Elisa S. Keeler
A Ripple Effect
We love our work of funding local artists! Local musician Elisa S. Keeler stands out as the recipient of three CAP grants this past year. She's the recipient a 2019 and 2020 Arts Education Grant, a Specific Opportunity Stipend (SOS), and is one of only two recipients of a 2020 Artist in Community Grant - all three for work that Elisa does at Southside Community Center.
She reports that It is deeply gratifying to see the ripple effects of our work with Southside program! Together we so clearly have made a difference in helping to build bridges and uplift a marginalized population. Many lives are affected as a result of the work we are able to bring forth with CAP's support.
Elisa's career is multi-faceted. She's a performing singer, songwriter, and front woman for local soul band “Elisa and the YesMen.” Her “Music for Unity and Social Change Program” promotes social justice through teaching residencies in the local public schools. At Southside Community Center Elisa is the leader of the Youth Music Program Youth Music Program and a gues song leader for the “Community Unity Music Education Program” (CUMEP), a multicultural performing arts & human rights education program for youth 3 to 18. She also is founder and leader of their Youth Music Program.
Both CUMEP and the Youth Music Program are supported by CAP grants:
- The 2020 Arts Education grant will enable Elisa to compose, perform and record an original song in theme for the Juneteenth Festival at Southside, performed by CUMEP and Youth Program students.
- “SOS” supports her purchase of audio recording equipment for her community projects.
- The 2019 and 2020 Arts Education Grants supported Elisa’s and Southside Assistant Music Teacher Alice Goddard’s time for 20 weeks of music classes for the CUMEP and Youth Program.
Elisa reported on the 2019 Arts Education program. The impact of the work we do with the Southside Community Youth continues to expand! For the 2019 Arts Education grant, we honored local abolitionist teacher Jacqueline Elizabeth Melton Scott. “Mama Scott” had passed away earlier this year and they wanted to honor her as a prominent figure in the black community.
From a collection of “wisdom quotes” from Mama Scott, Alice Goddard and I created the song, “Mama Scott Said.” I created the chords and the chorus for the children to sing and Alice wrote the verses. Together, we performed this song along with four additional songs at Juneteenth in honor of the beloved Mama Scott.
After the completion of our Youth Music Performance we taught the song to over 70 children. Together, with CUMEP staff, I made a studio recording and put together a live band for the final performance. CUMEP dance instructor, Harmony Malone added choreography. I worked with four female students of color to prepare them as soloists on the verses and a chorus of 50 seated children prepared back-up vocals! On August 1, 2019 this was performed for an audience of several hundred people. It was a beautiful and elaborate production.
Great Artistic Lessons Learned!
Ithaca actor Emma Ellis graduated from Ithaca High School in June and is on her way to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. With a grant from CAP’s Specific Opportunity Stipend (SOS), Emma made a great leap forward in her pursuit of a career in musical theatre!
Emma has not only taken every opportunity to hone her acting skills, she also wanted to have the opportunity to produce and direct a team of fellow students to produce a musical she dearly loves as part of her English WISE program (where student complete a 16 week project for credit).
“Calvin Berger,” is a musical loosely based on the timeless story of Cyrano de Bergerac but taking place in a modern high school setting. (Where better to set this story of unrequited feelings, love notes, and physical insecurity than a high school?!) Emma says: "Directing this musical is so much more than just fulfilling academic credits. I love it dearly, and I believe its message of self-acceptance is extremely important to hear."
The SOS grant is all about helping local artists take advantage of an opportunity that will significantly boost their artistic career, and Emma’s request for funding for costs associated with the production fit the bill perfectly.
"They say the best way to truly learn a concept is to be able to teach it, so my goal was that the opportunity to direct actors, oversee blocking, and looking at a musical from a critical acting viewpoint would allow me to grow as a performer and give me the advantage of experience as I pursue my professional career."
Emma’s “Take Ten Theatre Company” presented Calvin Berger on June 7th, 8th and 9th at Ithaca High School to very enthusiastic audiences.
We at CAP are confident that Emma will use the skills she learned to great advantage.
"I believe that I have grown as an actor because of this process. I now pay much more attention to character and movement detail, as well as make smarter acting decisions. I am very excited to see how much life I can bring to my future performances, using my ever developing skills."
"The most important thing however, is that I have gained an incredible respect for the art of directing and producing a show. I know that this new found appreciation will help me make strong connections as I start working with professional theater companies. I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity, and learn these lessons at such a young age.
I loved this show and this experience, and I am eternally grateful to the Community Arts Partnership for making it possible."
Learn more aobut our grant programs and see lists of recent grantees on our Grant page!
Grantee Focus on Brenna Fitzgerald
“How Does An Artist Choose Their Path?”
Brenna Fitzgerald, one of 14 recipients of our 2019 Specific Opportunity Stipend (SOS), says “I’ve always been challenged to find a career path where all my interests and things I wanted to offer the world all came together. I’ve changed careers a million times and wandered physically and vocationally. I didn’t follow a straight path.”
Brenna Fitzgerald was well on her way to being a professional dancer until injury and a trip to India at the age of eighteen laid the foundation for a new path in her life.
“Transitioning from the identity of a dancer to something else was tough,” said Fitzgerald. “India helped me in that process. There is so much culture and there is so much spiritually. It was quite stimulating and I could really explore.”
All the while, she was writing - filling three to four pages in her journals daily. After a year in India, Fitzgerald returned to the states to follow a number of her interests including film and media studies, arts journalism, teaching, publishing and writing.
Currently Fitzgerald is a writer, creativity and health coach, yoga instructor, and entrepreneur, as well a writer and communications and outreach coordinator at Cornell University.
CAP’s SOS grant helped Brenna with funds to attend the 2019 Colgate Writers’ Conference to workshop her new book-length collection of creative nonfiction essays. “This conference is an amazing opportunity for me to receive written in-depth feedback on my book-length manuscript, be challenged and coached, AND pitch my manuscript to agents.”
Though sometimes it can hard to balance all of the different hats she wears, she wouldn’t have it any other way!
Stay tuned for a summer workshop at CAP led by Brenna called “Writing from the Body”.
Visit or grant database of “Recent Grantees” at ArtsPartner.org
Grantee Focus on Bruce Levitt
In 2018, CAP awarded over 30 local artists a Specific Opportunity Stipend. "SOS" is designed to help artists take advantage of significant career opportunities.
Bruce Levitt, Professor in the Department Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University, was one of the artists in the recent October SOS cycle to receive the grant. His award will assist with the costs associated with an important opportunity from Factory Films Limited to distribute his film, "Human Again." about the Phoenix Players Theatre Group (PPTG) at the Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Auburn New York. The film has already won a number of awards at national film festivals.
"This distribution opportunity will raise the visibility for myself and the film world-wide," Levitt says. "It will call attention to the issues of addressing trauma in incarcerated people, and lead to invitations for me to give presentations around the world, increasing opportunity to advocate for drastic changes within the criminal justice system. The film is a powerful testimony to the human potential that is sometimes wasting away in prisons. Thank you to CAP for providing support to this important program!"
PPTG was founded in 2009 by a small group of incarcerated men dedicated to the idea that theatre work, combined with group inner healing work, is a true opportunity for them to connect and to become more fully human. Co-founder Michael Rhynes wrote: "Like the mythological Phoenix, we want to rise from the ashes of an unproductive and shameful past to live in the present as a redeemed person."
Levitt has been a facilitator for PPTG for nine years. While the group is led by the incarcerated men, but also have a core group of theatre arts people who facilitate weekly workshops and help them write and perform their shows. "Human Again" is based on the development of one of those shows.
Visit www.phoenixplayersatauburn.com to see their shows and learn much more.