Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.
This week, I made a trip to the House of Blues to hear about the International House of Blues Foundation’s (IHOFB) Action for the Arts Initiative, called “Music and Imagination.” It’s a collaborative project with local artists and area schools. I had a soulful visit with Nazanin Fatemian, IHOFB’s Dallas Program Manager, and lead artist Emmanuel Gillespie.
Tina Aguilar: Tell me about the IHOFB and this new project.
Nazanin Fatemian.: The IHOBF is dedicated to bringing the arts to schools and communities through programs that promote cultural understanding and encourage creative expression. IHOBF’s Action for the Arts Initiative raises awareness about the importance of the arts, presents youth artistic works and accomplishments and increases access to and provides support for arts programs. We utilize our venue in the areas of visual arts, recitals and music history programming.
T.A.: How did you start the process for the Music and Imagination Project?
N. F.: This is the first collaborative community project. We had a start-up workshop for 3rd to 12th grade visual arts students and teachers, and other artists that became the core group of participants. At first, the group was pretty large. Emmanuel presented the overall project vision at the House of Blues and organized a series of meetings along with a guest musician who discussed music and imagination.
Emmanuel Gillespie: After I shared my concept, all five groups were left with broad instructions and allowed to create their own narrative for imagination and music. Each group was encouraged to consider the meaning of imagination. Each school program, teachers and students, took the lead of how to come up with meaning for their panels.
T.A.: How did you find each other?
N. F.: I was doing arts research and through my friends, Paul Levatino and Erykah Badu, who knew of Emmanuel from other projects. I had seen his work and knew about the Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s (DART) Green Line Martin Luther King, Jr. Station project and invited him to talk with me. I also knew that we wanted to involve our Foundation Room members, a group of individuals whose membership contributes back to our organization.
E.G.: We had huge support with our teachers and art students from Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet High School for the Performing Arts, the Greenhill School, Thomas J. Rusk Middle School and the Foundation Room members group, led by artist Mande Baysinger.
T.A.: Emmanuel, you have experience with the community and the development of the public art process. You are a presence especially with the South Dallas Cultural Center. Talk to me about your artistic philosophy with this collaboration. What does it mean to be the lead artist?
E. G.: Brainstorming for this project was fun. All of my artwork has been community-based since the early ’80s. It is part of my charge to work in our areas of need. From the “Music and Imagination” theme, I tried to create a way to give the concept to everyone with my broad silhouettes. We all have our imaginations and dreams, and I wanted to keep it wide yet simple. When you give artists a chance to explore an idea, word or symbol on their own accord, it usually takes form. The creativity will come from keeping things simple and basic in nature. The groups had the power to decipher the concept of imagination.
N.F.: Yes, some of the teachers did writing exercises and also used certain musicians to better understand the theme of imagination. It was all up to them. When we met last weekend to see the colors and details that fit together, it was incredible. They had not talked to each other or seen any work from the other participants – yet all of them fit together so well. At this stage of the creative process, you don’t know what will emerge.
T.A.: How did you each get involved with the arts? Tell me about your backgrounds.
N.F.: My previous work was in the Dallas Independent School District as an ESL teacher, and I decided to work with the needs in the community and bridged to the IHOBF. I was teaching 6th through 8th grade. After I transitioned to the IHOBF, I kept my relationships with the schools and my colleagues. The work I do now involves these strong relationships. My other experience is mostly vocal, from choir growing up, and even participating in vocal competitions.
E.G.: Since first grade, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I was always making pictures for my teachers, and once I started high school at Booker T. Washington, my world expanded. My art really took off when I found out I could paint bigger, and I loved it.
T.A.: The project is almost complete. One of the highpoints from seeing the adult group work was the enthusiasm and the partnerships. Emmanuel, how do you feel about it now? And Nazanin, how does it work to get all the adults together?
E.M.: Getting to a point that we are about finished and working on it separate, yet as a group effort, really has created an amazing combination. But the real excitement is going to be when we install it and everyone can see it hung. This will catapult us to a whole different level. The kids will get to see it as a group. They will see it fit together. To see how each of the other groups worked just as hard and as long as they have puts it in context. To see the abstract nature of the total project come together in unity makes all the difference. The opportunity to showcase these young artists at a prominent location gives them inspiration and a way to see how creativity makes a difference. Working with kids and art is a way to disperse some of the daily obstacles that they have to deal with. Art calms, and our youth need these creative outlets.
N. F.: Most of the Foundation Room members have experienced the Foundation Room from an event, art exhibit or through bringing their children and grandchildren here. This gave different members an opportunity to see and experience the process. We have members who want to be a part of the arts, music and youth of our city.
T.A.: Are there plans to add to this piece?
N. F.: We have considered adding a sixth “living” panel with the ability to showcase an artist for a period of time.
E.G.: Perhaps having a panel that is interchangeable and giving different artists an opportunity to exhibit at the House of Blues. We are still considering the idea.
T.A.: Do you offer annual programming with music and the arts for schools that may not have any arts curriculum? Where do they come from?
N.F.: The DISD is our target demographic, and we see about 500-800 students a month in our Blues SchoolHouse (BSH) music/art programs. I also work with schools in our outer areas, Temple, Tatum, Texas Art Educators and a few others across the state. IHOBF currently supports T.W. Browne Middle School and Brashear Elementary School through its Action for the Arts Drum Initiative, where these schools have received donated drum kits.
T.A.: What is on the horizon for IHOBF?
N.F.: For Cinco de Mayo, we will have a mariachi and folklorico celebration, where Molina High School, W.T. White High School, Greiner Middle School and Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico youth will perform to raise money to support adding an additional mariachi program in another DISD school.
Nazanin Fatemian and the International House of Blues Foundation plan to unveil the Action for the Arts Initiative in April, and Emmanuel Gillespie continues his work with the community and begins a new mural project in the months ahead. Next week I will speak with some of the teachers and students about their experiences. IHOBF is a non-profit organization supported by House of Blues, House of Blues Foundation Room members, Live Nation and other public and private donors.