This month, Creative Collective is celebrating Women’s History Month! Follow along as we tell the stories of women writers, makers, small business owners, organizational leaders, and community heroes.
by Joey Phoenix
Images provided by Essex Art Center
Lawrence-based Essex Art Center (EAC) named multimedia artist, poet, arts administrator, and Indiana native Monica Manoski (she/her/hers) as Executive Director in January of this year. Manoski has big plans for the center’s immediate future, including physical updates for EAC’s exterior and galleries, creating dynamic online and in-person programming, and establishing a clear community focus.
“We want to make our classes, exhibitions, and events more reflective of our community,” Manoski said. “When we reopen later this summer, we plan to do so with a block party and art exhibition that showcases area artists.”
And she’s planning to lead the organization on it’s first formal campaign, coined “Essex Art Center L.I.V.E. (Local Initiatives for Visual art Events…Education…Engagement) on Island Street”. The initiative hopes to bring more community awareness to the center and help them transition into a more-inclusive operation this year, post-COVID.
And it starts with the community knowing where they are and what they offer.
“A person from the community came to deliver food to volunteers painting the gallery walls, and they could not find our door, even with the address,” she said. “If the people in the community who live here – who have our address – can’t find where we are. That’s a problem.”
Some of the plans for L.I.V.E. include streetside activations comprised of paid public art opportunities for Lawrence High School faculty and students – to help draw attention to the location, an artist-in-residency program with a focus on community engagement, and a concerted effort towards recruiting and hiring more bilingual teachers and volunteers.
“The hope is that young people can picture themselves having a meaningful place within our organization and imagine pursuing a creative future for themselves if they see people who look like them teaching and exhibiting at EAC,” Manoski said.
To propel these efforts, Essex Art Center will also be launching an ambitious fundraising campaign – which you can contribute to here.
Art Making an Impact
Prior to her appointment at EAC, Manoski served as Assistant Director of Development at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts University. She is also a former Teach For America corps member who taught on the South Side of Chicago and worked as a family and community advocate.
It was during this time in Chicago that she first realized the importance of bridging the gap between communities and resources through art, and how empowering that work can be.
“At Teach for America, I was working in a neighborhood that was plagued by gun violence, and during that time, it felt like my creative practice sort of stopped,” she recalled. “But really, it had just taken a different form, because instead of making art, I was organizing community events and showing families how to use their voices. My students and their families were amazing, and they left a mark on me.”
Manoski moved to Boston in 2011 to attend SMFA where she eventually returned as Assistant Director of Development. And while she loved this position and the community, without seeing the direct community impact, she always felt that there was something missing.
“It feels so good to be at EAC. It really does feel like a family,” she said. “It’s so clear that the work we do and the space we have is such an important part of people’s lives.”
––Related Reading: “Thinking Openly, Connecting Creatively with Essex Art Center”––
L.I.V.E in Action in 2021
Founded in 1993 on the belief that everyone who wants an art experience should have access to it, the Essex Art Center has been a community touchstone for North of Boston residents since it first opened its doors. In that time, EAC has built up a loyal following from the surrounding cities like Andover and Methuen, who have come to view the center as their artistic home.
Part of this loyalty stems from the fact that EAC has worked to keep costs of classes and workshops more accessible through funding from foundations, corporations, and individual donors. Giving back to the community is part of its mission towards “sustaining lifelong growth and learning for a diverse community of artists in Greater Lawrence.”
This year, EAC plans to further that mission by offering 75% off of classes to an even greater number of Lawrence residents because often what is seen as “affordable” is actually inaccessible to many people in the community.
“We want to create programming that’s more reflective of our community here in Lawrence,” she said. “While Lawrence was hit especially hard by the pandemic, the city is rich with creative talent. And the Essex Art Center is a great place to showcase it.”
Manoski acknowledges that, in addition to the financial element, there’s also a public perception that art and art education are sometimes considered a “luxury.”
And while it’s easy for those in the industry to recognize the importance of art education and fostering cultural development, and the Massachusetts’ arts and culture sector represents 4.8% of the state’s GDP and over 140,000 jobs generating some $25 billion to the economy, explaining that to families who are trying to make ends meet isn’t an easy task.
“Even if our classes are affordable, there’s more work we have to do, because some still think what we offer is not for them,” Manoski said.
She’s hoping that EAC’s campaign will help open up pathways for connection and expression through art in new and exciting ways.
And Essex Art Center isn’t alone in these dreams for Lawrence. With other area organizations like Elevated Thought also working to empower the community through art, and the emergence of Imagina Essex in the coming months, it appears that Lawrence is on the cusp of a Lawrence-led cultural enrichment that will have a lasting effect on the community.
“As an art center, we have an opportunity to help positively impact the trajectory of the community as a whole,” she said. “Essex Art Center has been doing great work, long before I got here. And there are so many other leaders in the community who care about Lawrence’s development too.”
“So, this campaign is really to help accelerate the work that’s already happening and bring new and intentional creative energy to this incredible community,” she added.
While Essex Art Center L.I.V.E. on Island Street isn’t actually live just yet, Monica is working closely with members of Essex Art Center’s Board to further develop the campaign with the hopes of formally launching sometime in April.
To find out more about Essex Art Center, to sign up for art classes, or learn more about the L.I.V.E. on Island Street campaign, you can visit their website at https://www.essexartcenter.org/ or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month, Creative Collective is celebrating Women’s History Month! Follow along as we tell the stories of women small business owners and woman-led organizations.
And make sure to use the hashtags #shareHERstory, #shareTHEIRstory*, or #shareyourstory to highlight the women, the femmes/fems, and the non-binary/genderqueer individuals in your community who have and are continuing to inspire you.