March 28, 2012

Arts and Public Life works with the Logan Center to build sustainable relationships with communities and artists.

In 2011, the University of Chicago launched the Arts and Public Life initiative under the leadership of director Theaster Gates, a Chicago-based artist and urban planner. Arts and Public Life was created in part to enrich cultural interactions with the city, local communities, and artists. Recently, Emily Hooper Lansana joined both Arts and Public Life and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts as Community Partnerships Manager. Hooper discusses her new role with Dara Epison, Program Coordinator for University and Community Arts Collaborations for the Office of Civic Engagement.


Dara Epison: Tell me a little about your trajectory. What brought you to this point?

Emily Hooper Lansana: I’ve worked for many years as an arts administrator, performing artist, and educator. For several years, I served as the Theater and Literary Arts Curriculum Supervisor in the Office of Arts Education for Chicago Public Schools. In a previous life, I also worked as Director of Education at Lincoln Center Theater in New York City. Throughout my history in Chicago, I’ve enjoyed working with talented local artists and committed arts institutions and I look forward to continuing that work in this new capacity as Community Partnerships Manager for Arts and Public Life and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

DE: You’re relatively new to this role as Community Partnerships Manager, so I imagine you’re still grappling with the complexities and nuances of the position. But if you had to sum up what your position entails and will do, how would you?

EHL: The Community Partnerships Manager position is a really exciting opportunity to build bridges between the University and the community. And when I speak of “community,” I mean the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods as well as the diverse communities of Chicago. A number of University departments and student organizations have strong arts programs in place that have worked with the community at various levels—this position (and the Arts and Public Life Initiative, broadly) has been created to deepen those relationships in a variety of ways that ultimately are sustainable, creative, and deep.

DE: We’ve talked a lot about “partnership” as being one way to strategically expand the types of relationships that you just described—can you tell me what you mean by “partnership building” within the context of the Arts and Public Life Initiative and creative community engagement?

EHL: Within this context, I think “partnership” means encouraging the entities involved to recognize the resources that they individually bring to a relationship; and acknowledging that partnership creates an opportunity to expand the scope and reach of those resources through collaboratively designed programs. For example, with Arts and Public Life, we used much of this year establishing partnerships with our neighbors on Washington Park, the University’s Office of Civic Engagement and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. With CSRPC, an entity that has had a history of hosting artists of varying disciplines, we’ve launched an artist-in-residence program that has allowed us to host to and support three emerging, local visual artists. The artists represent different communities in the city, but collectively they have helped to create a singular lens through which we can broaden our vision and explore how we can better serve, support, and engage emerging artists and the artistic community.

DE: Why was it important to use the first year of the Arts and Public Life initiative establishing a relationship between the Office of Civic Engagement and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture?

EL: In both cases we recognized that these departments have had a history of thoughtful partnership building, utilizing the strengths of the University to encourage meaningful and sustained impact in the community. There are also departments, faculty members, and student groups doing outstanding work in this area. These are models we can both follow and hopefully contribute to as we grow. As we are building our community partnerships strategy, we believe that it’s critical to design structures that will facilitate long-term relationships; we don’t want to have partnerships or relationships that only last for one minute here or one minute there. It’s critical to build our work around and with those entities that recognize the complexities of relationship building and engagement.

DE: One major partnership that we are all excited about is the one that will exist between Arts and Public Life and the newly opened Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. What role will the Logan Center play in APL’s programmatic scope?

EL: One important aspect of the Logan Center will be its ability to serve as a community asset. It’s an important part of my role to think creatively about what that means. Right now, we are designing efforts that will create opportunities for the community to participate in the activities of the Logan Center on multiple levels: providing access to the diverse programs of building; creating space for an active exchange of ideas and resources; and partnering to expand the diversity of programming offerings. We’re excited about reaching a diverse and intergenerational audience through classes for children and seniors, performance series, and internship opportunities for high school students. We’re also excited to share our plans for the building during our upcoming Community Open House on April 21, planned in partnership with the Office of Civic Engagement and Alderman Willie B. Cochran — it will be a wonderful opportunity to introduce the community to this new space and all that it has to offer.