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Yesenia Sanchez & Rhodessa Jones

Creative Capacity Fund Grantee Interview
posted on August 2, 2012
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This is Yesenia Sanchez and I'll be talking with artist Rhodessa Jones about her work and her experience with the Creative Capacity Fund's Quick Grant Program.

Hi Rhodessa, thank you for taking the time to talk today when I know that you just got back from South Africa! Can you tell us a little about your work and your organization?

Well, Cultural Odyssey, is an African American performing arts organization that pushes the boundaries of traditional arts in theater, music and dance. We are interested in how do we move the culture forward in a way that uses old practices, such as interdisciplinary performance. My partner is Idris Ackamoor, who's a jazz musician and together we have traveled around the world making art that's rooted in his practices of being a shaman, being a tap dancer, being a jazz musician, being a writer, producer. My personal work and expertise is in my community based work. The Medea Project, theater for incarcerated women, is about how to take theater and art making and use it to transform lives and to rebuild the world.

That's wonderful work. Can you tell us what activity the Quick Grants Program funded to support your work and professional development?

I went to the Theatre Communications Group conference in Los Angeles, which was amazingly informative, enlightening and thought provoking. Everything from the opening session  intergenerational meeting, to listening to Julie Taymor talk about the rigorous work it takes to be an artist on Broadway doing something as forward-thinking as Spiderman. It was a weekend of being in Los Angeles with artists from all around the country.

Originally, why did you want to go to the conference – what did you hope to get out of it?

You know, TCG has been a part of my reality for a very long time. I was just interested in how that was going to speak to me as an activist, as a performing artist, as an international artist and I was curious to see where we were all at, because I've grown up with so many of these folks.  TCG is just at the center of American theater and I wanted to be there.

I know that Cultural Odyssey is 30 years old and I'm interested in hearing about how at this point in your career, having done so many things, what kind of professional development opportunities do you want, or need moving forward?

Well, I spend a lot of time on university campuses and there is an incredible resurgence of interest as art as social change and I'm one of the “grandmothers” of that movement now. I started out as a dancer when I was twenty-something years old and now I'm 63. Being at TCG was an affirmation and acknowledgment. I took the path least traveled at the time I took it. It was just an affirmation that professional development has a lot of different faces. Even us who work in communities, such as prisons, schools... What I want is the assurance that there will be places for all of us artists.  We've opened up a cornucopia of new ideas with TCG as an advocate for theater artists. It really  has paved the way for the 21st century and what art can do.

Do you have any thoughts about how these kinds of professional development opportunities can serve that larger picture? Is it through offering more access to travel and convening opportunities, or information about building a more sustainable organization that can support you, so that you can do this kind of work?

Well, I think all of the above. I would hope that there could be more opportunities to engage in international collaborations and conversations with universities, funding sources, arts administrators, corporations.  People coming together so that we have to work as a whole piece and that art is very vital to that. I think these kinds of professional development opportunities allow us to lay the groundwork for that. I, also, appreciated that the Quick Grants Program had a turn around that was pretty fast and it was simply about me going to the conference. I didn't have to do a major report, I didn't have to perform and at the same time I got to be very much involved and consequently more invested in my own career as an artist because I felt supported.

Thank you so much, Rhodessa. Thanks for all your work in the community and for sharing your vision with us.


Yesenia Sanchez, Soleil Coaching & Consulting                          

www.soleilcoach.com

Yesenia Sanchez is a professional coach and arts management consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has over ten years experience working with artists and arts organizations as an executive director,  financial manager, administrative director,       program director, coach and consultant.

Yesenia has served as a panelist and presenter for Theatre Bay Area, San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco Foundation & Grants for the Arts “Best Practices Series", and the  National Performing Arts Convention. She is a trainer and featured author in the newly published Center for Cultural Innovation's Business of Art© book, authoring the chapter on financial literacy for artists.

Rhodessa Jones, Co - Artistic Director, Cultural Odyssey

www.culturalodyssey.org

Rhodessa Jones is Co-Artistic Director of the San Francisco acclaimed performance company Cultural Odyssey. She is an actress, teacher, singer, and writer. Ms. Jones is also the Founder and Director of the award winning Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, which is a performance workshop that is designed to achieve personal and social transformation with incarcerated women. For close to 25 years Rhodessa Jones has been the leading voice nationally and internationally working with underserved and disenfranchised populations in her quest for “art as social activism”. Rhodessa was just awarded a grant by the Creative Work Fund to collaborate with Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific on a new Medea Project production entitled, "BIRTHRIGHT?".  Most recently she collaborated with the Women’s HIV Program at UCSF (WHP) exploring the whys, wherefores, and reasons that lie behind the AIDS epidemic in the lives of African American Women.  She is also currently the artist – in - residence at the Naturena Women’s Correctional Center in Johannesburg, South Africa where she has imported her Medea Project Theatrical Process to help reduce the recidivism rate of South African women.  December of 2007 Ms. Jones received a United States Artist Fellowship to support her work. In 2004 she was honored with an Honorary Doctorate from California College of the Arts. Other awards include a San Francisco Bay Guardian Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, a San Francisco Community Leadership Award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to improving the quality of life in the Bay Area” in 2000.