Member Spotlight: Ariani Huguenin

Posted by Linda Lombardi, Nov 29, 2021 0 comments

As Program Manager, Ariani Huguenin provides support for Cathedral Arts Project’s (CAP) direct service programs by ensuring Northeast Florida’s teaching artists and students receive the resources and support they need. Since joining CAP in 2017, Huguenin’s portfolio of work has included volunteer engagement, family communication, logistics coordination, and teaching artist support.

CAP’s mission is to empower every child’s creative spirit, elevate arts educators in their field, and advocate for access and equity in arts education. How does arts education impact students?

Smiling person with wavy blonde hair and glasses.
Ariani Huguenin

Our mission focuses not only on students, but also arts educators, as we believe both should receive support to ensure their personal success as well as the success of our community as a whole. We increase and improve the impact of arts education on students by elevating arts educators—or as we call them, teaching artists—by providing them with resources that make them more confident and prepared for whatever may happen, and equipping them to handle anything their students may be experiencing in school or at home. Our programs empower both students and teaching artists, not only in the classroom but wherever their lives take them.

Arts education starts with technical skills and leads to life skills that empower students to know their worth and think creatively to problem-solve. At CAP, we have been able to track Why The Arts matter through student attendance, behavior, and grade improvement. Quantifiable measures are wonderful, but the greatest impact of arts education is seen in the students that wanted to give up, but persevered and learned something new. We see it in our alumni—whether they continue in the arts or not—who let us know arts education provided them a safe space to be themselves and grow their confidence. 

You’ve been with CAP for almost five years. How have the CAP programs and your work with the organization changed over that time?

Aside from the biggest change of offering virtual programs over the past year and a half, my favorite change to our programs has been hiring full-time teaching artist fellows. These teaching artist fellows teach multiple in-person courses, as well as quarterly virtual courses, over the course of a three- to five-year fellowship. They have helped us better understand our students and families by providing a teaching artist perspective when thinking through ways to improve our programs, which has been invaluable to the organization. In addition, CAP provides professional development and resources to assist the teaching artist fellows outside of the classroom so they can leave the fellowship program as highly trained artists, arts professionals, and arts educators prepared to take on any job.

My work with CAP has evolved from my start as an intern to being program manager today. Whether planning Showcase, working with teaching artists, or organizing volunteers, I have really learned from the ground up how to collaborate effectively, how to best help others, and how to be a leader that keeps the team informed. I am so thankful for all my colleagues at CAP who supported me while I learned to be a professional fresh out of college. 

Six smiling children wearing gold medals on purple ribbons.
Students at the 2019 Visual Arts Showcase, photo courtesy Cathedral Arts Project.

One of your responsibilities is the planning of the annual Visual and Performing Arts Showcases. As the primary program lead for those two events, how have you seen them benefit students? Any moments stand out in your memory?

At CAP, we work hard to ensure our Visual and Performing Arts Showcases feel like a true professional performance or exhibition for every student. Our Performing Arts Showcase is held at a large local theater, which for many students is the first time they’ve stepped foot on a professional stage. Our Visual Arts Showcase is curated and installed in a local gallery, which again for many students is the first time they’ve seen their artwork framed and hung outside of their classroom. By executing Showcase this way, the greatest impact it has on our students is the confidence it instills in them. They work hard all year learning and practicing their art form and it pays off in a big way! 

There are so many stand-out moments in my mind—from students that step onto the stage during rehearsal wide eyed at the size of the theater, to students that come to Visual Arts Showcase dressed in their best outfits and really exemplify that they are the artists we are there to celebrate. I could go on and on, but what always stands out to me are the nervous faces when they first walk into the theater or gallery and the beaming smiles when they leave Showcase. Whether they’ve just performed on stage or taken a photo with their artwork in the gallery, they always leave with so much pride and joy in what they have accomplished.

How did the pandemic and switching to remote learning, work, and events impact CAP programs and students?

In March 2020, all our programs had to switch to remote learning, which was something we had never done before. We were taken aback by how quickly our teaching artists pivoted and how well it was received by our students and their families. Our teaching artists were still able to meet with their students and provided additional pre-recorded content so students and families could continue to enjoy their classes when it worked best with their schedules. That period of time was hard on everyone, and our families let us know how thankful they were that their students were able to continue their arts education during an especially difficult time. 

I try not to describe arts education as an “outlet” because it is truly so much more; however, considering the year our students and families had to go through, it is fair to say a large component of our virtual arts classes was to provide an outlet for our students. They were able to move, make music, create, and connect with their peers at a time when things felt discouraging and lonely.

You were involved with the performing arts throughout school, including dance and marching band. How did that experience prepare you for the work you do as program manager?

I think by being involved in the arts, especially in a Title I school, I am able to better relate to our families. It can be easy to just sit back and provide programming to students and check that box, but by keeping our students and their families in mind and knowing what they may be experiencing outside of the CAP classroom, it helps cater our programming to their needs. 

I constantly tried new arts disciplines throughout elementary, middle, and high school and can recall the impact of different teaching styles, how my teachers encouraged me, and what motivated me to continue my arts learning. I try to think back to my experiences and pay that forward to our students.

Participating in the arts is also proven to improve creative thinking, and I think anyone that works at a nonprofit will tell you that creative thinking is a necessity. Whether figuring out how to improve programming or pivoting quickly to an immediate need, creative thinking has been my best tool and where I feel I have grown the most at CAP, especially since I am surrounded by other creative thinkers! 

Americans for the Arts Membership

This series features the many Americans for the Arts members doing transformative work for arts education, public art, advocacy, arts marketing, and more. An Americans for the Arts Membership connects you with this network of more than 6,000 arts leaders and gives you access to latest professional development and research. You can become a member by visiting us online, sending an email to [email protected], or calling 202.371.2830.

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