Blog Posts for District of Columbia

Getting to Know Our Staff: Ten Questions with...Hannah Jacobson

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Feb 28, 2013 0 comments

We recently launched a new series on ARTSblog that spotlights the staff at Americans for the Arts that I call "Ten Questions with...", in which I will ask everyone the same questions and see where it takes us. Last time I interviewed myself as a test case and  this week I have turned to Hannah Jacobson who currently serves as Executive Assistant to President and CEO Bob Lynch. 1. Describe your role at Americans for the Arts in 10 words or less. Writing; editing; calendaring; herding; travel booking; prepping; printing; note taking; pinch hitting 2. What do the arts mean to you? There has been no time where I wasn’t involved in the arts. There are pictures of me before I can remember next to and posing as Degas sculptures. I feel a real personal connection to the arts even though my stick figure drawings didn’t lead to a fashion career or visual arts (success?). I was in my first play at 7, playing a dwarf in “The Hobbit” and was in no fewer than six shows per year up until college.  This includes “Barnum,” which led me to my great secret talent: balloon animals.  Yes, I still make them. In college I started singing. Thinking back on the trajectory, I never thought of the arts as a career path until college, but the arts were always everywhere and inevitable in my life (maybe I owe something to my extreme lack of athletic ability). At summer camp, I picked the two art courses (Art, Politics, & Society and Philosophy of Art) to take as part of the academic program. My AP History paper was on the culture wars with the National Endowment for the Arts, but it never occurred to me that it would lead me somewhere. It was in my first art history class in college that I realized it all led up to that point and career path. The arts contextualized me in a lot of ways. I can reach back to arts experiences to make sense of where I was at that specific point in my life. I think a prevailing assumption is that acting helps you explore yourself through becoming someone else, and I think that’s true, but I used to walk alone into the dark theatre and sit on stage looking at the empty seats and it felt just as deeply personal—the arts were a safe space for me, but they were also a sacred space. Sitting on the dark stage was different in an elemental way than any other place. It wasn’t just the performances, it was the essence of the space and allowing myself to live in that place, even if for just a moment.  The arts have always provided an access point for me, guiding me to accept and appreciate the moment and the state in which I find myself—good, bad, or anything in between, the arts have always helped me to see the vibrancy of the world and gain a true sense of being present. 3. If you could have any career you wanted (talent, education not required), what would it be and why? I would own a bakery. 100%. I realize in the age of food blogging that suddenly this is hugely en vogue, and I have read MULTIPLE times that bakers say that it’s no fun, but I am going to pretend I don’t know that and stick with the fact that I love baking.  That’s what I would do. 4. How many places have you lived? Where? Six. I was born in Santa Monica, CA and moved to Los Angeles at two. We then moved to Ann Arbor, MI, but not before my brother and I ran around the dining room for hours screaming. I asked if I could bring Chinatown, the ocean, and our lemon tree with us. I moved to New Haven, CT for college, spent most summers at home in Michigan with the exception of one in D.C,. and a semester abroad in London before returning to live in D.C. 5. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received? My a cappella group was singing at Mory’s, a Yale dinner club, and after finishing my solo (“You’re No Good” by Linda Ronstadt), one patron said, “When they were giving out personalities, they gave you two!” I took that to mean I had a lot of personality (and I’m sticking with that interpretation!). He also said I had “come one to a box.” His compliments were delightfully odd and shockingly insightful. 6. Name three people in history (dead or alive) with whom you would want to sit down to dinner. I’m going to have to have two dinner parties. For a philosophical, somber wine and cheese gathering I would like to speak with Roland Barthes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Viktor Frankl. Barthes’ Camera Lucida is one of the most influential books I read during college in terms of my academic interests and the way I learned to think about and interpret visual art, Hurston’s autobiography is a spectacularly exuberant study of a life lived in full color, and Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is staggeringly beautiful, universally meaningful, and beyond all else, powerfully human…and it has not left me since I first picked it up at age sixteen. For a fun, outdoor picnic (preferably hosted by F.Scott Fitzgerald, but I’m flexible), I would love to spend time with Claude Monet (I have loved him since the age of three, when I encountered him in Linnea in Monet’s Garden), Ruth Reichl (her memoirs are fantastic), and Ben Franklin (I’m a colonial history dork and 1776 is my favorite movie).  If I can include fictional characters, I would invite Eloise in a heartbeat.  My idol. 7. Would others say that you can dance? Explain. People call my dancing style “the Hannah” (Editor’s Note: Which I would describe as a little Peanuts’ Sally Brown meets Hair). I was also known as Boppity Short Girl in my a cappella group (see video). 8. What is the earliest memory you have of being an audience member for a live arts event? I think my first memory was at 2 or 3 years-old at a Sharon, Lois, & Bram concert. I can remember twirling in the aisles incessantly. The most meaningful performance I can remember was “Kiss Me Kate” on Broadway. The show inspired me beyond measure. It made me see what’s possible as a performer and how engaging a live performance can be. 9. What would the title of your autobiography be? “Always Looking Up: Life from the Five Foot (and a Quarter Inch) Line” 10. Finally, if you could paint a picture or take more photos of a place you have been in your life what would you paint or photograph? First of all, I wish I could paint!! This is a tough question because, like Tim (link), I take a lot of pictures, so it’s rare that I need MORE pictures—in fact, it would probably be more helpful if I were a little better at editing. That said, I wish I had taken more pictures of places—my dorms and that part of my life—during college in addition to pictures of other people, each other, etc. When I travel I feel that I capture most of the experience, but those times when I was just hanging out—I tried to appreciate them, but I’m not sure I could have known how really special those were at the time. So I wish I had more pictures of “Flower Couch” (see photo, as we were leaving it behind at school, tears!) that we got from a hotel liquidation sale my first week of freshman year…and the other accoutrements of collegiate life! Christine Meehan and Hannah Jacobson at the 2012 National Arts Policy Round Table (Photo by Fred Hayes) Christine Meehan and Hannah Jacobson at our 2012 National Arts Policy Roundtable (Photo by Fred Hayes)

We recently launched a new series on ARTSblog that spotlights the staff at Americans for the Arts that I call "Ten Questions with...", in which I will ask everyone the same questions and see where it takes us.

Last time I interviewed myself as a test case and this time I have turned to Hannah Jacobson who currently serves as Executive Assistant to President and CEO Bob Lynch.

1. Describe your role at Americans for the Arts in 10 words or less.

Writing; editing; calendaring; herding; travel booking; prepping; printing; note taking; pinch hitting

2. What do the arts mean to you?

There has been no time when I wasn’t involved in the arts. There are pictures of me before I can remember next to and posing as Degas sculptures.

I was in my first play at seven, playing a dwarf in The Hobbit, and was in no fewer than six shows per year up until college. This includes Barnum, which led me to my great secret talent: balloon animals. Yes, I still make them. 

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Economic Data Provides the Base for Public and Private Sector Advocacy

Posted by Jennifer Cover Payne, Jul 12, 2012 0 comments

Jennifer Cover Payne

Eighteen years ago there was little research documenting the economic impact of arts and culture in the Greater Washington DC metropolitan region. The key advocacy message focused primarily on the intrinsic value of arts and its ability to transform communities.

Most of the information conveyed was subjective or limited to research conducted by specific arts organizations for their marketing purposes. The organizations, all part of the DC metropolitan region, did not cross jurisdictional boundaries to collaborate as research partners. The Arts & Economic Prosperity (AEP) studies eliminated the regional jurisdictional research barriers.

The Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington connects the six leaders of the arts councils and commissions representing: the District of Columbia; the City of Alexandria in Virginia; Arlington and Fairfax Counties in Virginia; and, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland. The arts council and commission leaders meet several times a year under the umbrella of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington to discuss their arts projects, regional arts challenges, and successes.

Before the economic downturn, when local governments had more money, the AEP studies were part of the rationale that the city and council members used to grant millions of dollars to arts organizations that were building new or renovating old venues. Now the data supports the budget decision-making process for the arts and is essential to the vitality of arts programs throughout the region.

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Giving Thanks in America's Capital

Posted by Delali Ayivor, Jun 19, 2012 1 comment

Delali Ayivor

I know this about myself: I am a writer and I am an obruni.

Obruni is a term that comes from the Ghanaian language of Twi and it translates to foreigner or, more archaically “white man.” I was born in Houston, TX. My mother was born in Durham, NC and my father in Lome, Togo. I was raised, primarily, in Accra, Ghana. In my life I have lived in four countries and three states and through it all, I have had trouble identifying myself as an American.

The United States has been a constant symbol of idolatry for me. As an elementary school student, I ordered my father to bring back suitcases full of Oreos and Cheetos from his business trips, simply for the sheer commercial joy of the American name-brand. So when I moved, by myself, from Accra, Ghana to the outskirts of Northwest Michigan at age 15 to attend boarding school, I was, for the first time since the age of 3, ecstatically emerged in America, in my obsession.

Now I am going to say something that doesn’t get said enough; I love the Midwest. Perhaps because it was the first place that I lived in the United States where I was old enough to form an opinion, but I suspect there are others out there like me.

Coming from West Africa with absolutely no background in American history, the Midwest was the America I had always envisioned. This was the America I had gleaned from hours of Lifetime Television for Women made-for-tv movies; a place where my first poetry teacher, a farm girl, actually had her first kiss on a hayride, where soda was referred to as ‘pop’, the forgotten frontier of endless strip malls and moms in department store khakis pulling up to Rotary Club meetings in their Toyota minivans to talk about foreign lands they might never see, the backwards mud people saved by $5 a month set-aside through clever coupon usage down at the Piggly Wiggly.

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P.S. You’re Serving the Minority: How to Keep Up With the New Majority

Posted by Anette Shirinian, Jun 12, 2012 1 comment

Anette Shirinian

After attending Salvador Acevedo’s session, The New Mainstream: How Changing Demographics Are Shifting Your Community, at our Annual Convention in San Antonio this past weekend I learned that there are already five minority majority states in the U.S., and they’re not little.

California, Texas, New Mexico, District of Columbia, and Hawaii all currently have less than a 50 percent White population. This is a huge shift considering that America’s population was about 90 percent White up to the 1970s. It has since declined to 60 percent and continues to follow this pattern. The Hispanic population on the other hand is growing rapidly with an estimated 167 percent growth by 2050 (142 percent Asian, 56 percent Black, 1 percent White).

How does this affect the arts?

Well it proses a huge problem when less than 50 percent of our nation’s population is White, yet your audience is 70–90 percent White. As Salvador said, “we must diversify our audiences, otherwise we will become irrelevant.”

As “prime vehicles for intercultural understanding” (my favorite quote from the session), arts and culture will not survive if it does not reflect our population as a whole. So how do we prevent ourselves from becoming irrelevant?

You must practice what you preach. The change must start internally within your organization before you can start to diversify your audience. Salvador calls this the “intercultural strategy.”

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Leveraging Our Impact as Leaders & Followers

Posted by Elizabeth McCloskey Miller, Apr 03, 2012 0 comments

Liz Miller

Elizabeth McCloskey Miller

I have the pleasure of serving as co-chair of the steering committee for Emerging Arts Leaders DC (EALDC), a volunteer-led initiative that provides professional development, networking, and information relevant to emerging arts professionals in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.

EALDC hosted our first-ever “book club” event in January with the incomparable Liz Lerman. Liz agreed to meet with our group to discuss her new book Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer. About twenty emerging leaders came out for the event, which Liz began by getting the group on their feet for a short icebreaker activity. Liz paired up the group, assigning one person from each pair the role of leader and one person the role of follower. The follower closed their eyes and was led by the leader around the room. Leaders were encouraged to move their partners in creative ways as music played. When instructed by Liz, the leaders and followers swapped roles and swapped partners. For me, the most interesting part of the exercise came mid-song when Liz told us to stop moving and decide individually whether we wanted to continue in our current leader or follower role. After the activity ended and we took our seats, Liz told us that in this self-directed segment of the leader/follower activity, there was a time when almost everyone in the room had elected to be a follower.

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Urban Design is a Universal Language

Posted by Radhika Mohan, Nov 09, 2011 2 comments

Radhika Mohan

It’s no secret that cities are becoming larger and more diverse. The newest 2010 Census numbers speak for themselves:

  • Over 80% of our current population lives in a metropolitan area;
  • The Hispanic population grew by over 40% in the past ten years, now making up 16% of the total U.S. population;
  • The Asian population in the country also grew by over 40%;
  • Those identifying themselves as “two or more races” increased by over 30%;
  • Nearly 50% of the U.S. Western region’s population is minority.

What is it about cities that attract such diverse groups to one place?

I think on one level it is about comfort- as humans in an age of globalization and displacement, we find comfort in communities that feel like home. Cities are able to remind us of our heritage through access to specialized foods, clothing, and other goods and institutions: think of Chicago’s Devon Avenue, Philadelphia’s Italian Market, or even Tampa’s historic Ybor City.

Amongst all these different demographic and census groups, languages, and modes of communication that exist within cities there is something we all can understand about places and that is consistently aided with urban design.

In many ways, urban design is a universal human language, something that can traverse our differences and connect us all through visual and sensual interventions.

As an example, I will draw from my own neighborhood in Washington, DC: Columbia Heights.

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