Civic Ensemble and GAP Grant
Posted June 15, 2020
Love, support and deep questioning
Originally scheduled for 10 performances at the Cherry ArtSpace in March of 2020, The Civic Ensemble’s return of their 2018 hit, Streets Like This, was recorded and made available to the public from April 30 to May 17, 2020, including a post-show conversation hosted on Zoom on May 9th.
For this dynamic, ReEntry Theatre Program, The Civic Ensemble was awarded a 2020 GAP Grant through the Community Arts Partnership (CAP). The wonderful online re-imagining for the event ensured that this important work reached the community and sparked conversation on the incredibly difficult path faced by those who have been convicted of crimes when they re-enter our communities.
In the Program’s “Note from the Director,” Sarah Chalmers describes how “The stories shared in Streets Like This come directly from the experiences of over 100 people in this community who have experienced incarceration. The play challenges us to see the characters, and the real people they represent, as full human beings. It challenges us to see this even when they do or say things that disrupt our deeply held beliefs about the world and ‘how it is.’”
In conversation with CAP, Sarah Chalmers talked about the loss of the live theater experience due to the pandemic. “We had two live performances of Streets Like This before we decided to close it down. We met one last time on Saturday, March 14 to record the video. For the group, it was devastating after putting all that work into the show. I mean, the show was phenomenal. You can see this from the video, but live theatre has an energy that can't be replicated on screen, and I know our community would have been floored by the performances.”
At the same time, “For the ReEntry Theatre Program group, I was heartened by their resilience and commitment to the group. The abrupt ending of the show ripped us away from each other before we were ready. We almost immediately went back to our weekly meetings; we just had them online. There were many tech issues and there continue to be challenges, but the group shows up every week as we complete the play about mental health we've been devising since Fall of 2018, and plan for the next year.”
The Civic Ensemble staff used the 2020 GAP Grant to tackle the challenges of now presenting the play in an online forum: “We had the opportunity to transform our disappointment to action as we hustled to get the video edited (which was done beautifully by Shira Evergreen of Uplifted Ithaca), and plan an online event, a medium we were not used to working with. The learning curve was steep, but we were building the skills we need for the coming months, and that was a very positive thing.”
The virtual staging of the play led to an in-depth post-show conversation on May 9th . “It was very well attended! We are often not sure how many people will show up to an event in person, but we had no way of knowing what it would be like for an online event. It was wonderful that we managed to get almost every cast member to join the event and to discuss the play with community members. We had a lovely mix of family members, community leaders, and Civic Ensemble audience members who attended. I was moved by how powerful the conversation was, even though it was online. We experienced the love, support, and deep questioning that we see at live events. The thing that most impacted me was that we didn't want to leave. The event was ‘over’ and some people logged off, but there was a group that just stayed online and wanted to keep talking and connecting around the show. Our community is strong, and the foundation we've built isn't going anywhere.”
Posted May 22, 2020
When I can once again stand with my singers...
“Thank you so much for this incredible opportunity and all that I learned… when I can once again stand with my singers and make music together I will be a better teacher and conductor…”
Recently, music teacher, choral conductor, and native Ithacan Emily Richards was awarded CAP’s Specific Opportunity Stipend (SOS) in order to attend the American Choral Director’s Conference in October, 2019, where she took part in workshops on topics such as learner variabilities in the choral classroom and culturally responsive choral arranging.
“One of the highlights for me was the performance and subsequent workshop by VOICES 21C, a chamber choir whose purpose is to promote global understanding by representing the voices of the silenced, the forgotten, and the marginalized. Their music and message were so incredibly powerful. They worked with a poet and artist collaborator, who is a man of color that was previously incarcerated, to bring to light themes of racial justice. The workshop spoke mainly of their collaborative rehearsal process to create music that speaks to the important issues of our time such as race, gender, and immigration.
“All of the workshops that I attended were informative and insightful but for me two stood out. Craig Knapp's workshop on music literacy and Kathryn Evans' workshop on learner variability. Both of these educators are obviously masters at what they do and the workshops themselves were filled with hands-on examples of actual activities to use in rehearsal.
“I immediately came back and used one with Chorale, the oldest ensemble of the Ithaca Children & Youth Chorus, to help us with some rhythm issues in one of our pieces. We stood in a circle in the back of our rehearsal space and each tapped the beat on the shoulder of the person to our left, so that we could feel if we were all together. Then we switched hands, and closed our eyes as we sang so we could really feel within the group where the beat was and it made such an immediate difference to our sound and our cohesion as a group.
“I could go on and on with how much I learned and was inspired by watching both the rehearsals and the performances of all of the Honor Choirs, of which three of our own singers performed with the Elementary Honor Choir, directed by Henry Leck, who is a legend in children's choral composing and conducting. If you would like to listen and watch the premiere of the commissioned piece Listening by Colin Britt performed by the High School Honor Choir, here is a link: https://youtu.be/bnZ6VH0ArcY
“But I will stop here and simply say, thank you. Thank you so much for this incredible opportunity and all that I learned. Thank you for supporting artists and arts organizations and this community. And while the immediate future of choral singing may be uncertain, as so much is these days, I know that when I can once again stand with my singers and make music together I will be a better teacher and conductor, and I can only hope it will be an even more rewarding and enriching experience for my singers.”
Posted April 28, 2020
"...and we will build a temple based upon you.”
Newfield Artist Treacy Ziegler received CAP's Specific Opportunity Stipend for an opportunity to exhibit her latest body of work at hte Erie Art Museum. Dozens of huge paper cast sculptures of animals made from thousands of letters that Treacy has recieved by prisoners as part of her work with the Prisoner Express program through the Center for Transformative Action.
"About 10 years ago while walking on the Cornell University campus, I came upon approximately 200 mounted birds in glass cases in the atrium of a science building. It was the birds’ form and how the light hit the form that commanded my fascination. If they had been living birds, I might not have felt so intrigued. It was their strange presence caught in glass cases inspiring me to draw them on a regular basis.
The process of drawing the birds forced me to create art differently. Until then I had been a printmaker and painter, confining my art to two dimensions concentrating on landscape devoid of people and creatures. The impact of drawing from life (drawing these rounded forms of birds) made the two dimensions of printmaking and painting no longer sufficient to me. Through drawing the birds, I found my hand wanting to go through the paper, moving from two to three dimensions. I wanted to hold this round form in my hands.
The other path was not so obvious and I didn’t connect it to the birds until later. I didn’t know why but shortly after seeing the birds, I felt compelled to go into prisons. Initially, I just brought my artwork to share with the prisoners; later I started teaching art in prisons. The birds are infused with my experience of prison; not in the typical metaphor that birds are free. Flight for birds is not freedom; they fly to avoid death.
The experience of birds expanded to include other animals and the medium of bronze (with which I first worked) expanded to include paper casting the thousands of letters received from 9000 prisoners in the through-the-mail project, Prisoner Express, a project in the Center for Transformative Action, affiliated with Cornell University. In addition to teaching in prisons, I create projects for this large group of prisoners throughout the United States. (More about these letters can be read at https://thejusticeartscoalition.org/2017/07/31/falling-leaves-letters-from-prison/). Through Prisoner Express, I receive approximately 20,000 letters yearly.
When I began experimenting with paper cast sculpture, using the prisoners’ letters collected in numerous boxes seemed an obvious source. Creating sculpture from the letters seemed more respectful to the loneliness, hope, despair, gratefulness often reflected in the letters. Some prisoners’ letters are too poignant and those I have kept. However, it is important that the sculptures stand on their own artistic dimension and not dependent upon the letters to have an impact upon the viewer. Instead, I hope the letters become the sculptures’ unspoken presence of the commitment I have in my relationship to prisoners with whom I meet.
The 12-foot giraffe is dedicated to the many individuals living in solitary confinement, particularly those who have also been labeled as paranoid schizophrenic. The giraffe was inspired by words the prisoner Clarence wrote to me (Clarence has been writing to me for years from solitary confinement). His words seemed to me as a poem:"
“I once measured myself and
I was nine distances upwards in height;
nine widths in full circle;
four points in surface straight across the level top.
This I will extend, once freed;
and we will build a temple based upon you.”
Holly Adams: 4th graders learn self-worth
Posted March 24, 2020
(Written by CAP IC Intern, Kristen Reid) When I met with Holly Adams at 8:30 a.m., she’d already been up for hours. Between professional voice acting, live performances, and everything she does in arts education, there don't seem to be enough hours in the day for everything she wishes to accomplish.
Adams is a prolific artist, voice acting for games and animated media, narrating audiobooks, acting for film and stage, and even teaching at and performing with Circus Culture. In addition to all of these other artistic undertakings, Adams brings her talents to youth education.
Adams has worked with the Community Arts Partnership many times in the past and in 2019, she received our Arts Education Grant, allowing her the opportunity to continue her work with students in Ithaca.
As a teaching artist, Adams spends a lot of time in elementary schools, using performance modalities to co-teach targeted academic content and social skills. In addition to doing this kind of work all over North America, she has worked with the Hangar Theater’s Project 4 program since its inception in 1996, which brings theatre to all the 4th grades in the ICSD and schools in central NY.
With her most recent funding opportunity from CAP, in conjunction with a generous donation of her time as well as that Cornell faculty members and staff, Adams worked with the fourth grade teachers at Belle Sherman Elementary to craft a new, performance-based arts program at the elementary school titled “Friends Create! Math, Friendship, and Theatre” through the fall of 2019. (photo credit: Youngsun Palmer)
She says: I love working with fourth graders because they are developmental stage where they are aware of others but it's a dawning awareness and they haven't fully solidified their behavior and how they self perceive.
“Friends Create!” ran from September to November of 2019, giving Adams and the rest of the faculty running the workshops time to dig into big topics kids may not know how to address.
How do I have more than one friend? How do you invest in another person? What is my value? Is there only one kind of smart? Adams says, describing the ideas and questions broken down in her program. Do I have self worth? What is honor?
Beyond these big, philosophical ideas addressing kids’ relationships with themselves and others, Adams also tackles math, a subject she feels can be demoralizing to students. By connecting math and theatre arts, she and the fourth grade teachers have found a new way to help kids who do not see themselves as typically ‘smart,’ a label she encourages students to redefine anyway.
When discussing the success of “Friends Create!” at Belle Sherman, a sense of pride from Adams is clear.
The project exceeded what we had hoped it would do. It was so exciting! she tells me. We’re seeing some really exciting things happen with kids whose self value was really low and who self perceived as someone who ‘didn’t’ or ‘couldn't.’
Through working with the Community Arts Partnership, Holly Adams has had the opportunity to affect real change in the lives of many kids. Her motivations as an artist stretch beyond her own personal art and make an impact on all of the children she gets to work with.
To read more about Holly Adams and her extensive work, visit her website: https://shearwaterproductions.com.
Elisa S. Keeler: A Ripple Effect
Posted January 2020
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.
Emma Ellis: 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.