» Carolyn Holbrook
How did you become an artist?
If I had wanted to escape the arts (and believe me, I have never wanted to), it would have been nearly impossible.
I was born into an artistic family. My elder brother wrote poetry and composed lyrics and music for folk songs. In the 1960s and 70s, my younger brother took his African dance company, Feast of the Circle Dancers and Drummers, to Africa and the Carribean on a number occasions to learn from the experts, and to perform. My stepfather played his left-handed guitar with much flourish in both a large jazz band and a small Afro-Cuban combo, and my mother and sister designed fashions.
When I was a small child, I started seeking words to give expression to the music, the movement and the color that surrounded me and now, as an adult, I am still fascinated with the power that art – in all of its disciplines – has to inspire and heal.
Three of my five children are artists; two of them are musicians and the third uses her creativity in the beauty and fashion industry. Two of my grandsons are also in the arts; one has followed my elder brother’s path, composing and playing music, the other has followed my path as a poet and writer.
What inspires you?
Music inspires me. My grandchildren and the funny things they say and do inspire me. Nature inspires me. Hell, everything inspires me. When my middle daughter was around 5 years old, she asked me how old I was in 1902. The fact that children believe their parents have always been here inspired me to start thinking more deeply about the history of my people and the music of my people and then to ponder the same about people from other backgrounds, communities and countries. In other words, I’m endlessly inspired by human beings and the human condition.
How can art be a tool for speaking out, for creating change in the world?
Art is an essential tool for inspiring and empowering individuals to see themselves as agents of change in both their personal lives and in their communities. One of my major reasons for founding SASE: The Write Place was to pass along some of the things that empowered me. My life has taken some twists and turns that could have landed me in a very different place than I am today. It was the arts and the people who encouraged my artistic expression that pulled me through. I passed it along by creating two streams of programming at SASE.
One program stream was specifically for writers. It included “SASE About Town,” a citywide readings series led and curated by writers ... the GLBT series that still lives at Intermedia is one of those. We also developed small-group mentoring programs for adults and youth; and re-granting programs for writers and spoken word artists. In fact, the VERVE grants were the first grants in the nation for spoken word artists.
In our other side of our programming, we connected with agencies to bring interdisciplinary programs to youth and adults in difficult situations.
I truly believe that we are all born with the creative spirit. It manifests in many ways, both positive and negative. A young person whose artistic expression is not encouraged may end up doing unsavory things which, when viewed closely, are often full of amazing creativity. I will always remember observing women in transition as they began to feel their own power enough to speak out for their rights, or young people in detention programs' chests swell as their grades began to improve along with their self image.
How has Intermedia Arts been a part of your story?
I’ve been involved with Intermedia in a variety of ways, for a lot of years, since the 1980s when it was called UCVideo and was located in a little church on the edge of the U of M campus. In my capacities of Director of the Whittier Writers’ Workshop, as Program Director of The Loft Literary Center, and as Artistic/Executive Director of SASE, I have participated in many collaborations with Intermedia and always loved working with people like Tom Borrup and Sandy Agustin. Intermedia's openness to ideas and community economic empowerment through the arts is phenomenal. There’s no one like them!
“It’s not that art has necessarily changed me. Rather, art sustains me, keeps me alive.”
- Carolyn Holbrook
What is one of your favorite experiences with Intermedia Arts?
After 25 years, I felt myself burning out on arts administration and needed to transition into the life which first led me to the field of arts administration, the writing life. But I wanted what I had created at SASE to continue. A merger with Intermedia Arts was the solution. Our values regarding arts and community are identical and we had worked together for many years, we knew each other well.
Thankfully, Intermedia Arts agreed and, together with our boards and countless constituents, the merger succeeded. We had a mock wedding to celebrate.
I am honored by the ways that Intermedia Arts has respected my vision, and I am excited by the new levels that they have taken my original programs. I have been able to relax, knowing that my work is in good hands!
How has art changed you?
It’s not that art has necessarily changed me. Rather, art sustains me, keeps me alive. I love that I can connect with musicians or writers in solitude by listening to a piece of music or reading a book. And I love that I can connect with communities of artists by attending performances or salons, engaging in post performance discussions, participating in Intermedia’s planning sessions, and countless other ways.
What do you see as Intermedia Arts' role in the community?
Intermedia has intentionally established itself as the place where artists and community can connect and intermingle in very natural ways. It reminds me of indigenous communities around the world where there is no forced separation between art and community. We are all all of it and Intermedia represents the soul of it all.
Carolyn Holbrook is the proud mother of 5 and grandmother of 8. She is a writer, educator, and long-time advocate for the healing power of the arts. Her passion for providing grassroots accessibility to the literary arts inspired her to create The Whittier Writers’ Workshop in 1981 and to serve as its Director until 1989, and then to create SASE: The Write Place in 1993, and to lead as the organization’s Artistic/Executive Director until 2006, when she spearheaded its merger with Intermedia Arts.
She was Program Director at the Loft Literary Center from 1989-1993,where she managed the organization’s signature programs and, together with the Walker Art Center, brought poetry slams to the Twin Cities community. She designed the Givens Foundation for African American Literature’s writers-in-the-schools program in 2005. She was awarded a St. Paul Companies Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods (LIN) grant in 1996 and developed and coordinated LIN alumnae activities from 1999 until the program ended in 2002.
In 2000, she was named one of “100 Rising Stars” by Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine. She was a finalist for the Audre Lorde Legacy Award, Union Institute & Univ, 1997, where she earned her Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Creative Arts Leadership in 2002. Her essays have been published widely. She is currently in the process of completing Faces of Leadership: The Legacy of the St. Paul Companies Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods Programand anticipates its publication in early fall. She teaches composition and creative writing at Hamline University and Mpls. Community & Technical College.