RI Cultural Anchor: Elizabeth Woodhouse

IMG_2807 - Elizabeth WoodhouseElizabeth Woodhouse founded and serves as the Artistic Director of the Newport County Youth Chorus, which was established in September 2017. She has worked with community children’s choirs for more than 15 years in Denver, CO, Columbus, OH, New Haven, CT and most recently in Brooklyn, NY with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus from 2010 – 2016. We asked her a few questions about her life and art-making in Rhode Island for our series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.

RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday- what did you do in both your personal and professional life.
EW: Yesterday was a DAY! It started by visiting Hathaway Elementary in Portsmouth to work with the 3rd grade chorus as they prepare to sing the National Anthem for the Newport Gulls game on June 17. From there I visited Common Fence Point to tour their new hall (still under construction) and learn more about the possibility of holding weekly rehearsals there. Yesterday was also the final rehearsal for the six-week NCYC “All That Jazz” program at St. Mary’s Church in Portsmouth. We presented the songs we learned to our families and friends and then celebrated with lots of sugary treats! From there I (safely, though swiftly) drove to ‘VUE in Newport to attend the Arts and Cultural Alliance’s “Raise Up the Arts” event! We celebrated our award winners of the new Artist Awards and the 3rd annual Tinney scholarship. It was a whirlwind of a day, but when I fall into bed after a long day like that I am grateful that I get to do what I love to do!

RISCA: What do you love about the art community in Rhode Island?JC3_5348 - Elizabeth Woodhouse
EW: What struck me the most when I started dreaming about starting the Newport County Youth Chorus in 2017 was that everyone I reached out to offered sincere and supportive advice and insight. Despite what some people say about Rhode Islanders, the arts community is open to new artistic ideas and programs. I felt and continue to feel truly embraced by the community.

RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
EW: My parents met in Providence and both of their families were in Rhode Island (Little Compton and Narragansett). Though I did not grow up in RI, we would spend every summer here and it always felt like “home” to me. It took many years and living in five states before I finally settled in Rhode Island in 2016, but I always knew I would!

RISCA: Why do you do what you do? What inspires you, drives you, to create or enable the creation of art?
EW: I love being able to provide a space for young people to explore their unique voice and experience how it impacts a collective goal, which in NCYC is through singing in a chorus. I feed on their curious and excited energy as they discover themselves through music.

DSC_9499 - Elizabeth WoodhouseRISCA: What is the biggest challenge for you in your art life?
EW: My biggest challenge in my art life is feeling isolated in my own work. It is easy to feel like we are alone when we are at the forefront of an idea or project that we are passionate about. I am consciously working on bringing people into the fold who can provide support in various ways: cheerleaders of the program, financial support, and community partners.

To keep up with Elizabeth and all the happenings at Newport County Youth Chorus, like them on Facebook and follow them on Instagram!

RI Cultural Anchor: Victoria Gao

VictoriaGao - Victoria GaoVictoria Gao is the Director of the Bannister Gallery and Exhibitions at Rhode Island College and a scholar of photography history. Born in Rhode Island, Victoria moved away for twenty-four years, but she’s glad to be home again. We asked her a few questions about her life and art-making in Rhode Island for our series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.

RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday – what did you do in both your personal and professional life.
VG: The last two weeks were spent wrapping up our final exhibition of the 2018-2019 academic year – our Annual Graduating Art Students’ Exhibition – so I had a chance yesterday to finally look ahead to upcoming shows. I just sent out artist acceptance letters for a metalsmithing exhibition we are currently working on around the topic of gun violence that will be in Bannister in fall 2020. I was also actively promoting our current exhibition on social media, updating our gallery inventory, and – as a perk – decluttering my office! I spent the evening at a local Thai restaurant with some friends and curled up at home afterwards to the new Amy Poehler movie on Netflix.

RISCA: What do you love about the art community in Rhode Island?
VG: I love how close-knit everyone is and how supportive and welcoming the art community is to newcomers. I’ve only been back in Rhode Island for less than a year, but I already feel at home here. And I’m excited for future collaborations with different people and organizations from across the region.

RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
VG: I was born in Rhode Island after my parents immigrated here in the 1980s for DSC_1869 - Victoria Gaograduate school. They were among the first wave of Chinese students to study abroad for graduate school after the decades of isolationist government policies. We moved away when I was very young, but I’ve always loved the proximity to the ocean and the temperate weather – especially having lived in upstate New York for a decade. So when opportunity allowed me to move back, I immediately jumped on board.

RISCA: What are you most excited about right now in your work as an arts administrator?
VG: I’m most excited about the shift into digital spaces and all the possibilities that are opened up when that happens. We have a digital media program in our Art Department that brings in really innovative contemporary artists working with 3-D printing and virtual reality, and one of my biggest goals for Bannister Gallery is to reach out to the younger generations who are constantly plugged in to make sure they’re aware of what we have to offer here. I’m also planning to digitize our permanent artwork collection and have that available to the public as well.

RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?
VG: I would love to see more collaboration between the different arts organizations throughout Rhode Island. I serve on the board of Gallery Night Providence, and part of our mission is to bring the art community in our city closer together and to make sure that we are accessible to a diverse public audience. I also hope that Rhode Islanders don’t feel inhibited by a twenty-minute drive to see art spaces in neighboring towns.

RISCA: What is the biggest challenge for you in your art life?
DSC_2199 - Victoria GaoVG: One of the biggest challenges that I first encountered when entering the art world was financial instability. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to find a permanent position doing what I love, but the lack of openness and the limited number of frank conversations about finances and systemic pressures within the field have been troubling. We recently exhibited a RISD alumni artist Kelli Rae Adams, whose work directly confronts the student debt crisis in this country, and I think having exhibitions that address this topic and artists who are willing to speak about their own personal experiences will prepare future artists for what to expect – and how to ask for more.

You can see what Victoria is up to at Rhode Island College’s Bannister Gallery by following it on Facebook or visiting the gallery’s website.

RI Cultural Anchor: Uriah Donnelly

UD - uriah donnellyUriah is a nonprofit administrator and arts educator from Warren, RI where in early 2016 he launched The Collaborative, a nonprofit arts organization. Uriah is also a published writer and celebrated musician. He lives in Warren with his wife, Janet. We asked him a few questions about his life and art-making in Rhode Island for our series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.

RISCA: Give us a brief overview of your day yesterday- what did you do in both your personal and professional life.
UD: Well, the Collaborative is one of four “jobs” that I have so each day is unique. But specifically yesterday I ran an art selection presentation for Art Connection-RI at WARM Center in Westerly, updated the website for Art Night Bristol Warren, met with the Superintendent of Bristol Warren Schools as part of my grant writing position with the Town of Warren, and then went shopping for refreshments for The Collaborative’s Student Artist of the Month Artist Reception. Later in the evening, I attended the reception (which was very well attended!)

RISCA: What do you love about the art community in Rhode Island?
UD: Simply put, it’s that there are so many folks doing great things here with creativity and drive to make the arts a permanent part of Rhode Island’s economic and cultural RISCA - uriah donnellylandscape.

RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
UD: I’m a Rhode Islander. My family are Rhode Islanders. There’s not a way to un-become that, it’s in the blood.

RISCA: What is one thing, personal or professional, that you or your organization want to accomplish in the next year?
UD: My main goal has always been to grow The Collaborative into a sustainable organization with full time employees and year-round arts education programs. This year we were able to begin compensating our Gallery Manager with a small stipend. My hope to grow that position into full time by next year. Programming-wise, we are really working hard on adding more workshop and class opportunities for people of all ages.

RISCA: Why do you do what you do? What inspires you, drives you, to create or enable the creation of art?
Self - uriah donnellyUD: Have you ever seen the look on a young person’s face when they create something they are proud of and see it hung on a gallery wall? Or the look when someone they don’t know purchases it? The arts are so important to the community, I can’t think of anything else I’d prefer to do than support the folks creating it.

RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?
UD: More funding! Lots and lots of money please.

You can see what Uriah is up to at The Collaborative by visiting their website, and following them on Facebook and Instagram.