Are you an artist who would like to make use of your talents in the social-impact space? From volunteer work to paid positions, there are plenty of opportunities available. I interviewed Ilene Squires, a freelance photographer who teaches part time through the LA Promise Fund’s ArtsMatter program. She uses her background in photography and education to expose middle- and high-school students to media arts.
Q: What drew you to the social-impact space?
A: From the start I've always been a little altruistic and after a summer interning on Madison Avenue, I knew the corporate life wasn't for me. So I started my post-undergraduate career in NYC by joining Teach For America, where I taught two years in the South Bronx as a Bilingual Inclusion teacher. I didn't even know what that meant when I accepted the position! From there, I went on to help found a charter school in Harlem, where I later served as the Dean of Students. At that juncture I took my career into the nonprofit world. I ultimately decided I'd be best at telling and retelling stories of marginalized groups as a photographer, so I began taking night classes at The International Center of Photography. Since I was a child, I always wanted my work to “make a difference” in people's lives and I have a lot of integrity around this. Before relocating to LA in 2016, I taught photography to teens and pre-teens at a community center in the South Bronx, which is a role I still cherish to this day.
Q: What is the ArtsMatter program, and how did you get involved?
A: Currently, I am a Teaching Artist through the LA Promise Fund’s ArtsMatter Initiative. It is a three-year grant that strives to bring high-quality arts education to South LA. After taking some time off from teaching to have my kids, I realized that I missed the classroom and wanted to work again in a role where I felt like I was giving back to my community. When I began poking around the arts community I found so many awesome opportunities that were low paying or pro bono. With two kids and a bicoastal business, it was hard for me to negotiate enough time to take those positions, but one I interviewed for ultimately led me to ArtsMatter. They liked that I had classroom experience and artist experience because that skill set is a bit unusual.
Q: What do you hope that the students get out of your classes?
A: I hope they feel inspired to pursue artistic studies or careers if that's a good fit for them. For the kids that are less “artistic,” I hope they are more interested in the arts space, and ultimately able to find the language to describe their own work as well as the work of other artists. Lastly, I hope that my students feel seen and heard, and feel that their opinions matter. Art isn't just about creating; it is also about public speaking, writing, and having the social acumen to earn a living.
Q: Any advice for other artists who want to make a difference in their community?
A: It's really easy to volunteer, work pro bono or take lower paying arts jobs if you are doing something you love and have a passion for. I have two small children and a business, so my time is really limited. However, I found something that means something to me: the world is becoming increasingly digitized, and the more prepared our youth are for this, the more success and stability they will find. I don't think being a working artist is easy or even accessible for that matter, but I do feel partly responsible for ushering the next generation of kids into the workforce with well-rounded skills that include art, media, and public speaking.
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Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.