So, what do you do?
On the surface, the question seems simple enough. Standard opener for casual conversation. Simple questions carry complexities, though, and even though I’m expecting it, even though it’s been asked of me a million times, I somehow always struggle to answer.
This past week in particular I’ve found myself frequently faced with this situation of needing to succinctly sum myself up. Several new folks have joined the team at The Art Effect, and the question’s come up with them. In addition, I just got back from a three-day conference in Houston, a gathering convened by the Fund for Shared Insight to bring together the hundreds of non-profit grantees who, via receipt of the grant award, are embedding into their organizations the practice of listening in a simple but systematic and rigorous way that builds participant experience and expertise into the structuring of operations. In other words, the grant helps use make sure client input is valued and prioritized when we make decisions as an organization, an intentional action of equity that helps shift the dynamic from transactional to transformative. It was a fabulously informative and heart-warming few days of community building amongst the non-profit grantees, and given all the networking time built in, I again found myself being asked (and struggling to answer), over and over again–
And what do you do?
Part of the issue is time. I wear so many hats that it takes time just to list out the general departments and programs I supervise. In these kinds of situations, I usually answer at first with my job title — Director of Education and Experience — and in some cases, it clicks. If I’m met by a puzzled expression, I can always list off some of my various job description responsibilities: ensure cross-departmental programmatic success, manage relationships with schools and community program partners, provide input on curriculum and ensure programmatic evaluation being conducted in accordance with funding terms…
Even then, for many, these descriptions remain abstract. When I say I ensure and manage relationships and provide input, it can be hard to envision what that actually entails on a daily basis. It can feel like just words, lip-service lacking the weight of the real substance of the work (which is the satisfying and exhausting part).
What do I do? Well, here’s a breakdown.
First, I’m the primary coordinator on conducting the work involved in the aforementioned Listen for Good grant. I designed the L4G survey campaign for the overall organization, as well as co-designed with program directors mini-surveys to collect segmented feedback on program-specific issues. I oversaw implementation of the survey, getting the message out to program participants, and upon closing the survey once we got 160 responses, I analyzed the data and met with program directors to discuss turning feedback fats and trends into actionable next steps for implementing as program changes. I’m currently creating materials and an outreach plan for closing the loop with all of our audiences, and I’m excited about what we heard and how we can put this feedback to very productive use.
I’m also acting Faculty Director for D-LIT, a digital literacy smartphone summer camp for middle-school students in Poughkeepsie. After co-teaching a semester-long fieldwork class on teens and iPhones in conjunction with Vassar College’s Urban Education Initiative, we’re taking our research and implementing it in this intensive summer program that will revolve around critical and creative use of smartphones. My duties include reviewing student and counselor apps, structuring intern and counselor work, creating task delegation schedules, synthesizing class research into set of best practices which we will implement in a two-week intensive this summer.
I supervise the Spark Studios program. Spark Studios is probably the most innovative project I’m managing. For years, when we held after-school programs for teenagers, many of the youth we serve were in the position of needing to choose between doing our program or getting after-school jobs. We lost several students to jobs at places like McDonald’s, Target, and other service and retail industry jobs. And that’s real. If your family needs you to pull in a paycheck, suddenly after-school arts and media training programs seem like luxuries.
I wanted to disrupt this cycle, to make it so that youth in Poughkeepsie didn’t have to choose between gaining the benefits our program has to offer and helping to support their families.
I am happy to say that this spring, our Spark Studios program employed 12 teens as filmmakers, grips, boom operators, script writers, production managers, and more. They functioned as an entrepreneurial video production house to take on commercial work from paying clients. I am so proud of the work they’ve been doing and how well the program is working so far.
One Spark Studios project has had me researching/playing with 360° filmmaking technology and overseeing our students in creating a VR film promoting the City of Poughkeepsie as a tourist destination, to be used with a publicity campaign the Walkway Over the Hudson will be running.
And I also supervise the MADLab program: MADLabSummer2018Flyer_Final
The MADLab (Media, Arts, & Design Lab) is an arts career exploration and job skills training program that addresses the needs of Poughkeepsie youth ages 14-17 facing multiple barriers to employment. The Art Effect will be working with Scenic Hudson on the Fall Kill Community Outdoor Art Installations project, which will be the primary project of its 2018 summer youth employment session of MADLab.
Through the Fall Kill Community Outdoor Art Installation project, MADLab youth will work to pull trash from the Fallkill Creek at two sites (N. Cherry St behind PUF and Pershing Ave), design original sculpture art using repurposed Fall Kill trash, and create the art/urban design installations at each site to be unveiled in an exhibition grand opening at the end of the summer.
Not to mention, I handle scheduling and staffing fall classes and programs, scheduling and staffing auxiliary/offsite workshops, writing for and hosting our weekly youth-produced radio show Radio Uprising, both teaching professional development workshops (most recently, NYSATA) AND overseeing the organization’s internship program… it’s a lot.
My goal is for the organization to grow such that each of the above responsibilities could become their own respective individual full-time positions, possibly even departments… if we’re looking that far down the road. For now, perhaps when asked “what do you do?” I should just start telling people I’m a juggler.