Cultural Anchor: Congressman Jim Langevin

Congressman Jim Langevin represents Rhode Island’s second district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected to this office in 2000, and serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Homeland Security. He is also a member of the Congressional Arts Caucus. We asked him a few questions about his life and interest in the arts in Rhode Island for our series, Rhode Island Cultural Anchors.

RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
Congressman Langevin: I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Rhode Island. I feel very fortunate to live here surrounded by friends and family while having the honor of representing our state in Congress.

RISCA: What do you love about the arts in Rhode Island, and what do you think the arts contribute to life here in our state?
Congressman Langevin: Rhode Island’s local arts community has both a rich history and a promising future. Our arts community is unique and vibrant, and it draws visitors from around the world. The arts are a key economic driver for our state and are an important part of our state’s culture.

RISCA: What role do you think the arts play in addressing public policy priorities both in Rhode Island and nationally?
Congressman Langevin: Rhode Island has a national reputation for leadership in the arts, and I get questions from my colleagues like this. I have three answers I normally give. First, people greatly underestimate the economic impact the arts have. Nationally, the nonprofit arts industry generates more than $150 billion in economic activity each year, and it directly supports thousands of jobs in Rhode Island. Second, incorporating the arts into other disciplines can greatly enhance their effectiveness. I am a champion of the STEM to STEAM movement in Congress because I recognize that art and design are vital tools for our next generation of engineers. I have also seen the amazing power of art therapy in helping to heal the psychological wounds of our war veterans. Finally, the arts build communities. When people gather at the Steel Yard, the Manton Avenue Project or the Tomaquag Museum, they are forging lasting connections with their neighbors.

RISCA: What advice would you give Rhode Islanders interested in advocating in support of the arts on a national level?
Congressman Langevin: I encourage all Rhode Islanders to stay civically engaged! This includes calling your elected officials when a key vote is coming up, getting involved with local arts organizations, and staying informed about policies that affect the arts community. Never be afraid to speak out.

Congressman Langevin visits Manton Avenue Project, with RISCA staff, MAP staff and board members, and two MAP students.

RISCA: What do you want the Rhode Island arts community to know about the services your office provides and what assistance is available to them?
Congressman Langevin: My office is a great resource for the arts community. We can help constituents correspond with federal agencies and make connections to local and state organizations. We also have a grants coordinator who tracks various federal funding opportunities that local artists can take advantage of. Rhode Islanders should feel free to call my office at (401) 732-9400 with questions or if I can ever be of assistance.

You can follow Congressman Langevin on Facebook and Twitter, and find out more about him on his official website.

RI Cultural Anchor: Anna McNeary

Anna McNeary in an interdisciplinary artist working in print, fiber, sculpture and installation. She lives in Providence, teaches at Brown University, and is a member of The Wurks art collective. 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?
AM: I spent the morning teaching a summer drawing course at Brown, guiding my students through collaborative drawing exercises. In the afternoon I drove to my second job, which is Curatorial Assistant at the Newport Art Museum. I worked on our upcoming fall exhibitions for a few hours, then headed back to Providence to speak on a careers panel for young people at Brown. I finished up emails at home, cooked dinner with a few friends, and I’m happy to say I was in bed by eleven. No studio time, but so it goes some days.

RISCA: What do you love about the art community in Rhode Island?
AM: There are so many career artists who make their homes here and sustain studios, collectives, projects and practices beyond the walls of the colleges and universities that many people assume incubate RI’s creative activity. This is a place where artists can enjoy a decent quality of life. I can find affordable studio space, and the generally low cost of living leaves me with some funds for art supplies each month. I’ve experienced a spirit of camaraderie and a healthy DIY ethos in many of the Rhode Island art spaces I’ve explored. My colleagues in the art community here are always eager to circulate opportunities and support each others’ projects. I observe people lifting each other up everyday in ways large and small.

RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?
AM: I moved here from California in 2016 to attend graduate school. At the time, I assumed I’d stay for the duration of my program and move on when the next opportunity presented itself. It turned out that the next opportunities were in Providence–I started teaching at the college level, set up a studio and a home, fell in love, put together a group of friends and colleagues, and began to get a handle on all that’s happening in Providence’s art scene beyond RISD. +

RISCA: What are you the most excited about right now in your art practice?
AM: I’m starting to get opportunities that felt totally beyond my reach three years ago, from exhibitions, to residencies, to teaching opportunities and commissions. I’m still very much at the beginning of my career. But when I think about the small but meaningful accomplishments I can claim now, in contrast with how adrift I felt a few years ago, I feel excited about the momentum I’m building as I grow my art practice.

RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?
AM: The answer to the question will always be more funding, no matter how much funding there is! Rhode Island organizations already offer some wonderful grants and fellowships for regional artists. The more of those resources that exist, the more there are to go around.

RISCA: What is the biggest challenge for you in your art life?
AM: Keeping my focus clear and my confidence up. In graduate school I was passionate about making work that revolved around invisible/emotional labor and the impacts of power structures on emotional experience. I knew that these ideas were important, but it was easy to doubt whether or not I had “earned” a place in the discourse surrounding my subject matter. Imposter syndrome is ever-present and although I hope it’ll dissipate as I age, I have a feeling I’ll be dealing with it for a long time. Even when I’m certain of what I want to say with my work, it can still be hard to know where to put my energy when time and resources are limited. What is the most urgent thing for me to say right now? What is the most urgent thing for me to make that will communicate what I want to say? Is anyone even listening? It gets existential pretty quickly, but I think most other artists can empathize.

RISCA: What Rhode Island artists and/or arts organizations most inspire you and why?
AM: AS220’s broad-reaching mission constantly reminds me to reevaluate the ways in which I confront hierarchies and questions of access in the art world. Providence artists like Elizabeth Duffy, Lu Heintz and Murphy Chang inspire me with their thoughtful intersections of materials and imagery. The folks at The Wurks, the collective where my studio is located, constantly humble me with their generosity toward each other and their can-do attitudes. I could go on…this state contains volumes of incredible projects and people.

You can see what Anna is up to, and her amazing art on Instagram. And, if you’re in New York, you can see her work through September 28th at International Print Center New York, part of Umbra: New Prints for a Dark Age.

RI Cultural Anchor: Elizabeth Francis

Elizabeth Francis is the executive director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and she is passionate about the role of the humanities to enrich our culture and strengthen our democracy. We asked her a few questions about her life and perspective 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?

EF: My day started off with my usual ritual — reading the New York Times on my phone and doing the mini crossword. After arriving at the Humanities Council office in AS220’s Mercantile Building, we had a staff meeting to catch up on what everyone is doing, to discuss our upcoming strategic planning, and to get ready for our Humanities Happy Hour on August 1st at one of the NewportFILM screenings. I then met with Wanchen Wang, the Council’s intern from the cultural management program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, to talk about careers in the cultural sector and trends in public humanities. That night, I went to the first night of the Olneyville Expo, part of the Providence Fringe Festival, in Donigian Park. It was such a great time, and I learned so much about Olneyville!

RISCA: What do you love about the art community/scene in Rhode Island?

EF: I love that scholars, artists, preservationists, archivists, and cultural practitioners are coming together to create culture, strengthen our communities, and engage the past in meaningful ways.

RISCA: Why do you make Rhode Island your home, and how did you end up here?

EF: I came to Rhode Island for the graduate program in American Studies at Brown University, but I ended up in Rhode Island to raise my daughter. I fell in love with Rhode Island when I became executive director of the Humanities Council. I used to feel a pang of longing and regret when I flew back to the West Coast, where I grew up. But now I revel in seeing Rhode Island’s beautiful landscapes and the bay when I return.

RISCA: What is one thing, personal or professional, that you and your organization want to accomplish in the next year?

EF: I am looking forward to expanding our Civic Engagement initiative connecting cultural participation to a stronger civic fabric. We know that cultural institutions are leading the way, and this initiative will illuminate how and why greater investment in culture is needed.

RISCA: Why do you do what you do? What inspires you, drives you, to create or enable the creation of art?

EF: I was inspired to lead the Humanities Council because I felt strongly that the humanities could and should have a larger impact in civic life. I’m still inspired by that but now see this as a question: how do we catalyze the humanities to connect across differences, address the challenges we face as a society, and to create more equity? I am inspired every day by the many programs and projects that we have supported and developed that are doing that.

RISCA: What is one thing you think the art community in Rhode Island needs?

EF: Equity: I believe that partnerships and dialogues across cultures, color, economies, and neighborhoods will generate more opportunity, self-determination, creative power, and a stronger cultural ecosystem.

RISCA: What Rhode Island artists and/or arts organizations most inspire you and why?

EF: The Dirt Palace at the Wedding Cake House is one of the most exciting projects that I have encountered. The ambition to restore this crumbling Miss Havisham of a mansion was bold almost beyond belief. The grit, vision, persistence, and resourcefulness of Pippi Zornoza, Xander Marro, and many others in making this happen have been amazing. I am looking forward to the next phase after the Wedding Cake House is open, when it will not only be a place for artists and an exquisite stay for visitors but a magnet connecting the building’s rich history with ideas and enterprises now as well.

RISCA: What is the biggest challenge for you in your art life?

EF: How to make my big, windy dreams into reality.

You can keep up with Elizabeth and all the great things the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities is doing by visiting their website, following them on facebook, instagram, and twitter, and attending their upcoming Celebration of the Humanities on October 17th.