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Meet the Staff: Chiquita Mullins Lee, Arts Learning Coordinator

Meet the Staff: Chiquita Mullins Lee, Arts Learning Coordinator

A southern girl at heart and part of the agency's newly expanded Arts Education team of two, Chiquita is the Ohio Arts Council’s resident writer extraordinaire. Learn about her dual roles as Arts Learning and Poetry Out Loud (POL) Coordinator in this meet the staff interview.

Q. First things first, how did you come to be an Arts Learning Coordinator at the Ohio Arts Council (OAC)?
In 2006 I was hired to be the Poetry Out Loud project coordinator during the second year of the project. David Weaver, now the executive director of the Ohioana Library, told me about POL and suggested I contact Mary Campbell-Zopf, who was the arts learning director at that time and later OAC deputy director. Mary and I discussed my professional background, my love for creative writing, and the work that I had done with theatre companies in Columbus.  POL seemed to be a great fit for me.  Mary offered me the job and I stayed and served as coordinator until December 2011.

When I heard that the arts learning program coordinator position was open, I applied and was interviewed by Mary Campbell-Zopf and Julie Henahan, then-executive director of the OAC.  They offered me the position and I started in January 2012.

Q. Can you explain what exactly arts learning is?
Arts learning provides a grand opportunity to gain insight into the creative process and the minds of artists. Students develop a historical and cultural context around an art form.  As students practice a given discipline, they often discover the artist within themselves.  I think there’s an artist in everyone. Creativity resides in all of us, though some people seek to cultivate their creativity by pursuing a career in the arts.

Arts learning can take the form of arts integration in which students learn about math, science, or history through the study of an arts discipline.  For example, a teaching artist might lead a group of students in a dance routine that teaches about lines and shapes to increase understanding about geometry.  Students might transform a history text into a dramatic monologue.  As educators consider the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), we also encourage the consideration of STEAM, which incorporates an “a” for the arts, which many consider to be essential for a well-rounded education.

Learning in the arts also supports important life skills such as critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.  Students engaged in a theatre production are actually engaging in a holistic approach to arts learning.  They practice problem solving skills while learning to think on their feet.  I remember this quote from a few years ago: “Arts learning is learning.”

Q. What do you do when you’re not at the OAC?
I am arts learning in action. I pursue creative writing and performing outside of my work at the OAC. I have several projects I’m involved in.  For example, in January, I presented two programs—one at the Ohio State University’s University Hospital East—for the Medicine in the Arts program at the OSU School of Medicine.

I am part of Wild Women Writing. The group is 10 women strong and was created by Katherine Burkman, a retired English and theatre professor at OSU. Our group meets monthly to share our original writings, and we give a local performance annually.  We’re scheduled to perform in April at the Columbus Museum of Art.

I’ve performed onstage in plays … and I have several writing projects in various stages of development.  My work is ongoing and I enjoy it.

Q. What’s the best part about working for the OAC?
I love seeing people across the state at every age and stage of life engage in the arts. I’ve seen young people discover their own creative ability. Before becoming arts learning coordinator, I was on OAC’s artist roster as a teaching artist in creative writing.  I conducted school and community-based residencies around the state.  It was fun and inspiring for me to work with students of all ages. I worked with grade school and high school aged students who were so receptive and discovered that they could actually connect with poetry and even autobiographical writing. 

In Cincinnati at Ursuline Academy, I led a residency built around creating dramatic monologues for women. I worked with a Spanish class that wrote monologues about South American women impacted by politics in their countries.  I worked with students in an English class who wrote about women authors and poets.  An American history class wrote about American first ladies, and a German class wrote about women such as Anna Freud and Angela Merkel. It was amazing to see students embrace creative writing as an artform and way of self-expression. In addition to conducting research, the students learned to get into the heads and emotions of their characters. Empathy is another outcome of arts learning.

I also led a residency in Dayton working with high school seniors tasked with writing their senior class biography. I was able to help them realize this:  you do indeed have a story; think of yourself as the protagonist and consider how the events of your life have shaped you.

When I see someone come alive through the arts, discover something about the world or themselves, and develop empathy and connections with other people, I find it gratifying.  Beyond visiting a museum or a library or reading about an art form, learning in the arts enriches the way we experience life and broadens our perspectives about ourselves and other people.

Another plus about working at the OAC is that I have great colleagues who are talented, intelligent, sincere, and hard-working people committed to serving communities and constituents across Ohio. We have a quality staff and leadership who support quality arts experiences.

Q. What is your favorite part of Poetry Out Loud?
I’ve seen students come alive through Poetry Out Loud. In the early weeks of the program, I envision students in their classrooms perusing the anthology, and considering poems and selecting three poems that really speak to them. I’m not a part of that process, but I can imagine someone saying, “Wow, this is me. I wish I had written this,” and then going over it again and again and again until they’ve memorized it and can recite as though they wrote it.

The students reciting on stage, that’s absolutely my favorite part because they come alive in an exciting way. I enjoy working with our state champion along with a professional poet during poetry recitation coaching as we work to develop an even stronger recitation. During these coaching sessions, we see them continue to blossom. I love seeing these connections happen at the state and national levels. Students bring their A game. They are brilliant.

Q. How has your relationship with art evolved since being at the OAC?
My relationship with art has been enlivened and enriched. I connect with the arts and artists daily. It’s transformational as individuals and communities recognize and develop their artistic resources.

For example, lives can change when students, working with a professional artist, create a community mural. In this instance, young people devote time to a constructive activity while discovering a redemptive method —through an art form—for processing the full spectrum of their experiences, both positive and negative. And not only are participants practicing an arts discipline and creating a work of art, but they are connecting with other people.  Through the arts, relationships are transformed and the potential for transformation is limitless.

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Kayla Draper, 2017-18 Social Media and Special Events Fellow
Photos courtesy of Chiquita Mullins Lee



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