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.

New ‘Advancing Cultural Equity’ Workshop and Technical Assistance Program! Deadline April 15


Advancing Cultural Equity Workshop and Technical Assistance Program

Jointly-sponsored by Rhode Island State Council for the Arts (RISCA) and the Rhode Island Foundation (RIF), this pilot program is designed to build capacity among Rhode Island arts and cultural organizations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Consisting of a three-part workshop series and technical assistance package, organizations will obtain the knowledge, tools, and strategies needed to attract and retain an engaged group of staff, volunteers, and board members through shared learning and individualized consultations with a field expert.

Potential applicants are highly encouraged to speak with Todd Trebour, RISCA’s Organizations Program Director, at 401-222-3882 or todd.trebour@arts.ri.gov prior to application. A PDF version of the program guidelines is available here.

Program goals

  • Provide participating organizations with material that represents best practices in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) designed to assist each organization match their commitment to DEI with that of their stakeholders, audiences and cultural/service offerings.
  • Offer the cohort individualized assistance with creation of a plan for full implementation of equity and diversity practices and action steps.

Program components

  • Cohort: consists of 8-10 organizations selected via application. Organizations must complete a written application.
  • Participants: Up to three representatives from an organization must attend all sessions, including Executive Director (ED) and Board Chair.
  • Presenter and Technical Assistance Provider: Brea Heidelberg, Ph.D., assistant professor at Drexel University (see bio below).
  • Program elements: Workshops (3 hours each): each workshop will run from 9 AM – 12 PM on the date specified at RIF. Workshops will be followed by a networking lunch courtesy of RIF.
    • Friday, June 21, 2019 – Nuts and bolts of diversity, equity, and inclusion work: an overview.
    • Friday, August 30, 2019 – Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within your staff and volunteers.
    • Friday, September 27, 2019 – Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within your governing body. Upon completion of the workshops, participating organizations will be eligible for participation grants up to $1000 from the RI Foundation.
    • Individual technical assistance: up to 3 hours of individual phone, video conference and/or in-person coaching for ED and/or board chair after workshop series is completed, depending on org needs. Participating organizations will receive grants from RISCA to cover the cost of the 3 hours of technical assistance.
    • Peer-to-peer check in session 6, 9, and 12 months after first workshop to maintain accountability.
  • Program outcome (short-term): clearly defined staff and board diversity and equity development plan.
  • Program outcome (long-term): implementation of staff and board diversity and equity development plan. We understand implementation may only be initiated during program time table.


In order to build a sense of shared cohort for this pilot, organizations must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered in the state of Rhode Island.
  • Have arts and culture as central to the work of the organization.
  • Have an annual budget under 1.5 million.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at the board and executive staff level.
  • Illustrate an understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Be ready to take the steps to implement change within 6-12 months.

The following criteria are not required, but are welcomed:

  • Demonstrate a past history of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the organization.

Because this is a pilot program, the cohort will be kept small and – in as much as possible – focus on a group of organizations who share similar attributes, including level of commitment, budget size, programming, and communities served.

Participation and performance in this program will have no impact on future or current funding from either RISCA or the RI Foundation.

Requirements of Pilot Program Participants

As pilot program participants, you will be helping RIF, RISCA, and Dr. Brea Heidelberg in developing this model of cohort-based DEI learning for organizations of small-to-mid sized budgets. Participants will be asked to complete surveys and respond to interview questions about their experiences. Participation in these assessments is voluntary and may stop at any time without forfeiting the right to continue in the cohort. All responses will be kept confidential and will be used to improve cohort structure, materials, and provide the arts and cultural field with insights into how to work toward field-wide equity.

Application and Review Process

Application deadline is April 15. Notification of acceptance into program will be by May 3.

Application will consist of a brief narrative and supplemental materials (see below). Application can be completed online via RISCA’s grant portal for organizations here.


While we want an organizational cohort that has shared attributes and commitment to this work, we also acknowledge that commitment is not always readily apparent in current organizational practices – which is why you might be interested in participating in this program! Dr. Heidelberg would like to get a sense of the breadth of experience among potential members of this cohort; we want organizations along a spectrum of accomplishment and welcome your honest answers to these questions:

In no more than two pages, please answer the following questions:

  • Briefly discuss your organization’s current diversity, equity and inclusion work. Highlight your areas of success or triumph, as well as your perceived areas of growth moving forward. If applicable, touch on the following areas:
    • Existence of trainings for staff and board on DEI.
    • Degree to which board and staff reflect communities served.
    • Processes for engaging staff in discussions around differences, and ensuring safety of staff in discussions.
    • Existence of written policies that relate to DEI (e.g. cultural equity statements, policy for reporting discrimination).
    • Existence of self-reflection and assessment by staff and board on organization’s DEI efforts.
    • Degree to which communities served and staff are allowed input into decision-making.
  • Picture your organization 5-10 years from now. What are 2-3 things would be different from a DEI perspective? What do you think you need to accomplish them?

Supplemental Materials

  • Board and staff list with * indicating Asian/Asian-American, Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African-American, Middle Eastern/North African, Pacific Islander, and Native American individuals.
  • Brief, signed letters of support from ED and Board Chair indicating their interest in the program and commitment to attend the workshops.

About Dr. Brea Heidelberg

Brea is an arts management consultant, educator, and researcher. She is currently an Assistant Professor and Associate Program Director for the undergraduate Entertainment & Arts Management Program at Drexel University. Brea serves on the Emerging Leaders Council for Americans for the Arts and on the editorial board of the American Journal of Arts Management. She is also a Board Member of the Association of Arts Administration Educators, currently serving as Vice President and the chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force. Brea’s research and consulting work centers on diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the arts management ecosystem, professional development issues facing arts administrators, and human resource management in arts and cultural organizations. She has a varied background that includes experiences as a dancer and choreographer as well as positions in community engagement and programming at both visual and performing arts organizations. Brea has completed specialized training in evaluation at Claremont Graduate School. She also earned her master’s in Human Resource Development from Villanova University and her doctorate in Arts Administration, Education, and Policy from The Ohio State University.