In honor of Arts Appreciation Month in August, we welcome Jan Goldstein to 7 Questions. Since its founding in 2003, Arts on the Block‘s mission has been to empower creative youth to imagine and shape fulfilling futures and contribute to the quality of life in their communities.Jan has been an arts administrator since 1995, serving as the founding director of Arts on the Block since 2002. In this role, she is responsible for development of the overall artistic vision as well as day-to-day leadership and program management.
- What motivated you to begin working with your organization?
It was on a trip to Chicago in 1998 — as a scout of sorts for the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division, charged with checking out that city’s award-winning Gallery 37 job-training-through-the-arts program — that I felt the breadcrumbs of my past coalesce and the path to the career I had longed for begin to lay itself out. That sunny midwesternly-steamy day in July when I first stepped onto the Gallery 37 main site is forever seared in my memory. A square block in the heart of downtown had been set up with billowing white tents swarming with teens intensely engaged in dozens of forms of art making. Young people of every shape, size and color were painting busses and park benches; throwing pots, playing concerti, and dancing the tango. It was lunchtime, and Chicagoans were strolling through this new park, often engaging with the young artists or stopping at the Gallery 37 store. The site hummed, the young people looked intensely connected to the work and to each other, and happy (despite the heat)! Further, the work they were producing was delightful and impressive. Five years later, with the support of a larger nonprofit that helped lift off Arts on the Block, my dream came true.
- What exciting change or innovation is on your mind?
About five years ago, Arts on the Block embarked on a project that dared to attempt to work with residents of a low-income apartment community in Silver Spring to change the quality of their lives – through art and design. The young people in our program invited community members ages 5 to 85 to spend a day sharing with us likes and dislikes about their environment; their ideas about what makes a place beautiful and livable, and their interest in working together to bring about positive change.
Today, the risers of two major stairways connecting the upper and lower levels of the community are covered with sumptuous designs, implemented in mosaics and created by community members. Previously invisible house numbers have morphed into internally lit mosaic address light boxes. The community center now boasts stained glass-like windows designed by the youth in a summer program which Arts on the Block helped start and in which, four years later, it still participates.
I’m thrilled to say that while there is work yet to be done, thanks to project successes, we are now on the lookout for a second community into which we can expand. In the next few months, we should have the field narrowed to one community, and work with our new partners will begin. We have an energetic and dedicated young Americorps Vista member helping to make this happen, and we are excited!
- Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)?
This may sound like a cliche, but truly, the youth in our programs inspire me to do what I do; to put in the hours and the effort. They come to us excited and perhaps a bit nervous about the commitment they are making. They often also come with stories, and issues, and more weight to bear than any teenager should have to contend with. But they typically jump in and, like sponges, absorb everything we have to offer. AND then there are our alumni. The more I learn about what they are doing, the more inspired I become. Architects, graphic designers, photographers, teachers; inspiring young people embarking on the great adventures of their lives. Or just finding their way the best they can. They are an inspirational lot, all of them.
- What was your most interesting recent project/partnership?
This is such a difficult question, as our apprentice artists have completed well over 100 commissioned art projects mostly mosaics over the last 12 years. That said, I typically love the projects we do for other nonprofits the most. Earlier this year, with the help of a grant from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, we partnered with Manna Food Center (a Catalog for Philanthropy awardee) in creating a mural for the reception area where clients wait to collect their groceries. Our apprentices met with Manna Food staff and a pair of clients who very much endeared themselves to the apprentices. The experience was an eye-opener for our apprentices; they responded beautifully to the challenge of empathizing with their client and created a mixed-media painting/mosaic that earned itself a permanent place at Manna. In fact, Manna built a brand new wall on which to hang it!
- What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances) and how are you dealing with this challenge?
As noted in #7 below, I will be leaving the organization in 16 months. The departure of a founder is often a challenging time for a nonprofit. Our board of directors has formed a succession planning committee and is laying the groundwork for a transition that is as smooth as possible. As a member of that committee, I understand how strategic we need to be in this endeavor and greatly appreciate the care and concern of our board in rising to the occasion.
- What advice do you have for?other people in your position?
No Executive Director can do it all. The skill set required to do the job well is enormous, especially for a small start-up nonprofit. Look into your heart for the parts of the job you enjoy the most, and work at developing expertise there. Never stop learning! AND at the same time, find others who love the things you do not; hire them on, encourage their growth, and let them soar. I am still learning how to do this, but it feels hugely important!
- What’s next/coming up for you?
In January of 2017, I plan to leave AOB for other adventures. My long-standing love of playing in the mud (otherwise called ceramics) has been rekindled and I want to have real time to devote to this passion, and to hanging with the people I hold near and dear, and making new friends. The list of world-wide destinations calling my name is long. And I would still love to work part-time, especially if I can be on the other side of the table – giving money away for a change! It will be hard, I predict, to let go of the perks that come with living ones dream job, but I look forward to turning the reins over to someone with a lot to offer the organization, and from a distance, watch it grow and thrive. And in the mean time, there is plenty to do to leave Arts on the Block in the best condition possible, in helping to insure its good work well into the 21st century.