» Tea Rozman Clark
How did you come to this work?
I was born on the sunny side of the Alps. I had a happy childhood, unaware that while I learned about the world around me, a 37-year-old regime was coming to an end with the death of Josip Broz Tito, the president of Yugoslavia. Followed by a power struggle, the Balkan war started in 1991, I was 15 years old.
We lived in public housing built under the socialist regime. Air raid sirens and roadblocks filled the streets of our capital city. Every time we heard the sirens, we went to the shelter in the basement of the building. With 80 apartments, there was hardly enough room for everyone. This was my first taste of war. The Ten-Day War was short, but my life was never the same. The fighting intensified and spread throughout the country. I could not help but think of all the other people. At the train station, I had never seen so many people and children disembarking at once. So many refugees came. At that moment, I committed myself to helping people whose lives were so unjustly affected by outside powers and began volunteering in refugee camps on a daily basis.
At 15, I was pushed to define how I would live my life. I learned bad things can happen to good people. I learned a collective effort is necessary to make positive changes. I learned we cannot wait for wrongs to be undone; we have to act now. I learned it’s easy to provide people food and shelter, but it is far more difficult to ensure them human dignity.
Because of my work with the Bosnian refugees I won an Open Society Institute scholarship and moved to the U.S. at the age of 21. I studied at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire from 1997 - 1998. When I moved to the US, I became an immigrant myself. I soon became aware of the dominant narrative and the role of immigrants in it. The myths and stereotypes were prevalent back then, and in many respects are even more pervasive now.
For the past 20 years, I have been dedicated to improving the lives of refugees and immigrants.
How does art influence change in the world? How does your art do this?
I have an ambitious dream: I want to establish the largest digital library of personal narratives from America’s diverse immigrant population in the country — with the goal of fostering greater understanding between the country's immigrant and nonimmigrant communities. In 2013, I co-founded Green Card Voices (GCV), which documents life stories of immigrants throughout the United States, translating them into exhibits and curriculum for people in Minnesota and beyond to learn about their neighbors.GCV has, so far, recorded the stories of over 160 first-generation immigrants from 75 different counties and 6 continents. They are all nicely edited and available to views on our website and YouTube. These stories have been recorded in big cities like Minneapolis, New York City and San Francisco as well as in small towns. In September 2014 we celebrated our 1st anniversary with an exhibition as part of the Catalyst Series in the Intermedia Arts Gallery. 100 stories - 365 Days: Immigrants Telling Their Life Stories, which has since been converted into a traveling exhibition and has visited over 20 locations in one year alone including high schools, universities and libraries in the Twin Cities and around the state as well as the Target Field and MSP International Airport.
In September 2015, we published VOICES OF IMMIGRANT STORYTELLERS: Teaching Guide for Middle and High Schools.The Teaching Guide as well as our website and the travelling exhibitions inspire and empower immigrant themselves, in addition to inform and connect the wider community.
What inspires you?
People. Humanity. Dignity. Respect. Peace. I know that everyone has a story to tell and a voice that deserves to be heard. People’s stories that I get the chance to listen to inspire me. I also know that the impact of telling and hearing stories is very profound. That’s what continues to inspire me. But it is one thing to be inspired, it’s another to turn that inspiration into sustained motivation. On my desk I keep two quotes that I read multiple times a day; "Be thoughtful, Gentle and Fearless" by Gandhi, and “Determination will see you though this” which is from a fortune cookie, these push me to keep moving through the setbacks. Finally, I really enjoy and find meaning in Reform Judaism - its teachings and practice, especially the practice and the study of radical hospitality. I also practice intentional diversity, which connects me to people different from myself, and opens a window to a whole new set of perspectives.
“It’s easy to provide people food and shelter, but it is far more difficult to ensure them human dignity.”
- Tea Rozman Clark
How are you an artist-activist?
It was early on in my life that I made a personal commitment to making the world a better place. I believe we will find new solutions to the same old problems by applying creativity, intentionality, vulnerability and fearlessness. I know I don’t have all the answers, but I am always willing to learn.
How has Intermedia Arts been a part of your story?
In September 2013 the nonprofit Green Card Voices was formed from work and inspiration from immigration lawyer Laura Danielson and the book she published in 2011 called Green Card Stories, Ali Alizadeh, the owner of Hemisphere Companies, who was instrumental in lifting the organization of the ground, Kathy Seipp, Minneapolis-based teacher and myself. On January 1, 2014 I became the Green Card Voices first paid employee and Executive Director. The Green Card Voices’ home became a desk that I rented in Intermedia Arts’ Arts Hub. Our organization grew fast and soon we were recording new stories in the IA’s theatre, displaying exhibitions at the Intermedia Arts Gallery and adding more staff to the team. We’ve proudly called Intermedia Arts our home for almost two years now.
In 2014, I decided to apply for the Bush Fellowship. I knew very little about it since I had only lived in the Twin Cities for about a year. Intermedia Arts’ Board Chair, Andrea Jenkins was the only person I knew that had previously received the fellowship and she graciously agreed to meet. We had a lunch and she shared her insight, encouraging me and giving me the confidence to pursue it, leading me to be one of the recipients of the 2015 Bush Fellowship. Also in 2015, I was selected as a Creative Community Leadership Institute Fellow through Intermedia Arts. CCLI works with members of the community in an intensive training program that focuses on the importance of cross-sector leadership and the power of art and culture. In this fellowship I gained valuable knowledge and connections within the community and the Intermedia Arts CCLI Network.
What is one of your most powerful or meaningful experiences at Intermedia Arts?
Building Green Card Voices from the ground up has been demanding in every way possible way. Especially because it coincided with being new to the Midwest and having two young daughters. But being so welcomed at Intermedia Arts has been a great blessing. Community workspace is exactly what our organization needed. It also provided for a wonderful space where we not only have an office, but also a recording space, the ability to host exhibitions, and hold events. Over time, our neighbors in the Arts Hub have also become our collaborators. Green Card Voices has partnered with Intermedia Arts’ Media Active teens to record 30 immigrant youth stories, Line Break Media has rented us some of the equipment we need, Electric Citizen provides feedback on our graphic design decisions and borrows me a phone cord every time I forget mine at home. As well as the Intermedia Arts staff, everyone is so welcoming and helpful and the programs are great to watch develop.
What do you see as Intermedia Arts' role in this community? Why do we need Intermedia Arts?
By the fall of 2013 I knew I wanted to make Green Card Voices a reality. I was committed to making GCV a full time job and needed an office and recording space, so I guess I just stumbled upon Intermedia Arts. Initially I was just renting a desk and recording in the theatre, but overtime I became intrigued by the diverse community at Intermedia Arts, the hard work of both the staff and other ArtsHub members. I quickly realized that there could not have been a more perfect place to grow Green Card Voices than Intermedia Arts. Our missions are closely aligned and both of the organizations benefited from each other's programming. Immigrants that come to Intermedia Arts to have their story recorded by Green Card Voices feel welcome in the space, and that kind of comfort level is critical in this work.
Tea Rozman Clark is the Executive Director of Green Card Voices. Previously, Ms. Rozman Clark has worked for Reconciliation and Culture Cooperative Network, a New York City non-profit working with immigrants from the Former Yugoslavia. Ms. Clark, is a New York University graduate in Near and Middle Eastern studies and has a PhD in Cultural History from the University of Nova Gorica, specializing in oral history recording. She is a first generation immigrant from Slovenia.