Shift Happens: Advice from An Artist-Educator Friend

In the Garden, by Joanne Vena
After my last post on my own shift of work from being in an art museum to archaeology research organization and museum, I had a conversation with a friend of mine, Joanne Vena, about the experience of changing work environment and its impacts to our own introspection. I met Joanne through the Center for Community Arts Partnership at Columbia College Chicago when she was their Director of School Partnerships. After 12 years of service, Joanne left the position. As a printmaker and sculptor, Joanne always inspires me by her strong artistic sensibility and tireless passion for art in community. Facing a sudden shift from being a full-time cultural administrator to unemployed artist, I invited Joanne to share her reflection on this unexpected journey. From breaking from the daily routine to embracing uncertainty and seeking opportunities, this post is a celebration of how we as women's bravery against adversity.

From my guest blogger – Joanne Vena:

"Since 1984, I have had an ongoing love affair with arts education, in all of its forms in schools and communities. When abrupt shifted from my daily routine of an arts education administrator to an unemployed artist, it made me think about who I was at this moment - a committed educator, an evolving artist and a program administrator.  More importantly, moving forward, how was I going to "identify" in our current world of schools with their multiple layers of test prep that limit space and time for unscripted learning in the arts?  Could I possibly make the case in this environment of strategic data sets that a creative integrated arts learning environment could greatly help a school do a "turnaround" in grades, test scores and behavior?

Human Nature, by Joanne Vena
"So I stopped thinking of being "laid off" and started thinking of this unanticipated time as a "creative sabbatical", real time to reflect and re-engage in arts education in actions - doing, creating and thinking. I believe that the artists who commit to working in schools are some of the most gifted teachers I will ever meet, using their own personal artistic innovation to create change every time they are in a classroom.  Since 2013, I have joined my teaching artist friends out in the field again, in the role of artist/educator and program consultant. My recent experiences, like the many years of my prior careers, continue to calibrate my inner compass to recognize/celebrate the successes and continue to problem solve the challenges of being a teaching artist in a public school classroom in Chicago.

"In the studio, my personal artwork continues to explore the concepts of access and equity for women who live in highly restrictive environments and use their writings as a way to empower them, even if their work cannot be publicly distributed.  The collection of images and text are constructed, deconstructed and then reconstructed, with the final outcome uncertain until I decide when the art can be left alone to speak for itself. In similar ways to my work life, I am making art in the studio that is all about the journey, with the final destination becoming clearer every day."

Sabbatical. Re-engagement. Creating. Empowerment. From Joanne's reflection, I found that each person has his/her own seasons to work, pause, and explore. Joanne's "creative sabbatical" gives me a new lens to look when life is being intervened with unpredictable circumstances. Art, rather than a purely therapeutic tool, it offers a space for self-empowerment and opens up a new journey. In Joanne's words, "Enjoy the journey. The destination will take care of itself."

About the Guest Blogger:

Joanne Vena is a printmaker and sculptor in Chicago. Currently Joanne is spending her afternoons supporting Elevarte Community Studio's in-school programs, while creating new professional development workshop experiences for teaching artists and teachers upon invitation and spending time working in her studio.  She looks forward to working with the Smart Museum of Art in the coming months.