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Meet Joseph Hall | The Social Impact of an Arts Organization

Meet Joseph Hall | The Social Impact of an Arts Organization

As an artist building a career both in the arts world and the nonprofit/social impact sphere, I was curious what other creative types do when they feel a similar need to pursue a life of artistry, advocacy, and community. During a performance opportunity I had this Spring, I routinely bumped into Joseph Hall, Deputy Director at BAAD!, a nationally-recognized arts organization that calls the Bronx home, and got a glimpse into the amount of energy, organizational skills, and dedication he uses every day.

BAAD! brings a queer perspective to the socio-political/cultural dialogue of the borough and its programming gives voice to artists from underrepresented demographics. In our conversation, I learned how the organizational structure supports their mission, how Joseph manages to wear so many hats without burning out, the importance of relationships when considering both career development and social impact, and so much more!

How would you describe your current title and role at BAAD!?

There are 3 full-time employees so a lot of the responsibilities are shared. There's the Artistic Director and the Executive Director who cofounded the organization together in 1998, and I’m the Deputy Director. I am the point person who pushes everything forward: programming, partnerships, social media, our website, supervising interns and part-time staff, our rentals program, all of our residencies with artists… basically any project we are taking on.

How would you describe the culture of your organization?

We use the word “communal” a lot. Where you walk into the building upstairs, that’s our performance and rehearsal space. The basement is where our offices and dressing room are, so people are always in and out of our office. Everything is open and accepting and free-flowing, and I think that’s also the culture of our organization.

I like to say that we are doing business without barriers, art without walls, where social justice meets art. Our programming conversations always intersect with conversations about diversity, inclusion, social justice, access...those aren’t separate things to us. The three of us are all cisgender queer men of color so those topics are already part of our world.

I met you while I was performing with MOPDC at BAAD! It was surprising to see your desk and work space in the same area as our waiting area. That’s different from so many nonprofit art spaces. Usually there’s a dedicated “here are our offices, here is where you’re allowed” arrangement...

Yeah! I think another word that I didn’t mention is transparent. We have to be transparent, whether we want to or not. One, I think just because of the architecture of our space and layout. We’ve been in this building for two and a half years and before that we were in Hunts Point where the space was even smaller. Perhaps, part of the culture is tied to the actual space. I really do believe that the space that is around us affects who we are, how we work...our moods. The space has as much influence on the culture of the organization as the people that are a part of it.

This also speaks to the reality of artists. Artists are more than just creating art, they also have identities and are a part of a larger community. We are reflecting that and providing space for that.

What type of social impact does your organization have in your community?

Our community is... as our Artistic Director Arthur Aviles says “a hyperlocal arts organization”. I think that is true in part. We have the greatest impact on people who are right around us, however, we are also citywide and national organization. We were in Hunts Point for 14 years and were really a staple of that community. A lot of the artists who came to us were right around there. A lot of them are still connected to us. Richard Rivera, who was just named one of Gibney’s new dance in process artists-in-residence, started his dance company in our Hunts Point location about 10 or so years ago. So our impact is that we have fostered the creation of arts and artists and companies. We’ve really cultivated artists.

One of the benefits of being in this chapel is that people come to us because they think it’s the church or they are just curious. In fact, a volunteer who became a part-time employee is someone who just knocked on our door and said “Hey, what is this?”! I spoke with him for two hours because he just wanted to talk, was looking for something to do and wanted to be involved. We had him volunteering for a while, then we had some special projects that we needed help with, and we hired him on a part-time basis. So yeah, we are impacting artists, but we are also providing jobs to folks in our neighborhood, folks who have had long-term relationships with us, and providing a safe space for our community.

Our mission is to empower and provide safer spaces for women, people of color, and LGBTQ communities. I like to say “safer” because I don’t know if I really believe in a “safe” place for the LGBTQ community. The weekend at Pulse, Orlando shows there may not be a “safe” space but there may be “safer” spaces. Along with being one of two independent theaters (us and Pregones Theater) there also hasn’t been a regular LGBTQ center in the Bronx. That’s something that one of our council members, Richie Torres, is working on. So we’ve always been a home for queer people and created a safer space for queer people here.

How does your organization go about hiring new staff members and how did you land your job with BAAD!, especially considering there are only three of you who are full-time staff?

I’ve been working here since September 2015. The organization is at a time in its life that it is growing and expanding, really thinking about all of these things and trying to get to a new place. They weren’t necessarily looking for a Deputy Director. They are good friends with the Director of Programs and Presentation at Gibney - Craig Peterson - who had helped them do their most recent strategic plan. He was helping them think through this next phase of the organization and they were looking for someone who can help them get there and get beyond a certain point.

Craig knew me from when I was in Pittsburgh at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. When I started, there were about three employees and a $300,000 budget. When I left, it was about 15 employees, about a 1.2 million dollar budget. I was the Producing Director, working with the Executive Director. He knew my work so he suggested me for the role, and that it be amped up a bit. I had many interviews - I met with Craig, Arthur, and Charles a few times, the Board Chair, and finally, I actually went to a board meeting. This may not be typical of BAAD! but they really wanted help to get them to a new level. It’s been a great match.

We are a small organization so we aren’t hiring often, but the opportunities are usually filled by someone who has been around BAAD! for a while, knows our community, and knows the work that we do. For instance, we are launching the AATT Summer Dance Academy. It’s a new program for children and is modeled after Arthur’s dance training and technique. We hired an Education Coordinator for that, Jessica Danser, and she is one of the people who started their company at BAAD! when it was at Hunts Point. So you see this kind of connected, family-type thing.

We do have some other roles like house manager that have three rotating people in that position. It’s relationships with people who have been around and made it a point to have a relationship with BAAD! - whether it’s as an audience member or an artist. Our staff are all artists in some way.

What do you like best about your organization?

 I want to know that I am helping to shape the organization and I think there is a lot of opportunity to help shape the future of BAAD! and their next phase. That’s what I love. I have to be a part of organizations like that. I think that’s also why I’m attracted to smaller organizations. Smaller organizations can be more nimble and flexible and responsive. We organized a vigil in three days for the victims of the Orlando massacre (in collaboration) with the offices of two of our council members and the office of our Bronx Borough President. We just did it. No bureaucracy, even though we were working with government officials.

Small nonprofit arts organizations don’t get as much credit as they should. I perceive the impact as even greater than a lot of big organizations because we are really intersecting the ideas of social justice, neighborhood, and community with arts. We do it in our own unique way, but I know that idea and philosophy is not unique to BAAD!.

What type of artist are you and how do you practice this art?

I’m still figuring all of this out. In college, I studied Ceramics and Sculpture, so I was more of a visual arts person. Now I call myself a “sometimes performer”. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I worked for theaters and eventually found myself at Kelly Strayhorn Theater. I was tapped into the community that resonated with me and the type of art that resonated with me. It was contemporary and experimental dance - both from local artists and artists from around the nation and the world. By being in that environment, I’m now more attuned with the performance side of me.

What do you do to help your artistic/creative self thrive while you are working?

I should back up - I’m a curator and I think of curators as artists. I think the curation of a program, of a gallery show...that effects the viewing and the experience of the work. I am creating something and I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. Both through my work here at BAAD! and the residency program in Pittsburgh that I co-curate with Staycee Pearl. So there are a few things that are at the intersection of arts administration and arts creation that are fulfilling to me. 

How is your time spent during a typical work week?

I am here at BAAD! a lot. I’m usually here 10:00am to 6:00pm, Monday - Friday, and then there are performances, so I’m here about 55-65 hours per week. It is a flexible schedule so I can do this work, my work in Pittsburgh, or work with various artists. I like all of these things butting up against each other. I’m a multitasker. If I’m working on one thing, I have to be working on multiple things in order to be really good at it and get it done.

So is downtime or vacation a realistic option for you?

I make it a priority to see other performances. We need to see new artists, connect with artists...I try to get out a lot around this city and I’m going back to Pittsburgh a lot for work and some of my friends’ performances. I also happen to be someone who really loves alone time and moments of isolation. It’s important to me to have at least one day where I can be home for a majority of the day and recenter myself. It’s also important to connect with friends. That helps me refresh for the next week. Whether that’s here or Skyping with friends back in Pittsburgh.

What has been the best piece of advice you’ve received that’s helped you stay motivated, energized, and engaged with your work?

Anything that can be done in five minutes, do it right away. There are many things that can be done in five minutes, so I just do them and they are done!

I’m a huge, huge proponent of thinking big and doing the impossible. If you are only thinking of what’s manageable and realistic then you’ve already kind of lost. You have to think way bigger than what you can actually accomplish. In the implementation and planning, it may shrink down to what you can realistically do, but you can’t get to the exciting places without thinking over-the-top first. I love starting at that place with anything- my own personal life, my work, whatever it is. It’s important to me to think on a larger scale. I’m more of a macro person and was a Sociology minor in gets me into trouble sometimes. Thinking macro means you may miss part of the details but if you have people around you, they can help you catch some of these things. 

By Jhia Jackson

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