Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute turns arts lovers into leaders
My first ballet recital to Leroy Anderson’s “The Syncopated Clock” was rehearsed in my mother’s kitchen with a cassette recorder that skipped every time I did a changement. No other girl in Sunday School had a dress made from Nanny’s world-weary hands, which sometimes snagged on the fabric she used to make our beautiful one-of-a-kind dresses. In Papaw’s church I sang before I could read because I wasn’t afraid of a bunch of shaped notes. My Momma had heard me sing every song from my rocking chair already. On nights when Daddy tucked me into bed, he wove stories about Merlin’s spells and told me that Pooh would get the answer right when he had the time to think, think, think!
The arts were seamlessly embedded into my childhood, intrinsically woven into the fabric of my life, forging a passionate, transparent, creative adult fully capable of taking on the world.
This year, my artistic life took an unexpected turn. My voice was compromised and I needed surgery to repair the damage. A personal friend and mentor suggested I apply for the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute and, since my usual means of employment had been put on hold, I applied and was honored to be accepted into the 2015 batch of future leaders.
My experience has completely superseded my limited notions about what I was going to learn and where the knowledge would take me at the end of the course. I am happy to share the journey and the progress of current and past “Holmies” with Pulse readers.
How Holmberg happened
Local arts nonprofit Allied Arts (nowArtsBuild) Vice President Marilyn Harrison, who is now retired) created the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute in 2005. It was named in honor of Bill Holmberg, lifelong arts supporter, newspaper administrator and the late husband of Ruth Holmberg. Harrison had seen other similar programs in action in other cities. It was initially designed to engage young professionals, but has attracted people of all ages and backgrounds who share a passion to keep the arts strong in Chattanooga.
“Holmberg is a nationally respected program,” says Rodney Van Valkenburg, ArtsBuild’s director of grants and initiatives. “ArtsBuild sees Holmberg as a significant investment to develop community arts volunteers and board members. Educating the 390 participants to date has created an educated advocacy cadre. The future of the arts in our community greatly benefits from this dynamic program. We believe that our community will become stronger, economically, educationally, within each neighborhood not ‘if’ the arts are included, but ‘only if’ the arts are a strategic part of Chattanooga.”
Holmberg graduates include professionals from across the Tri-State area and beyond, among them artists, musicians, chefs, literary geniuses, sculptors, bankers, lawyers and board members. Each has the goal to learn what they can do to increase the visibility of the arts in Chattanooga. The “state of the arts,” covered by The Pulse every year, contains the up-and-comers on the scene, those spaces and products and people who are just beginning to get how to thrive making their art in the Scenic City.
Yet some of these promising arts startups go under. Wonderful artists leave, discouraged when they can’t find the financial support locally to survive in Chattanooga. It can be especially be disheartening when the established elite struggle and take their final breath.
Cue the “Holmies.” Armed with knowledge based on Daniel H. Pink’s bestseller “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” program graduates go out into the community to serve, having learned about design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. Each week of training is based on these six principles. Local businesses are offered up for case studies. Organizations such as the Chattanooga Ballet, H*art Gallery, Salvation Army, and Hamilton County Department of Education reveal the challenges for keeping the arts alive within their organizations, and the Holmies collaborate to learn about the organizations and offer suggestions for improvement. Holmies also travel to Nashville to meet with members of the Tennessee Arts Commission to find out what support is available at the state level.
The end is the start of the beginning
I collected testimonials from some of the 390 Holmies and teachers to pass through the institute. The following are their testimonials.
What has this experience meant to you?
“It made me aware of the vast amount of art offerings in Chattanooga, which made me very proud of our city. It also inspired me to continue to champion the arts and their importance to our culture. It was an affirmation of that belief and a call to action to continue promoting the arts as a means to improve the life of our city and its residents.” (Stephanie Pearson, 2013)
“This experience has invigorated me and inspired me to continue to impress upon those who are not educated about the arts and the value of the arts for our children the fact that the creative outlet in our children is a huge piece of the puzzle that is missing in education today.” (Donna Horn, 2015)
“The course has provided a framework for understanding how art ‘works’ in Chattanooga and has provided a great network of contacts, many of whom will be in influential positions in the arts community in the future.” (Neil Grant, 2015)
“I have met many people and have added some excellent contacts for future projects through my Holmberg experience. I am now involved with the community exactly how I wanted to be. Diversity for community growth is very important for Chattanooga. Learning how it is possible to bring my interests and collaborate with others to make a more exciting and wider impact on the community is invaluable. I aim to help wherever I can to bring knowledge to those who lack access to the beautiful things we have around Chattanooga so that they too can join in and be involved and belong.” (Carolina Shrewsbury, 2015)
“There is a special kind of camaraderie that comes from being among others who can internalize the challenges that come with putting creativity and ego on display. It is amazingly powerful to have a consistent ‘you are not alone’ feeling when it comes to the creation and sustaining of the arts.” (Anna Golladay, 2015)
How have you taken steps to provide a leadership role in the community as a result of the training at the institute? What collaborations have occurred/will occur in future?
“I am already becoming more community-minded personally and professionally. I am involving myself in other organizations and offering my personal services, as well as identifying and developing future partnerships with others in my Holmberg class.” (Laura Walker, 2015)
“I will continue to advocate for the arts in my position as a school board member who values arts education and has personally seen the merits and the positive contributions the arts have made in my own three children’s development.” (Donna Horn, 2015)
“The thing I’d like to work on most is collaborating with other artists to create significant pieces of art within the Chattanooga community as a result of the course. It’s also increased my awareness of the need for teaching of the arts in the community. Hamilton County’s poor record of teaching arts in the junior schools means I will focus on teaching some sculpture courses for younger community members.” (Neil Grant, 2015)
“I will take back to my organization ideas that can be backed up, and knowledge that there are boards and funds that can be applied for to help with the education and development of partnering entities through art. This will help with public understanding and being aware of the underground landscapes that adorn our underground and their need for protection.” (Carolina Shrewsbury, 2015)
“Having a better understanding of the arts community will allow me to plan better for the future of my own organization. There are some apparent gaps, practically when it comes to arts education in public schools; in recreation centers and among minority populations. These are areas that speak to the mission of CoPAC.” (Ricardo Morris, 2014)
Less asking, more doing
Graduation for the 2015 Holmies is Thursday, Nov. 12, at 5:30 p.m. in the new Arts Building across from the Times Free Press. Graduates will show powerpoint presentations of their new case studies and share their plans for growing the arts in Chattanooga.
Toward that end, this class will be implementing what they hope will be an annual event. “Holmies Give Back” will be akin to an old-fashioned groovy “happening,” and will take place Saturday, Dec. 12 from 4 – 6 p.m. at the East Chattanooga Academy for Art and Social Justice. Suggested $5 donation at the door and a silent auction of local art with funds going to provide more scholarships for future Holmies will be the focus, with snacks and entertainment provided by whoever steps up to the open mike to grab audience participation.
The driving focus behind the whole Holmberg experience was: “Ask not what your community can do for your art, but ask what the arts can do for the community.” It is a small shift in thinking, but a huge shift for making art again an intrinsic part of the lives of every Chattanoogan.