Education & Arts

Clients in Conversation: Building on a Shared Vision, Part I

April 15, 2014

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mark Herrera, Senior Manager, Client Development

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer transformed a struggling school into the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation. Laura Summer runs a successful year-long arts education program that is completely tuition-free. Both women have experience with the challenges of starting new initiatives that defy others notions of normal. In each case, strong communities played a vital role in their success.

Mark: Laura what are some of the successful practices you have used in building your community at Free Columbia?

Laura: Well, it depends on what you mean by community. We have a small community made up of our students and teachers. Then, there’s our supporting community—the people that care about us. These people provide funding and participate in whatever way they can.

Building community in the two circles is different. In the smaller circle, we take between eight and ten full-time painting students and five to seven puppetry interns for a full-time program, all day long, four days a week. In that community, we’re really working closely together. We do biography work. We do group observations of the artistic work. We have a meal together at least once a week. We sing together. We do eurythmy together. All of these things really help to build this core group and a feeling of community.

Our larger circle extends quite broadly. There’s a circle of local people who are interested in the work. They send us donations. Sometimes, they come to a short course. But a lot of them just want this mission to work. And then there are people all across the country, and even in Europe, who are watching out for us. We also have larger public events including an end-of-the-year arts show, and puppet shows in all the public schools in our town. We hold these events to build our visibility and to give something back to our community.

Mark: Allegra, how have you been able to successfully build community at Washington Carver High School?

Allegra: It starts with having a successful practice. Having a clear vision and mission that is shared by people is what creates a community.

I stepped into a community where some of the leaders had grassroots experience and a shared idea of building a public Waldorf-inspired high school. My work began with clarifying what this high school would look like.

One of the communities I work with is the teachers. We meet weekly to do activities like singing, eurythmy, and storytelling so that we can practice elements of Waldorf education together and learn from and about each other. Building a strong working relationship as a faculty was essential so that we could communicate this vision to the larger community.

And more than half of our students and families aren’t necessarily familiar with Waldorf methods. They are involved because Carver is small and safe, and they share the part of our vision that values relationships and human development.

Archery is one of several unique extracurricular programs offered at the George Washington Carver School of Arts & Science

Archery is one of several unique extracurricular programs offered at the George Washington Carver School of Arts & Science

We’ve done a lot of work in these last six years to build our community of parents and students by celebrating together. A common practice is getting together regularly for events where students perform so that families can live some of the educational experience that their students have had.

Mark: What are some of the challenges or obstacles that you’ve faced in building these communities?

Laura: Free Columbia is still a small initiative. It’s interesting that people often come to the full-time program, and they don’t really understand what this year’s worth of artistic process is about. Some of them have no relationship with Rudolf Steiner’s work at all, but they are searching for something, and that draws them here.

So it means that we have to be extremely specific about the expectations we have for the students. We don’t have any set tuitions, we’re not accredited, and we have this donation-based financial model—people think it’s pretty crazy. But once they get involved, it becomes clear. It’s just reaching that level of understanding within our community that is really challenging.

Allegra: One of the biggest obstacles that we had was inheriting a failing school. It was a huge challenge because we had kids and teachers who were frustrated, angry, and marginalized. I had to learn how to absorb that and build our own community with them. We did that by fostering relationships. We treated people with kindness and respect. And people repeatedly said, “Are you for real? We’ve never been treated like this in a public school before.”

I liked what Laura said regarding being really clear about the program. Within my district, our sister schools ridiculed us because we weren’t understood. As we clarified who we were by building a community, by showing growth, both academically and in enrollment, it became clear to our peers that this was working in the public sector, it wasn’t just a private school model.

Another layer of challenges was in meeting district, state, and federal guidelines and requirements. In America, Waldorf schools have grown up and matured in total freedom as private schools. There was a lot of concern about these government regulations removing that freedom.

By demonstrating the education, the curriculum, teacher expectations, student expectations, and outcomes, we have made it clear to the public education system and our private school peers that the public Waldorf-inspired schools are valid, valuable, and thriving educational environments.

Laura: It’s so interesting because what you have created is the strongest answer to objections that a Waldorf school can’t exist within the public sector.

People told me that my students wouldn’t appreciate something unless they paid for it. Until we tried it, I didn’t have a great response to that. But once we established this new model and it worked, then that was the best response to our critics. The living example is so powerful.

Click here for Part II

Allegra Allesandri Pfiefer is the principal of George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the nation.  She is a graduate of Sacramento Waldorf School and a founder and teacher of San Francisco Waldorf High School. Allegra earned her doctorate at UC Davis as part of her mission to bring Waldorf education to a wide variety of educational institutions.  Sacramento City Unified School District serves 45,000 students and is the only school district in the US to support three public Waldorf-inspired schools educating over 1000 school children.

Laura Summer is co-founder with Nathaniel Williams of Free Columbia, an arts initiative that includes a year-long program based on the fundamentals of painting as they come to life through spiritual science. She has been working with questions of color and contemporary art for 25 years and her approach is influenced by Beppe Assenza, Rudolf Steiner, and by Goethe’s color theory. Her work, to be found in private collections in the US and Europe, has been exhibited at the National Museum of Catholic Art and History in New York City and at the Sekem Community in Egypt.

RSF Funds Development of Sebastopol Charter School’s New Campus

March 27, 2014

RSF Social Finance (RSF) is pleased to announce a new loan to The Charter Foundation, the fundraising organization that supports the K-8 Waldorf-inspired Sebastopol Charter School. RSF was selected by the Foundation as their lender of choice to finance the acquisition of a 20-acre property and the construction of a permanent, unified campus for the entire school population on the new site

charter_ribbonsSebastopol Charter School was founded by Greg Haynes and Ursula Kroettinger, two former Waldorf school administrators who wished to bring Waldorf education to their community without the financial barriers of private school tuition. Waldorf education, developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, is an arts-rich approach to education that focuses on teaching the whole child – head, hands, and heart. Waldorf schools have traditionally been private and more readily accessible to middle and upper class families. However, a shift is occurring: according to the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education, the number of Waldorf-inspired public schools has risen quickly, from around a dozen in 2000 to over fifty in 2014, making this education model available to far more children regardless of family income.

“RSF is inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner and we believe in the importance of supporting creativity and human spirit,” says Ted Levinson, Director of Lending at RSF. “We have a long history of supporting Waldorf education in private schools and seeing these values transferred to the public education system is an important step in developing the next generation of inspired leaders.”

As one of the first Waldorf-inspired charter schools in the nation, Sebastopol Charter opened its doors in 1995 to its pioneering kindergarten class. Each subsequent year another grade was added as the previous class advanced, until the first 8th grade class graduated in 2005. With the school’s rapid expansion, The Charter Foundation was founded with the mission of establishing and supporting a permanent, Waldorf-inspired charter school.

charter_music1“Since the school’s founding nearly two decades ago we’ve searched for a permanent campus site that would provide our students the spaciousness to move with freedom and to explore and learn through their natural environment,” says Chris Topham, Executive Director of Sebastopol Charter. “Since that time, RSF has been a key partner in helping us realize that dream, first providing the backing needed to develop our current urban campus, and now supporting our efforts to take our school to the next level at our new, unified campus.”

RSF initially provided a loan to the Foundation in 2000 to help build the school’s downtown campus, housing the third through eighth grades, while the K-2 program is housed on a separate site leased from the chartering district. The downtown facility, now owned free and clear by the Foundation, has served its purpose as a temporary home and investment property while the school searched for the ideal site for its new home. This new RSF loan has been used to acquire a 20-acre parcel of land, and will support the development of the first phase of the new campus which will finally unify the entire school.

Sebastopol Charter School has been successful in recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, providing a full and rich Waldorf curriculum including strings, handwork, woodwork, Spanish, games, social inclusion and eurythmy, and attracting a dedicated and informed parent body. As a result, Sebastopol Charter is now widely regarded as one of the leaders in public Waldorf education nationwide. Its success has encouraged scores of other public schools to offer a Waldorf-inspired education to any child, regardless of the ability to pay.

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About The Charter Foundation

The Charter Foundation is the fundraising organization for Sebastopol Charter School, a public charter school in Sebastopol, California. Established by the school’s founders in 1998, the Foundation is charged with the mission of supporting Sebastopol Charter School in providing both a full Waldorf program and in establishing a permanent, unified, and spacious campus. www.thecharterfoundation.org

RSF Makes a New Loan to 18th Street Arts Center

March 17, 2014

RSF Social Finance (RSF) is pleased to announce a new loan to 18th Street Arts Center (18SAC), a non-profit artist residency program that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making. This loan will allow 18SAC to refinance their existing mortgage and provide funds for reserves. As 18SAC celebrates their 25th anniversary this year, RSF also looks forward to growing with the organization in the coming years as they build out the facilities to expand their programing – and gear up for another successful 25 years.

283585_10150737152565454_1365260_nArtist residency programs exist around the world, in both urban and rural settings, serving anywhere from one artist to over 50 artists. The residency programs can appear in art museums, retreat centers, schools, universities, independent non-profits, or community centers and their focus can be multidisciplinary or focused on specific areas, such as visual arts, dance, theater, technology arts, writing, and more. According to The Alliance of Artist Communities, a leading association of artist residency programs, there are more than 500 programs in the US and thousands more across the world serving more than 10,000 artists domestically and 20,000 more worldwide. Most are multidisciplinary, like 18SAC, and are considered research and development labs for creative work.

Founded in 1988, 18th Street Arts Center has fostered and supported the work of many of Los Angeles’ most engaging and diverse artists, and has built bridges to artists communities around the globe. The organization values art-making as an essential part of a vibrant, just, and healthy society.

“18th Street Arts Center is a deeply committed social enterprise which plays an important role in the arts landscape both in Southern California and internationally,” explains Reed Mayfield, RSF Senior Lending Associate. “By providing affordable live/work studios and a creative space conducive to an artist’s professional development, 18SAC facilitates inter-cultural collaboration and community engagement in the arts.”

18SAC provides a hub for contemporary art through two program areas that reflect its mission: 1) A three-tiered Residency Program that fosters inter-cultural collaboration and dialogue and 2) A Public Events and Exhibition Program that focuses on engaging with the public and revealing the art-making process through exhibitions, events, talks, publications and other opportunities.

The Residency Program has three strategies to support artists. The first is a long-term residency for mentoring artists and ‘anchor’ organizations, which have helped to define the character and scope of the organization. The second is a mid-term residency, which is a three-year program for California artists to advance their careers. Lastly, they have a short-term residency for national or international visiting artists and curators who reside at 18SAC for one to three months.

The Public Events and Exhibition Program includes 18SAC’s signature Artist Labs series, the new Curator in Residence Program, presentations of emerging artists, and a lecture series featuring artists, curators, and scholars whose presentations relate to exhibition content and themes explored in residencies.

Housed in five buildings on its 1.25-acre site in Santa Monica, California, 18SAC provides a physical center that promotes collaboration and dialogue for contemporary art in a region characterized by its de-centralization. 18SAC is the largest arts organization in the City of Santa Monica, and is the largest artist residency program in Southern California.

“18th Street Arts Center is privileged to own this exceptional community resource and we are thrilled to have RSF as a new finance partner supporting the work we do for artists as we celebrate our 25th Anniversary,” says Jan Williamson, Executive Director at 18SAC. “RSF’s loan is helping us make plans for the next 25 years.”

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About 18th Street Arts Center

Founded in 1988, 18th Street Arts Center (18SAC) is an artists’ residency program in Santa Monica, CA that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making. The organization values art-making as an essential part of a vibrant, just, and healthy society. Through artist residencies, 18SAC fosters inter-cultural collaboration and dialogue. 18SAC residencies, exhibitions, public events, talks, and publications encourage, showcase, and support the creation of contemporary art. 18SAC is a non-profit organization generously supported by its Board of Directors, individuals and corporate donors, private and corporate foundations, and government agencies. A corpus of over 50 dedicated volunteers support 18SAC’s visitor services, programs, and administrative functions. www.18thstreet.org

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Raphael Academy

March 14, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

For its second academic year of operation, Raphael Academy a Camphill-inspired private school initiative serving students in grades six through twelve and young adults 18+ with intellectual and developmental disabilities, received a RSF Seed Fund grant of $1,000 to support and expand its vocational class offerings.

photo 1Raphael Academy’s mission is to meet its students with reverence and compassion for who they are and what they endure; and to educate them wholly, awakening their full potential as unique individuals, actively involved in life and engaged in community.

Specialty classes such as music, woodwork, handwork (weaving, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery), movement, gardening, ceramics, and painting cultivate a student’s motor skills in addition to enhancing sensory and visual perception skills. These classes complement Raphael Academy’s academic schedule, where students are immersed in an area of study, such as math, literature and science, for several weeks at a time, a method found to bring greater understanding of the material and to form a deeper relationship to the subject.

Raphael Academy promotes the practice of life skills as essential in order for their students to live the most independent life possible. Its vocational exercises focus on developing meaningful abilities to enable students to become proficient at completing everyday tasks and to develop employable skills, so that they may work towards a greater degree of self-reliance.  An article by USA Today published in 2012 claims that one in three autistic young adults have no paid job experience, college, or technical school nearly seven years after high school graduation, a problem that Raphael Academy is working to remedy within its New Orleans community.

In addition to working with students daily throughout the school year, Raphael Academy strives to serve as a resource for parents and organizations in search of alternative and continuing education for youth and young adults with special needs. Their Young Adult Program, for students aged 18+, is designed to build social skills while teaching artistic vocational skills and independent and small group living skills. Topics include how to keep a budget and shop for food and other necessities, how to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle with weekly exercises and meal plans, and how to use public transportation and basic business skills critical to running Raphael Academy’s community café.

Jacqueline Case of Raphael Academy kindly provided an update on what the RSF Seed Fund grant made possible:

photo 2“So far we have put the money to good use by purchasing a mixer for the Young Adult Program, thread for our loom [which they used to produce 2 rugs!], and clay and glazes for student ceramic projects.  Our Young Adults bake muffins weekly and then host a coffee and muffin sale on Friday mornings to both Raphael and the Waldorf School of New Orleans’ greater school community.  So far the café has raised over $600 this school year.  The YAP café also made a small donation to the Boulder, Colorado Kindergarten that was flooded this past September as New Orleans is no stranger to catastrophe!”

Thank you for your donations to the RSF Seed Fund, which make supporting organizations like Raphael Academy possible. To learn more about the Seed Fund, or to donate, please visit our website.

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Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

More than Murals

February 10, 2014

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

by Megan Mendenhall

A decade and a half ago, four graduate students from the University of Texas started with a small idea: to use the arts to support youth development. From this inspiration, they created the Theater Action Project, an interactive violence prevention program that offered drama-based activities to help youth deal with social issues. In 2003, with the addition of now-Executive Director Karen LaShelle, a new team developed dozens of additional programs that incorporated more art forms and creative means—puppetry, parades, filmmaking, drumming, mural arts—and the organization was eventually reborn as Creative Action. Today, Creative Action is Central Texas’ largest provider of afterschool programming, arts enrichment, and character education, serving 18,500 youth annually.

Since its founding, Creative Action has ignited and supported the academic, social, and emotional development of over 100,000 young people in Central Texas. By providing youth with hands-on programs that utilize art making, team building, and creative problem solving, Creative Action offers a fun and engaging way to equip children and teens with important life skills.

“In the wake of rising incidents of school violence and bullying in the late 1990’s, Creative Action was formed to help give young people opportunities to develop stronger social and emotional skills,” says LaShelle. “In order to succeed and thrive, students need an opportunity to develop what I call twenty-first century skills: empathy, creativity, appreciation of diversity, critical thinking, leadership, and job training.”

These skills help define what Creative Action calls “4C” students: creative artists, courageous allies, critical thinkers, and confident leaders. These transformative qualities are what drive the development of the organization’s programming as Creative Action continuously seeks ways to fully engage young people. Patrick Torres, Middle School and High School Program Director at Creative Action, explains, “For us, art is a pathway for personal development, and our mission to empower young people to become 4C students is what informs Color Squad’s impact on both individuals and communities.”

Creative Action sets itself apart by creating programs with a dual mission: to inspire youth to become 4C students while also transforming the world around them. This past summer, the organization initiated Color Squad, a project that provides aspiring young artists with opportunities to work with professional artists to install murals that renew public spaces. Youth, ages 14-20, deeply engage with the city and its history, and build important social and emotional skills as they remake neglected spaces into places of beauty, reflection, and inspiration.

“Color Squad is unique because of the way it uses the arts as a tool for both youth development and civic engagement,” notes Torres. “Not only does the program transform participants into 4C students, but it also transforms neighborhoods and communities. It shows how art can impact people and place.”

Creative Action’s teaching artists guide and mentor a team of 25 teens over the course of a semester to install murals that elevate and illuminate historically underserved neighborhoods. At the beginning of the project, teens conduct extensive research to identify neglected spaces that could benefit from beautification and place-making. Through interviews with key players in the community, as well as library and online research, the team investigates the space with an emphasis on history, community aspirations, and current challenges.

“For Color Squad, painting a mural isn’t just about creating a picture; it’s about community engagement, creating a shared space, discovering oneself and one’s city,” Torres explains. “We see in-depth research and connecting with the community as vital to the artistic process.”

Once the team has fully explored and understood the community, they design and construct a mural and a related public arts project. The project culminates with a public reception to celebrate the artwork, artists, and local community.

In May 2013, RSF Social Finance (RSF) gave a Seed Fund grant to Color Squad to provide 25 youth stipends for its first full year in operation. The intention of the Seed Fund is to support new initiatives with small, but catalytic grants. RSF received 160 applications for the 2013 cycle and Creative Action was one of eight organizations chosen to receive grant funding.

“Creative Action’s Color Squad stood out amongst other Education & the Arts applicants because of the community involvement component,” explains Ellie Lanphier, Program Associate of Philanthropic Services at RSF.  “This project includes co-creation and celebration with the local neighborhood, which showed a high level of dedication and willingness to dig deeper into the true needs of their community.”

This past summer, Color Squad implemented their pilot program: creating signage for an East Austin food truck, Tony’s Jamaican Food. The Color Squad team partnered with neon artist and professional sign-maker Todd Sanders of Austin’s Roadhouse Relics. Sanders shared his professional expertise and taught the teens how to design and create their own signs. “The highly visible work has already been grabbing attention in the community,” says Torres, “and other business owners have been asking about our services.”

After the success of the pilot, Color Squad plans to implement two projects a year, engaging 30 youth each semester and providing guest lectures with 15 local artists, designers, and architects throughout the year. In the fall of 2013, they revitalized and restored the beloved “Greetings From Austin” postcard mural, an iconic landmark of South Austin. Color Squad again teamed up with Sanders, as well as the Bouldin Creek Community, to help return the mural to its original splendor.

Color Squad partnered with local artist Todd Sanders to restore the iconic 'Greetings From Austin' mural. Photo by Todd Sanders

Color Squad partnered with local artist Todd Sanders to restore the iconic ‘Greetings From Austin’ mural. Photo by Todd Sanders

Next summer, Creative Action will get to work close to home. The non-profit will be relocating their headquarters to the Chestnut neighborhood of East Austin where an innovative redevelopment project is revitalizing this underserved region. This project is a collaborative partnership between a variety of organizations from both the for-profit and non-profit sector that have united to create a place rich with opportunities and resources.

To kick off their work in the neighborhood, Color Squad will be installing a community mural on Creative Action’s new building once complete. The mural will face the Metro rail so that it can be seen and enjoyed by commuters and visitors to the Chestnut neighborhood each day. Creative Action hopes to become a solid foundation for the community’s growth as a cohesive, innovative entity that welcomes and unites people of all ages and from all walks of life.

It’s clear that Creative Action’s Color Squad is making a mark on Austin’s art culture and local community. Their strategy of using the arts as a means for youth development and community engagement and revitalization offers a unique and innovative model for others.

“What is exciting about Color Squad is how the projects allow youth to create truly impactful art that actually changes public spaces,” voices Torres. “Through this process, we hope participating youth will be empowered as they discover how visual art can be bigger than just themselves, that their ideas and their work speaks to the whole community, and that they develop a greater sense of connection and purpose in their city.”

Megan Mendenhall is Communications Assistant at RSF Social Finance

Expressive Arts Therapy: Responding to Traumatic and Emotional Experiences

February 4, 2014

This essay was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Denise Bostonby Denise Boston

As a society, we have come a long way in the field of mental health over the past few decades. Improving the treatment and quality of life for individuals who live with serious mental illnesses as well as people who struggle with traumatic life events such as hunger and food insecurity, violence, cultural stigmatization, and social trauma, has been at the forefront of the work of many healing practitioners and therapists all over the world. The expressive arts therapy field specifically, has given increased attention to creative and liberatory approaches to health, wellness, and trauma intervention.

Expressive Arts Therapy (EXA) integrates a range of arts modalities in the service of mental health and self-actualization. EXA therapy practitioners have a wealth of aesthetic options to draw upon—music, visual arts, dance/movement, photography, creative writing, singing, storytelling, drama, poetry, and indigenous rituals. Through the creative process, clients and/or participants have the opportunity to explore and potentially transform emotional, social, and relational issues; identify patterns of personal success; and experience new and innovative insights.

Expressive arts therapists grounded in culturally sensitive and liberation psychological approaches—ones that aim to actively understand the psychology and social structures of oppressed communities—use the arts as a means of understanding and collaborating with children, youth, families, couples, and individuals dealing with varying degrees of threats that hinder self-actualization and a path to wholeness. Expressive arts processes in counseling and group therapy have been used in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, hospice, youth residential facilities, and homeless shelters.

One particular health challenge that therapists and counselors worldwide are currently being exposed to is emotional and psychological trauma. Environmental-contextual conditions such as chronic violence, bullying, human trafficking, abject poverty, war, and post-traumatic stress disorder, have necessitated an authentic and empathic therapeutic presence and practice with victimized populations and trauma survivors. An expressive arts-based approach has been effective in the treatment and intervention of trauma recovery, because an imaginative and creative process is a doorway into self-reflective inner work and self-empowerment. The body, mind, and in some cases, spiritual experience allow participants to articulate their feelings aesthetically when words are inaccessible and inadequate. Arts approaches used in the therapeutic setting are a powerful, sacred, and evocative tool for healing. The work of the therapist in this context is to increase hope and motivation, and create enough safety that the participants can become aware of their own agency and strengths.

In my work as an EXA educator and registered drama therapist, I have facilitated workshops and training sessions in collaboration with community-based service providers on the concept of arts, healing, and social consciousness. For more than a decade, my programmatic and research interests have been in the area of African American community mental health. African Americans are often at a socioeconomic disadvantage in terms of accessing mental health care and culturally sensitive counseling. Much of my work has been conducted collaboratively with community organizations and schools, and is aimed at promoting positive youth development by increasing cultural values and presenting an expressive arts caring approach for traumatized children and adolescents of African descent. The cultural-based research in the African American community has incorporated the use of drama, storytelling, dance, spoken word, and drumming to redress the disparities defined by historical trauma and the systematic loss of culture and self-identity. The data gathered through these projects have provided an important glimpse into the vulnerable and alienated voices of young people and the outcomes has indicated the positive and healing effects of expressing one’s truth.

A memorable moment, which demonstrates the power of arts-based intervention, is an experience I had with an 18-year-old African American man by the name of Kevin (not his real name), who had been trapped in the criminal justice system most of his life. He participated in an expressive arts workshop that I facilitated for males living in a residential group home in Arlington, VA. As they entered the arts room, the young men were welcomed to the setting with the music of Tupac Shakur, a famous rap artist at that time, as well large pieces of paper and an assortment of colorful art materials. I instructed the group to allow the lyrics and the rhythm of the music to inspire them to create a collage that represented their stories, thoughts, and dreams. At first, Kevin was reticent and skeptical of this unfamiliar situation and stood with his arms folded, disconnected from the group. I did not intercede, but kept an eye on him as I moved around the room checking on the progress of the other teens. He stood for a while listening to the music, and then something moved him. He picked up the large oil pastels and immersed himself in the creative process. Once he completed one collage he approached me and asked if he could do another. In the two and a half hour session, he had the opportunity to channel his anger, trauma, and loss into two powerful, provocative works that represented his story. At the conclusion of the session, Kevin rolled up his work and left the room a different person than who he was when he walked in. I stopped Kevin on his way out and shared with him how moved I was by his work. I wanted him to know “I see you”. We both shared a special transitional moment—never to see each other again. It is moments such as this that demonstrates the transformative and healing potential of the arts.

As a little girl growing up in Baltimore, MD, I loved using dance, music, reading, and dramatic play to express myself.  At the age of twelve, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Bedridden with my knees filled with fluid, swollen, and painful to touch, I spent months in the hospital unable to be the energetic and vibrant child I was known to be. What I owe my recovery to was a supportive family and community, and my creative resources. I used movement and dance as my physical therapy to strengthen my inflamed limbs; and music to heal the sad places deep inside. It was from this traumatic childhood experience that I found my calling and a path to the creative exploratory process. I uncovered something profound within my spirit and my quest for optimal health and wellness, strengthened my love and compassion for others dealing with various aspects of pain and suffering.

I am appreciative of my arts-based practice and journey and will continue to use the arts with people who live within intersectional situations; race, gender, class and sexuality. This year, I have been invited to go back to my birthplace and to Washington, DC to promote the healing arts and provide training to mental health professionals working with children and families in traumatized environments. It is inspiring to connect with local people and plant the seeds of the arts in their promising communities and to imagine a thriving untraumatized world together.

Denise Boston, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Expressive Arts Therapy Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). Dr. Boston was an actor and served as a director and drama teacher prior to her career as a psychology educator. Her arts-based teaching experience spans working with children, youth, families, and individuals in marginalized communities as well as at cultural centers such as the Kennedy Center, Baltimore School for the Arts, and Arena Stage-Living Stage Theatre Company. Dr. Boston received her BFA in Drama from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, a MA in Counseling and Psychology from Goddard College, and a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Walden University. CIIS is an RSF borrower.

Creatively Financing the Arts

January 30, 2014

This essay was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Reed Mayfield 3 (2)By Reed Mayfield

Can you recall a moment when a song, a painting, a dance, or a theatrical performance moved you deeply? If you can, perhaps the experience caused you to gain a new or different emotional awareness. The arts have a unique ability to transcend age, socio-economic status, geographic location, and ranges of personal experience. The arts can simultaneously facilitate an artist to produce their work and a patron to enjoy the experience, piece, or production; the arts can also create economic value. Art promotes creativity, expression, identity, innovation, and aesthetics. These things are what we typically associate with the arts. What is less understood, however, is the multidisciplinary impact the arts have on social development, learning, and the economy. These three aspects are at the heart of what RSF focuses on through its lending activity to arts organizations, and they are the indicators of RSF’s values—the arts can serve the highest intentions of the human spirit.

Art takes many forms, and there are many types of organizations that foster the arts through their programs and services. RSF is committed to supporting arts organizations that promote creativity, spiritual awareness, and provide community to people of all backgrounds. Specifically, we fund organizations that contract directly with schools or community-based organizations; provide support systems for artists, or arts organizations; and facilitate the economic prosperity of the arts.

Non-profit arts organizations face several challenges to reaching financial sustainability. In particular, these organizations have historically relied heavily on foundation and individual giving. According to a 2012 report from The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, the recent recession contributed to a 10.9 percent drop in individual giving between 2007 and 2010.  Another financial issue art organizations face is the reimbursable grant format: an organization must incur the expenses related to the programming before a grant is awarded. This form of grantmaking can cause strain on the cash flow of an organization, and make it hard to meet overhead responsibilities, let alone budget for program growth. Arts organizations also tend to have untraditional assets such as contracts, incoming grants, or pledges, which may limit access to credit for growth or operations.

With a strong history of supporting the arts and an understanding of how non-profits work, RSF is uniquely poised to address these financial challenges. In particular, RSF is able to provide critical financing for working capital, facilities renovations, construction projects, or acquisition of space—financing that arts organizations often could not receive from conventional lending institutions. RSF is able to do so by employing innovative financing structures. For example, for working capital needs, RSF is able to offer a Grants Receivable Line of Credit. This entails looking at a forward rolling year of confirmed grants and making funds available based on this total. This gives an organization access to capital when their cash flow may otherwise be strained by inconsistent funding and reimbursable grants. In other cases, some financing needs are addressed by Pledge or Guarantee Loans where the organization’s community participates by providing the assets necessary to secure a loan. This creates a strong financial relationship that involves organizational leadership, beneficiaries or customers, and donors.

As of late, RSF has reinvigorated its historical focus on the arts. Given the state of our culture, the arts and access to them are more important than ever. At RSF, we believe the social value created through the growth of the arts has deep, long-term positive impact in the world. We invite you to join the conversation and share your insights into the arts and how we can create the systems necessary to support their financial and creative sustainability.

Reed Mayfield is Senior Lending Associate at RSF Social Finance

Serving the Underserved: Marketing to Make a Difference

October 28, 2013

RSF and borrowers, Indigenous and Common Market, were recently featured in Forbes. Author Patrick Hanlon, shares stories of social entrepreneurs across the world using the power of business to address economic and social challenges.

timetothink-300x222The numbers who are underserved is beyond counting. The important news is that the ways we help to support other human beings is evolving, transforming.

The tipping point is gyrating like a mobius strip.

“Structurally it has been a little botched,” says Don Shaffer, president and chief executive officer of RSF Social Finance. “The emergence of impact investing is encouraging.”

Impact investments are made to companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact. This is a flip on typical venture capital investing, where most firms are in search of scalable opportunities.

“We are the opposite,” says Shaffer. “If our financial system today is complex, opaque and anonymous, the world we would like to see is direct, transparent and personal—based on long-term relationships.”

Shaffer cites two more differences. First, RSF Social Finance is funded by individuals and families, not by institutional investors. This means they are not driven by quarter-to-quarter financial results. They can take the longer view.

Second, RSF looks at companies designing new platforms that create wholesale change. That means the funded company itself may remain local, but their concept may be scalable to other communities.

Read the full article here

Art as Therapy: Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area

May 3, 2013

Grand-Traverse-Womens-Resource-Center_logoby Ellie Lanphier

RSF helps fund education and arts projects that are holistic and therapeutic, especially those that foster spiritual awareness or increase access to learning and the arts.

With this focus in mind, the RSF provided a Seed Fund grant to the Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area (WRC). WRC requested support for their new art therapy program, Art for Empowerment, led by Art Therapist Dr. Barbara Macintyre and WRC advocate Susan Britton.

Through community collaboration, the WRC provides education, support, counseling, housing and advocacy to end domestic and sexual violence and promote an equitable, safe environment for all. The WRC serves five counties in northwest Lower Michigan.

The Art for Empowerment teaches domestic violence shelter clients sewing skills while working with an art therapist skilled in addressing victimization and anger management through creativity.

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living,  or those who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others; cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.”

From January 7th through February 25th 2013, a total of 38 women participated in Art for Empowerment. The goals for clients were to:

  • Learn sewing skills using sewing machines and hand stitching
  • Design and sew basic functional art items such as journals, tote bags and small handbags
  • Learn basic business and entrepreneurship skills to market and sell items
  • Work with an art therapist to address their life situations
  • Develop a sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency

Participants spent the first two sessions creating reflection journals with hand-stitched bindings. Every other page of the journal had an empowerment statement followed by space for the participant to write a reflection. Dr. Macintyre worked with each woman, one on one, to discuss their written responses. The reflection journals were re-visited during the last session and many women found their initial answers had evolved significantly due to an improved outlook on life provided by their experience in Arts for Empowerment.

The women spent the rest remainder of the program creating small purses and tote bags. Discussion followed regarding “cutting, weaving and piecing together” a new life for themselves. The last session involved a discussion on the “value” of each bag, both symbolically and on a retail level.

Exit interviews revealed that all participants found the project “extremely worthwhile,” learned a new useful skill, and would repeat a similar program if offered.

To learn more about the important work of Women’s Resource Center for the Grand Traverse Area, visit their website. To read about other RSF Seed Fund grantees, visit our past blog posts and stay tuned for the announcement of our 2013 grantees later this month.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.


The Future Will Belong to the Nature Smart – Part I

January 29, 2013

By Richard Louv

Originally published in the Winter 2013 RSF Quarterly.

For all of human history and prehistory, experience in the natural world has helped shape our species, including our brains. Yet, in recent decades, our society has looked everywhere but toward more natural environments for healthier brain development and the enhancement of intelligence and creativity. It’s time to take a fresh look at our own back yards – at nature nearby and far.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a speech at Henry David Thoreau’s funeral service, described his friend’s many talents: “He was a good swimmer, runner, skater, boatman, and would probably out-walk most countrymen in a day’s journey….The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house he did not write at all.”

These walks not only stimulated his creativity, but had practical, day-to-day application: Thoreau’s outdoor experiences made him a sought-after land surveyor; he could not only outline boundaries with exactitude, but could also explain the ecological workings of an area in great detail. An amateur stream-watcher and river-gazer, he knew the secrets of local waters long before professional hydrologists took their measures. When NPR commentator John Hockenberry reported the research that revealed greater mental acuity after a nature walk, he pointed out that Albert Einstein and the mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gödel, “two of the most brilliant people who ever walked the face of the earth, used to famously, every single day, take walks in the woods on the Princeton campus.”

Well, we’re not all Einsteins. But we’ve all experienced that eureka moment when the brain is relaxed and in a positive state. That can occur in a shower, indoors or outdoors, but in all of its complexity – with all of its loose parts and invisible connections – the natural world is by definition an incubator of creativity.

Becoming nature smart

Creative genius is not the accumulation of knowledge; it is the ability to see patterns in the universe, to detect hidden links between what is and what could be. In 1977, the late Edith Cobb, a noted proponent of nature-based education, contended that geniuses share one trait: transcendent experience in nature in their early years. Environmental psychologist Louise Chawla of the University of Colorado offers a broader view. “Nature isn’t only important to future geniuses,” she says. Her work explores “ecstatic places.” She uses the word ecstatic carefully. Rather than applying the contemporary definition of delight or rapture, she prefers the word’s ancient Greek roots – ek stasis – meaning “outstanding” or “standing outside ourselves.” These ecstatic moments are “radioactive jewels buried within us, emitting energy across the years of our lives,” as Chawla puts it. Such moments are often experienced during formative years. But, because of the brain’s plasticity, and individual sensitivities, they can happen throughout life. And they can happen for everyone, giving each of us the touch of genius.

Most studies of learning ability and creativity associated with the relationship between nature experiences and creativity involve children. In 2006, a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better than indoor schools at stimulating children’s creativity. The researchers reported that 58 percent of children who were in close touch with nature often invented new games; just 16 percent of indoor kindergarten children did. One explanation, for adults as well as children, is suggested by the “loose parts theory” in education, which holds that the more loose parts there are in an environment, the more creative the play. A computer game has plenty of loose parts, in the form of programming code, but the number and the interaction of those parts is limited by the mind of the human who created the game. In a tree, a woods, a field, a mountain, a ravine, a vacant lot, the number of loose parts is unlimited. It’s possible, then, that exposure to the loose but related parts of nature can encourage a greater sensitivity to patterns that underlie all experience, all matter, and all that matters.

Other research focuses on adults. In 2012, the University of Kansas News Service reported: “Research conducted at the University of Kansas concludes that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature.” “There’s growing advantage over time to being in nature,” said Ruth Ann Atchley, department chair and associate professor of cognitive/clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, when the results of the study were announced. “We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cell phone, not hauling the iPad and not looking for internet coverage. It’s when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works.”

Nature experiences stimulate learning and inspire creativity through ecstatic experience but also through the complexity of possibilities for play and learning, and through a kind of osmosis.

We need more research in this field, although we already know intuitively that nature stimulates the mind and soul and our love of place, and that there is no electronic substitute, particularly for infants and young children. Harvard’s professor E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis holds that human beings are hard wired with an affiliation with the rest of nature. Researchers suggest exposure to the natural world restores the brain’s ability to pay attention, that it not only restores us, but excites us, by stimulating all of the senses.

These ideas are not new to Waldorf teachers or other nature-based educators. But, because of recent research and a growing movement to connect children to nature, a wider public is coming to that conclusion — even as children’s daily experience is becoming more virtual.

Click here for Part II of this essay where Richard discusses the hybrid mind.

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