Returning to my love, well one of them. Art making and art has been my love for all my life. I joke that it’s *just* enough to dedicate my life to it, but it’s true. I love the creative element, I love the state of mindfulness that occurs, I love the work. I love curating - understanding this as an art form - how light cast and turned can change a piece, how work speaks to each other, how paint on a wall makes it different. I also found, amazingly, that I love the business end of it too. Marketing and the power of language, grant writing and development and how it can affect a community.
It was eight years ago that I conceived of this idea. Forming a small nonprofit in Madison, we focused on one really big exhibition a year - a themed show with 20-45 artists, community interviews, events, and work. Professor friends of mine called it masters thesis level work. It just felt like home to me. I had this nonprofit for many years. Working with community, connecting to people, I started to see what this business - this organization in my dreams could be. I was invited to be a curator of a gallery there and spent many years learning. Learning to observe. Learning to curate better - the ins and the outs of gallery work. It was a glorious experience. I folded my nonprofit and brought all of my energy to this one. It grew, we grew, and the organizations in the whole city worked together, collaborating for this greater landscape. I was able to work with another, continuing to foster this love of community, this love of art, this honest love of people.
All the while, I dreamt. Observing myself, the people and the work around me. Planning and hoping and wishing in my head. Building relationships, caring for people, knowing what could happen.
It is incredibly vulnerable work to open a business, especially one that you’ve held as a dream for as long as I have. It’s like a baby, holding a baby that you’ve nurtured for so long. These careful dreams that we all have, for we all have them. What will happen to you if I let you out? What will happen if I let people see you? What will happen if you get hurt?
But I have an actual child. And this - this - is the hardest thing of having any baby, human or otherwise. All you can do as a parent, as one who loves, is to foster it to let it grow. Help it grow wings so it can fly on its own. Give it all that you have, the best that you have, and hope that it is okay in the world.
So with that, Cultivate is launched. An action verb. Cultivate means so many things. Cultivating creativity, the mind, the spirit, the heart. Cultivating community. Cultivating art. Cultivating artists. Cultivating growth.
This organization is a lot of things, but the thread that binds it all together is education and community. People are amazing, they are. We do amazing things, curious things, beautiful things. Actions that change a mind or a heart. And we hold each other. We are born, we are wired for connection.
Education is a sense of empowerment and language. Education is like a tool we can give people. And what I mean by education is not just a classroom experience, I mean that we, people, are teaching all the time. We are teaching children how the world functions through our modeling, even as indirect teaching we show people so much. We are all teachers. It is a gift, it is a light.
We can choose to be a light. We can choose to support. We can choose to love. We can choose to uplift, empower, connect. A level of intentionality. A level of care.
So all the while I dreamt and built in my head. Talking with so many artists upon moving to Grand Rapids, about 50 in total, I heard echoed again and again. Separate people choosing to speak to me, a stranger, over zoom, after a cold email. And individually, nearly all spoke of the same hope - A hope for a collaborative art community. A sense of connection. And I saw this light.
I have seen so much in my 12 years of teaching. Moments where people of any age think they can’t do it, and reach that a-ha moment. The brightness they have in that moment is so beautiful. And teaching art is not just handing these tools to know foundation work, but also how to see. It is an unlocking to see shape and form, light and shadow. To observe the transformation from a person who didn’t consider themselves an artist suddenly them stopping to notice the pockets of light, the movement in an artist's work, or to find the way to translate the idea in their head into work on a paper. It is light. It is so beautiful.
I have seen so much in my eight years of arts administration. I have learned so much as a curator, as an artist doing the work myself. It’s hard. It’s beautiful. It can be riddled with systemic problems - as any field can. But I saw this light, and I see solutions. It doesn’t have to be this way - the problems we observe, the hills we climb, and we can work to be different. We can cultivate.
This first week is beautiful, and scary, and so exciting, and vulnerable. Releasing this long-held idea is hard, for, like a baby, you have to let other people love it to let it grow. It is time. It is here. It is well-loved by some, not loved by others, and that’s okay. My mother, another beautiful, amazing community organizer of this city, taught me so much about how to love, how to be, and how to stand up. She loved with everything she had, everything that she was, and she stood with others, for others, and it was amazing to grow up with this beauty.
It is amazing to stand here. It is a gift to be able to do this work. To hold this belief in community. I believe that this idea of a community holding, this support, and this kindness can only help us all.
So this, in my actions, in speaking and living from my heart, is what I will do for you in this position. I will be my authentic self, calling you to be yours. Believing in you with every fiber of my being, and believing in the person that you are, the dreams that you have, the light that we can carry. Believing in community. Believing in the incredible spirit of people.
So, like the mother that I watched until she passed, like the mother I carry in my spirit, I hold this light, and I share this light with you. You, with your own light and your own dreams. And together, we can share, connect, we grow, we learn, and we can cultivate each other.