When Jacqueline Kling was picturing her future during her graduate school studies, she had thought she would spend the vast majority of her time performing and touring as a professional dancer. After completing her MFA, she began to reevaluate her interests and began to expand her view of what it meant to be a professional, working artist. Within a few years, she had landed a creative, full-time position near her hometown that supported her career goals, developed skills that had not been the focus of her studies, and provided an opportunity to give back to her community. This unique opportunity was created by a research and action partnership between The Wallace Foundation and The Boys and Girls Club of Central Minnesota (BGCCMN).
Her work with BGCCMN is made possible through a grant provided by The Wallace Foundation (WF) and is based on published research that draws from a study of top arts programs for youth, interviews with experts in arts education and youth development, and interviews with over 150 tweens about what they’d like to get from an arts program. Jacqueline uses this research to guide her work as Dance Director, along with qualitative research methods to support the work of Research for Action, a nonprofit organization that has been selected to execute an independent evaluation of this new programming.
Learning about this collaboration and the opportunity it has created for professional artists who are interested in giving back to their community was an eye-opening experience. It’s not often that you hear of a nonprofit employee engaging in research, programming, and personal development all at the same time and as part of their job description. As you read about her work and the programming, you’ll find yourself rethinking the boundaries of your career and what’s possible for nonprofit organizations today!
How did your organization become connected with The Wallace Foundation?
When the Wallace Foundation developed and published this research, they wanted to find current youth development organizations. They knew there were organizations nationwide serving youth in urban locations, so they conducted a nationwide search for a youth development organization to partner with and grant the funding to do this initiative. Boys and Girls Club of America was chosen and from there, local chapters applied to be one of the three pilot sites. They selected one region of the country – the Midwest – and are partnering with the Boys and Girls Club locations in Central Minnesota, Green Bay, and Greater Milwaukee. From there, each location has two full-time artists and two part-time artists implementing the research.
How were you hired?
I’ve had previous dance nonprofit experience, including volunteering and teaching. I had an arts administrative fellowship prior to this job and learned about this position while my fellowship was coming to an end. After filling out the application, I had an in-person interview and a demo class for the youth while (the organization’s) leadership observed. From there, what the youth and the leadership thought were evaluated equally as part of the hiring process. For this programming, we try to keep it very youth-centric and involve them in all aspects.
We have three other artists working on this project: a part-time fashion design artist, a full-time visual artist, and part-time digital media artist. We all collaborate together and it’s been nice to work on culminating events. We’re combining four different art forms and working as an artist team within the club for these large-scale events.
Has your role evolved overtime?
At first, our emphasis was on programming, recruitment, and retention. As the projects moved forward and we have a year and a half left on the grant, we’ve shifted to focusing on scalability and sustainability. How much does this project actually cost? How can we scale it out beyond the three clubs to the wider Boys and Girls Clubs?
We are also thinking in terms of sustainability, funding and partnerships. What funding do we have in our local community to turn to after the Wallace Foundation grant? How are we able to build relationships within the community so our kids can continue the art form that they have been participating in when they age out of the Boys & Girls Club programming? We are trying to really understand the youth we are serving and create high-quality arts programs for the youth in our different locations.
What type of social impact does your organization have in your community?
In terms of our partnership with The Wallace Foundation, we are focusing on what makes afterschool arts programs high quality, what the barriers to entry for low-income tweens (ages 10-14) are, and gathering information from the youth and their families directly. The youth are the primary focus of the research. I contribute by taking the 10 success principles from the reports, creating a curriculum, and then collecting information and feedback from the participants.
Our main focus is that youth development aspect. How can we impact them so they are positive members of our community? We don’t want to keep them within our four walls- we want to bring them out into the community. In these times, when there is so much going on in society, we want our kids to experience it so that they are able to really grow and be productive members.
In terms of our arts programming, it is a great medium to showcase the talents the kids have. We create opportunities for them to show that they are able to commit to something, follow through on it, and have something to show for it and be proud of. It builds their confidence and they feel like they can go out into the community. They may be too shy to really talk about who they are and what they’re doing, and here they are encouraged to use their art form as their voice.
Retention seems to be a goal of both the research by The Wallace Foundation and the general mission of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Minnesota. Do your participants usually stay in the program?
I have a lot of groupies! They are ride or die kids that sign up for every session we offer and they are always in attendance. You also have those kids who do it once, realize dance isn’t for them, and want to try a different art form. I have one girl who has been in almost every session since I’ve started! It depends on the youth, but we have a pretty good retention rate.
We have two different types of studio time. Skill development lasts six weeks and are two hours, twice a week. Open studio time is for those who don’t really want to commit or is unsure of what a dance studio is all about. They can come in, sit on the couch, create dances, or just observe. From the beginning, I wanted to create artists. I didn’t want to create dancers. I wanted them to feel like they had a voice, could create their own work, and it was just as valuable as the technique or choreography that I was teaching them.
Do you have any tips for other artists who are working in nonprofit organizations and are still interested in pursuing their career as an artist?
I would say to look outside your typical arts organization. This opportunity I’ve had has been an amazing experience where I’ve learned so much about myself and who I am as an artist. I feel so supported by everyone I work with on this project. They value me as an artist and everything that I bring to the table. There are organizations who are looking for someone artistic or a little more creative to fulfill a role. Don’t turn away from them because they don’t seem like a traditional career path. The results can be very rewarding!