Power of the Arts talks to makers, performers, teachers, students, administrators, technicians, patrons & entrepreneurs: the heart of our arts.
Tara C. Walker-Pollock is the Success After 6 Manager for United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, which provides a number of enrichment opportunities and wraparound services for families throughout the Valley. Started in 2015 at Youngstown Community School, Success After 6 will now reach families in a total of 7 schools, including 5 elementary schools in the Youngstown City Schools District. Tara is thrilled about the opportunity she’s been given to serve children and families in the community where she grew up. She hopes to pave the way for the next generation of Youngstown to see themselves as being proud products of Youngstown and fully capable of moving the city towards a great future. Tara resides in Youngstown with her husband and daughter.
Power of the Arts coordinator Karen Schubert interviewed Walker Pollock in the Power of the Arts office downtown.
Listen to the interview here:
or read the transcript, below.
KS: Tara, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.
TWP: Thank you for reaching out to me.
So we’ve just come from the ribbon cutting at the SMARTS Center in their new home downtown. It’s such a beautiful place, everything—
The room was full of hope and optimism. It’s great to see. Tell us how you have been involved with the SMARTS program.
So how I got involved working with SMARTS was, I am currently the Success After 6 manager for United Way of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, and under our Success After 6 Umbrella we have an after school program. We started the program at Youngstown Community School in 2015 and then this most recent school year we expanded into Youngstown City Schools at Taft Elementary.
I was in charge of the program at Taft Elementary so we had SMARTS programming this year. They worked with us the entire school year. They provided three different sessions, so first we did theater arts for ten weeks, we did ten weeks of visual arts and printmaking, and then we did ten weeks of the drum circles.
That sounds incredible. I’ve seen some clips on the Taft Promise Neighborhood Facebook page and it looks like so much fun. There’s just this exuberance and engagement. So at Success After 6— does that mean only particular children can be involved? Is there some kind of a screening process?
So Success After 6, the after school program, we are really trying to work with students primarily that need extra support. Success After 6 is more than an after school program. We also provide a lot of wrap-around services but when it came to the after school piece, we wanted to make sure we were primarily working with students that needed extra support, be it academics, also social-emotional. We help support families; so we started by reaching out to families at the school, letting them know that this program was coming, and gave them an opportunity to be a part that way. We also worked with teachers to identify the students that really could benefit from the support that we were looking to offer. Again, academic support was very crucial to our program, but also the social-emotional support that a lot of students need.
We know that many of our students come from some very challenging situations, at times heart-breaking situations, and so even though we do all that we can to impact their lives in a positive way, sometimes they’re still going home to, again, very challenging and heart-breaking situations. So just wanting to make sure that we had that support to offer to the Taft community which was where we started.
And you started at Taft because it was selected as the Promise Neighborhood—
Yeah, Taft Promise Neighborhood has come together in such an amazing way. There are, probably, over forty partners from throughout the Mahoning Valley that have come together to make Taft Promise Neighborhood a reality. United Way specifically heads up the education piece of Taft Promise Neighborhood. The Taft area was chosen with the idea of having a school as the community hub. So impacting the children that are students of the school but also impacting the communities through the other services and programs that we provided. And Taft, at that point, was one of the only schools in the district that was still considered a true neighborhood school, where a lot of the students lived within close proximity of the school where they can walk or ride their bikes to school. That had a lot to do with why Taft Elementary was chosen as a community hub.
Is this a change of direction for the United Way? They’ve been funding other organizations that have programming, but then to take on programming themselves—do you know the impetus behind that? Was it filling some kind of a void?
We have taken a shift to a more “impact model” where we are providing the direct impact. We do still fund other agencies that support a lot of our impact work that we’re doing, so that part of United Way, that we’ve always known United Way to be, is still in place. But moving towards this impact model is something that more United Ways are starting to do. There are two United Ways in particular that we visited to explore starting the community school concept. There is a United Way in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, and then there’s one out in the Salt Lake City area where they’ve been doing this work in the community schools for several years now. And they really started to make great strides. So we kind of used those as our model.
And then when we were able to come together with the AmerCorps VISTAs, and the folks that had already signed on for the Taft Promise Neighborhood, it was the perfect fit. It just all came together at the right time, and we were able to move forward together.
Did they have arts programming at Taft, is there regular arts programming there?
They do have art classes, they also have music classes, so there is a teacher who would come in at least once a week to make sure that every class there was getting art and then also music.
So they would have art or music once a week?
Both. They would have both art and music once a week.
How long has the Success After 6 program at Taft been up and running?
This past school year, the 2016-17 school year, was our very first year in Youngstown City Schools at Taft, and now moving forward into the next school year, 2017-18, we will be in Taft as well as four other elementaries in Youngstown City Schools. We will still be at Youngstown Community School; we’re also expanding into Girard Schools, but in Youngstown City we will continue to be at Taft, also Williamson, MLK, Bunn, and McGuffey. So we are expanding pretty quickly.
That’s exciting. So, any assessment program is not yet complete. But what’s your feeling about what a difference it’s made? What are you seeing and hearing?
I’m feeling very optimistic. This is very difficult work. You become very attached to the children and the families and the challenges that they’re facing. But one thing I’ve seen is that children, and even some of the adults, they are so resilient. And you just can’t imagine the situations they come to school with every day and they still have smiles on their faces.
There’s a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings that you get from doing this work, but again, academics was a crucial part of our program, and you know, we’re working. We’re working on making strides academically, as well. One of the key changes going into this next school year in Youngstown City is that we will be working together with the district, because the district also started an after school program this past year, and so we will get to work together to help impact the children both academically, and then Success After 6 will also provide enrichment opportunities for the students.
It’s so much more than just an after school program where you’re just keeping people alive and maybe giving them a snack.
Which all of that is important, but we say all the time that we’re not here to babysitting children. No disrespect to that line of work, but for us, again, it was about academics, because it’s no secret that Youngstown City is facing a lot in terms of overcoming where they are as a district, academically. So anything that we can do to help support them, moving forward and reaching success, is absolutely so crucial to our program.
What about the arts, in particular? Why include that if you really need an academic program? Why not just focus on the academics without the arts?
We just heard some of the statistics at the ribbon-cutting ceremony: it’s very real that arts programming impacts children’s lives in a major way and gives them something to focus on and put their energy towards. One of the statistics was saying how children involved in the arts are less likely to dabble in drugs and do some other things. We have a lot of children who are going home to some very tough situations, and so I think the arts is so important to give them something positive to focus on and help them to find something within themselves that they might not have ever known was there, that they can aspire to.
Of course, academics is very crucial, but with Success After 6, it was also crucial to help with the social-emotional development of our students, because it takes more than just book smarts to be successful in life. While that is huge, it was very important to provide those other outlets for students to express themselves, and inspire them in the classroom but also expose them to different opportunities.
So— creativity and a sense of empowerment, strengthening those neural pathways, and just feeling really engaged. It’s often a collaborative or group project, so you’re working together, knowing people in different ways.
Speaking of AmeriCorpsVISTA, you and I met during an AmeriCorpsVISTA service year at Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation. At the time, you were working on your master’s degree at Penn State in Community and Economic Development. What do you think led you to want to do this kind of nonprofit work?
It really came during that time of being at YNDC as an AmeriCorpsVISTA and also being in school for my master’s at the same time. Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation provided such an amazing opportunity for me to learn and get into community development work because it was different from what I’d been doing. I learned so much there. But one of the things that came to me, especially while I was a VISTA, was, you know, the work that’s being done by organizations like YNDC and others in the Valley is amazing, but, as we who are here doing the work right now move on and start to do other things with our lives, who are we going to pass all of this work on to?
For me, I felt that it would be a disservice to our community if we weren’t also working just as hard on the development of our youth, so that they have something to grow up and say, like, I want to impact Youngstown! This is where I’m from, I’m proud to be from here, and I can have an impact right here, where I grew up. For me, growing up in this area, I’ll be quite honest, I was encouraged to go away to college, and I didn’t feel at the time that there were opportunities for me here to do what it was that I wanted to do. And when I came to YNDC and I saw, oh yeah, there is opportunity for me here, I became really, really passionate about being able to spread that to the youth that are coming up right now, so that they can have something that they can take ownership of right here in Youngstown.
I know exactly what you mean. I think there’s a big difference. For me, it just occurred to me that we all have a sense that things are good or not good or—whatever that general feeling is—and maybe we have a few theories about what might make it better. There’s something life-altering about looking at the data and really seeing how the data’s changed over time and looking at best practices, what have other communities tried, and what have really worked? It’s also very uplifting, but it’s also so concrete. You realize you don’t have to move forward making public policy on theory. We can really try out plans that have solid backing, statistics-wise.
And so, you’re a new mom—
How do you think that has that changed your idea of the importance of the arts in our individual lives? Do you see her engaging? I know she’s pretty little.
She’s 2 ½. I can’t wait— I was just thinking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for SMARTS, I can’t wait until my daughter can benefit from programs like this. I was fortunate to be able to take dance lessons and piano lessons when I was a kid. So many kids don’t get that opportunity because their families just can’t afford to provide those types of opportunities. But to have things like SMARTS in our community is so exciting. I definitely can see my daughter being engaged in the arts. She’s already very expressive and loves music, just like me and her dad, and I can totally see how it can help further develop her. She’s very smart, very intelligent, and I just can’t wait to see how she can benefit from programs like SMARTS.
And I really appreciate the point you’re making that we are working to convey this idea that the arts isn’t just for people who can afford it. That that enrichment should be available to everyone. And people need to see themselves there. They need people who look like them, and people whose experiences are similar to theirs.
Do you have anything else that you would like to tell us about the power of the arts in the community, or anything you’d like us to know?
I’m just very excited for opportunities like this to be taking place, be it SMARTS, be it Lindsay Renea Dance Theater—there are amazing arts opportunities here in Youngstown being led by people who are from this community, and it’s really exciting to see. I just am grateful to be a part of it, grateful that we’re able to continue working with SMARTS and that they’ll be able to expand with us as we expand. Just being able to spread the word: this is arts. This is for you. I’m just really excited about this opportunity and where it’s going to lead.
⇒Watch a video of Taft’s end-of-the-year picnic with a cameo by Tara’s daughter. dance_party
Power of the Arts coordinator Karen Schubert interviewed Hallahan by the courtyard fountain on the YSU campus.
Listen to the interview here:
or read the transcript, below. (Please note: a few corrections were made in the transcription.)
KS: Ed, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions about your interesting life as an artist in our community.
EH: Well thank you, and it’s a wonderful privilege and I appreciate the opportunity.
So we’re meeting behind behind the Butler Institute of American Art, where you work in the exhibits, exhibit design, preparatory work. Tell us a little bit about the work you do at the Butler.
It has to do with all the hands-on work at the museum, I guess. The stuff you don’t see. Normally people walk into a museum and they just see paintings resting on the wall [laughter] in repose, kind of like you view the dead bodies of the paintings. Picasso said when the painting leaves the studio it’s dead. I have that fantasy sometimes, looking at paintings in the museum. [laughter] But what I do is handle a lot of the art work and physically put up the art on the walls or the sculpture whatever it is— framing matting, lighting, some minor curatorial stuff.
I also teach a class at the Butler for high school juniors and seniors. It’s called Arts Honors and it’s created to be a transition experience between high school and their college. Most of these students have intentions to go on in the visual arts so it’s an opportunity to stretch their experience a little more than what they would get from high school, a little more like what they would get in college.
I’ve heard art faculty at YSU say that one challenge that young people have today in studying the arts is that they haven’t—because their entertainment is so much more digital than it has been before—they don’t have as much experience working with their hands. Do you find that they are having to learn spacial relationships or how materials function more than they might have or is that just grumpy older people complaining about kids the way we always have? [laughter]
I think it’s affected their sense of concentration a little bit, their ability to focus or stay on track, but their sense of spatial reality—I don’t know, the ones I get—seem to be o.k. with that. The hands-on experience is probably more natural for them than for other people. I think the digital thing is hurting our sense of— changing our sense of reality. And maybe that’s a better word— I never did buy that idea that it’s only a tool, you know, like a gun is only a tool, a computer is only a tool, it’s what you do with it. Everything inherently has its own nature. I think that’s true of machinery as well. You are what you eat.
But we have the great human capacity to overcome obstacles and once we integrate stuff— I don’t believe we’ve integrated computer technology enough. Or put differently, we have to grow a different side of our human nature that would help us to get a better control of it. We have to get out of this entertainment consumer kind of fascination and get down to some serious business or else we’ll continue to have compounded problems.
What was your pathway into the arts? Do you remember yourself as a teen, as a young man and your exploration? What was your impetus?
My mother was very artistic and I think she was a main motivation for my interest. She was very hands-on and made stuff and encouraged me to do that as well. I also had a very good art teacher in high school, and music teacher as well. Those programs were very strong when I was in high school. But it’s something I always did and never questioned. I guess if I had come up in a different environment, I might have come out differently. I don’t know.
Do you remember seeing the arts as a kind of entertainment or was it something deeper, more a way to engage with yourself, and the world? or yourself in the world?
Yeah. It was a way to engage myself in the world. It has its entertainment side, but once you’re involved in the process of it, entertainment is not the word to describe it. It’s work, but there’s also very rewarding feelings, and sometime ecstatic feelings, but it has nothing to do with entertainment.
So the process of engaging creativity and solving problems is just something deeper than having fun; even if it’s enjoyable it’s more substantive.
I think so. The enjoyment is the short-lived part of it. (But oh— words are hard sometimes.) I think there’s a constant enjoyment with the process, actually, or happiness. I’m very happy with it. I can’t think of doing anything else, and I wouldn’t change what I have done, but it’s not entertainment like going to the movies or something like that, where you’re passive. It’s totally active and I think that’s what I like about it. We’re a creative species and we have this creative capacity. With me it’s always been a process of creation. I mean, I can’t see any other reason for being a human being other than to create something. [laughter]
You’re getting at a question that’s so deeply philosophical and really interesting. By talking about art being dead after it’s on the wall and about how movies are something that we passively take in, is it really, for you, is it really for you about the work of the artist? Because I know, I’m a writer and we talk about how we create but then that work isn’t complete until someone reads it, there’s that culmination of that. But do you not feel that way about film? about art?— that the heart of art is really more in the creation?
I think for me it really is more in the creation and the process. It must be because I don’t make an extreme effort to show my work a lot. It’s finished when it’s finished. It doesn’t take another viewer to see it. I think there’s a deeper magic. I think when you do art in the process of making it, it has an immediate audience, which is a larger kind of reality, and not just an objective viewer at the museum. In other words, I think the reason for doing it is on a plane of action that is every day kind of experience. Like breathing. I breathe, and I don’t need anybody to tell me that I’m breathing to complete my breath. I take it in and I exhale it. Do you know what I mean?
I do know what you mean.
So I think an ideal world would have no audience, [laughter] but participants, who were just making art. Of some kind. Or science.
But making. Yeah. And experiencing that process. It’s kind of an unrestrained activity, at a certain point.
Your wife Jackie Moutan is also an artist, and you collaborated, I saw your incredible installation at the Weller Gallery in Fellows Riverside Garden, and your work is carved wood pieces and she works with textiles.
She’s a fiber artist and we combined our two approaches.
Tell a little bit about that installation, the process of collaborating with her, and what the installation was about.
Well the one at Fellows was about a new group of works; we actually built them for Fellows, for that space. A lot of times, when you have the time, you take the space into consideration. And that will effect the making of the objects. There was a large piece at Fellows that actually was in Columbus as well, a large table with sculptural chairs and so we just knew that piece would just sit really nice in that space. The pieces on the wall were especially made for that space. Living in this ongoing kind of making activity there’s a lot of fluidity in terms of the objects. So they can come and go, depending on the situation.
A lot of it’s temporary in nature. But working collaboratively with her is no problem. Working collaboratively, in general, that’s another thing I seem to do. Not only do I work with her but I’m involved with a couple other artists in a performance installation group called Redhand, and we’ve been doing works over a period of twenty years, on and off. Not a lot has been here in Youngstown, but in other locations. When the Cleveland [whispers] (there’s a cardinal right there), performance art festival was going on, it was a major venue for performance art worldwide, and we performed there quite a few times during its history. Another one of those kind of like time—
Time and space?—
Live time and space kind of feel about it. So I think that’s another part of my make up, this idea of time and space and being a musician I work collaboratively with other musicians, too. And that’s also time-space kind of format. Working collaboratively is something I’ve always done but I like my alone time in the studio as well.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the time and space elements regarding the arts in the Mahoning Valley because a lot of the arts are homed in these beautiful, historic, architectural gems, with, if I could use some hyperbole, terrifying maintenance needs, but they’re so amazing.
They are so amazing.
But then you also have these soulless strip malls in the suburbs, like where you’ve played, at Barrel 33 in Howland, just acres of parking because no one lives there. You couldn’t possibly walk there. And you just open this ugly door and step into a space that has been completely transformed. It’s so visually rich, and it has some of the best food in the area, and just the music coming through that place is just off the charts, it’s so good. So I think that’ really interesting, too. I want you to talk about your work as a musician, but if you’ll just indulge me in on question first: so a strip mall is not designed for really good music. So what is it like, acoustically, to play in a place like that?
It’s always kind of risky and sometimes it’s good but a lot of times it’s not perfect so you just kind of adapt to it.
Yeah, it’s not a concert hall, but jazz has a unique way of adapting itself to just about any situation.
Two books Ed recommends:
& The Gift by Lewis Hyde
You play the bass.
The upright bass.
How did you come to fall in love with jazz?
Oh, I think I was in junior high school. There used to be a program on television called the Today Show. That really dates me. [laughter] And Dizzy Gillespie was a guest on this program with his bebop group and I saw and heard that, and I said, That’s it.
You know, the former director of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia, gave a commencement speech at Stanford in which he talked about being an immigrant and learning, not only English, from the kinds of shows on television, but also learning about the arts because in those days, the best artists of our time were daily features on these daily programs. And that we’re losing something important if we don’t continue that tradition—
Tradition of showing the best.
So what’s the name of your band?
Oh, right now I pretty much freelance. I get a lot of gigs currently up in Erie, Pa. I was just there over the last weekend, Saturday and Sunday.
They have a great arts scene in Erie.
Yeah, I think they do. A lot of good musicians everywhere.
You have some formal training in music. Is that right?
I have some formal training in music. I studied some at Dana School of Music and was kind of like a music and art major for awhile and then just evolved more over to art. My master’s degree is in art, in sculpture, from Ohio State. I’ve just always done them simultaneously. I think in some strange way they feed each other.
What do you tell your students who are looking toward an art degree? It seems wildly impractical and I imagine the pressures for practicality are greater than they’ve ever been.
I think they are. Because things are more financially at risk, especially for parents. The cost of education is incredibly stupid. But what I tell them is just, you have to do what you have to do. You know who you are at this point, you just kind of follow that. And there’s no easy answers for any generation.
That’s right and not everyone is making a living with art. They’re often working jobs to stay alive and keep the lights on, and finding good space for the—
That’s especially true for writers. And poets, I think.
I think so, too. I only know a handful of rich poets. [laughter] But it is so worth pursuing, that’s a point well taken.
Oh, for sure. I’ve been fortunate to always be involved in the arts, whether it’s teaching it or some kind of performance way. And I haven’t had to do jobs that weren’t somehow related to art. For the longest time, really. Working in a museum is a safe art place.
And I read recently, I was astonished to read that the arts, nationwide, they constitute 4% of our economy, which is one percent smaller than agriculture. So there really is an economic engine that is driven by the arts. So it’s not impossible.
No, it’s not impossible. I actually think the arts are becoming much more important, in light of other kinds of economic and technological realities.
So as we continue to lose jobs to automation, the the one thing we will never lose jobs to is creativity, right? Is art. Making art.
Being creative. Yeah. I think they help us understand who we are as human beings. Not everything contributes to that understanding. I think it’s important to be really open minded. The pressure for younger people is to find something, to focus in on something. That’s not always the best way to go. It’s just practical. Like you said earlier, we have this pressure to be practical these days, but the soul and the human spirit doesn’t live that kind of practical kind of life. We just have to pay attention to a larger frame of our human needs.
What do you— sometimes people ask me, because I’m not from here, they ask me my theory on why this area is particularly artistically rich. It’s a working class town, lots of manufacturing, it’s a town of the kids of immigrants, so why— what’s your theory?
I think it was particularly rich in terms of our immigrant history and those immigrants brought with them strong European traditions or African traditions where art was a part of everyday life. And it’s just like, that’s the way it is: you do— you sing, we dance, we make stuff, and I think that for some reason somehow continued here. And I think our location, too, between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but I don’t know. It’s just— the way it was. It was part of life.
That’s a great answer. So what do you have coming up? Any installations? Any shows?
Our group Redhand is gearing up for a performance installations at Butler North, hopefully in the fall, it’s going to be part of a performance art night. There might be live music as well as spoken word, in addition to our performance. It’s still in the process. But we’re gearing for sometime in the fall or maybe winter. So that’s happening. Oh I continue to gig around, and in the studio make some new pieces, but nothing on the books for any art show.
[After our interview, Ed said he’d been thinking of his remarks “on Picasso, when he said that when the painting leaves the studio and is on the museum wall it is dead, means that his creative involvement in making it is over—that living creative process is over. But we can say that it now needs an audience ( as you pointed out)—it’s new life as an object in culture has begun—its transformer function begins—its need for an audience begins.]