been the most rewarding moment from your time working with the Bartol Foundation?
My experience thus far at the Bartol Foundation has been packed full of so many rewarding moments, it’s hard to choose just one. But here’s an example: I went on a site visit to observe a choir program for second and third graders coordinated by a local arts organization. The organization offered a truly inspiring and holistic approach, interpreting the term “instrument” to be voice, in terms of sounds and utterances that come out of one’s mouth, and also in terms of say or presence in the world. They also interpret “instrument” to be one’s entire body and one’s demeanor as well. So, in addition to the development of singing skills, the focus is on understanding that one has control over how one proceeds and presents oneself in the world, and that that matters—that the say/presence/self-presentation of each of them all matter. The students were engaged wholeheartedly, from the start of the classes to the end. Brilliant. It was truly rewarding to see innovative arts education in action.
To learn more about Philadelphia Folklore Project, visit www.folkloreproject.org.
Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.