Arts Council's Kathleen Collier working with her accessibility cohort at the LEAD Conference

A Spotlight On Professional Development At The North Carolina Arts Council

Author: Kyesha Jennings

The North Carolina Arts Council is a great source of professional development for arts leaders, artists, and teachers. This summer, many of our staff have been quite busy attending or presenting at arts conferences across the state. Read all about it below.

A+ Summer Conference - screen shots of A+ conference participants on Zoom, and a quote from a participant that says "[The A+ Conference] is increasing my professional growth and helping me be a more effective educator."

A+ Schools of North Carolina, an arts-based whole-school reform model

A+ Schools of North Carolina is a signature program of the North Carolina Arts Council and the longest-running arts-based whole-school reform model in the nation. In July, the program hosted two three-day conferences. These online conferences were for A+ schools within their first three years of A+ implementation. Each school was assigned a team of fellows (38 in all) who planned and facilitated their whole-school sessions focused on essential A+ school practices, building a creative culture, and exploring integrated curricula.

In August, the Arts Council-based A+ team hosted another online conference—this one open to any educator in the A+ Schools of North Carolina network. A variety of arts-integrated workshops were offered, from A+ basics for newcomers to the program to sessions to strengthen A+ practice for educators with more experience.

“Who knew online conferences could be so fun and experiential?  The A+ Schools 2022 summer conferences provided 33 hours of in-depth arts-based experiences for more than 400 A+ educators across North Carolina and beyond,” says Jennifer Huggins, program coordinator. “Seeing all the engaged participants create and learn together while deepening their A+ practice is why we do what we do.”

Photos of North Carolina Arts Council staff at the 2022 LEAD Conference

Accessibility training for arts administrators

In early July, Kathleen Collier, our Arts in Education director and accessibility coordinator presented at the Artist Thrive Summit with Arts Access Inc. The collaborative presentation was titled “Going Beyond Compliance: Developing Inclusive Programs in the Arts.” Additionally, Dara Silver, the Arts Council’s senior program director for Artists and Organizations, attended and served on the conference’s steering committee.  The summit aims to identify the things that help artists pursue their vision and to enable communities to benefit from the arts in all aspects of life.

In July, Collier also presented at the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Summer Institute for Teachers, a two-day program with opportunities for educators to become part of a community of practice and extend their engagement with the museum’s programming. Collier discussed best practices for developing in-school artist residencies and provided information about the North Carolina Arts Council’s Arts in Education Grants.

As our agency’s accessibility coordinator, Collier is facilitating professional development for the Arts Council’s pilot Statewide Arts Accessibility Learning Cohort program. “The program aims to provide the learning cohort with a strong foundation in accessibility best practices," she says. "We also want to encourage participants to go beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to truly integrate universal design in their arts programming and organizational culture.” The cohort is intended to provide professional development for arts administrators who are new to the field of arts accessibility. In early August, Collier discussed the Learning Cohort program when she joined Arts Access Inc. in a presentation at the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) pre-conference. At the main LEAD conference, which the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts convened in Raleigh on August 3, arts program directors, administrators, and leaders had two more opportunities to learn from Collier. She presented with the Office of Accessibility of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mass Cultural Council, the City of Raleigh Arts Office, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council in a session titled, “Funding and More: NEA, State, and Local Funding and Partnership Opportunities.” To wrap up her participation in the conference, Collier presented with leadership of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and sister agencies in a session titled, “We’re ALL In: Sharing Strategies for Access & Inclusion in Natural and Cultural Resources Programs.”

The Arts Council was well represented at the LEAD conference this year. Jeff Bell (executive director), Dr. Tamara Brothers (deputy director), Ai-Ling Chang (graphics and website manager), Jamie Katz Court (music and dance director), Dara Silver (senior program director), Sam Gerweck (special projects coordinator), and Kyesha Jennings (content director) all attended. Court was also a presenter, serving on a panel/practical session titled “The Art of Assistance.” Court says, “Attending the LEAD conference was a wonderful opportunity for all of us to learn new approaches, ideas, and best practices to better meet our aspirations of arts for all people.”

Reflecting on his experience, Sam Gerweck, the Arts Council’s  special projects coordinator, agrees. “My experience at LEAD gave me a ton of great information on how we can better serve everyone in our state, regardless of their disability status,” he says. “It also showed me what a great job we've been doing over the past few years in regards to accessibility. Seeing my colleagues serve on panels, lead workshops, and interact with our learning cohort was inspiring. I'm proud to be a member of a team doing this important work.”

A mural of Libba Cotton holding her guitar on a side of a building in Carrboro, NC. The Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit, South & Appalachia will take place in Chapel Hill in November 2022

Traditional arts in North Carolina 

Folklife celebrates the unique character of North Carolina and the arts, practices, and lifeways that emerge from within a community. On July 13, our Folklife director, Zoe Van Buren, joined Teresa Hollingsworth,  the director of traditional arts at South Arts, to lead a professional development workshop for state arts agencies and regional arts organizations receiving folk arts partnership funds from the National Endowment for the Arts for the first time. The two offered ideas on the kinds of programs that state and regional arts agencies can offer. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and the American Folklore Society hosted the workshop.

Next month, Van Buren will attend the Folk Arts pre-conference of the annual meeting of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, in Kansas City, Missouri.

In November, Van Buren will co-present a virtual session on folklife, creative aging, and creative placemaking at the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit, in Chapel Hill. South Arts is hosting the summit, which is designed to help a network of artists, civic and cultural leaders, educators, and public officials from around the South to develop new and stronger partnerships, projects, programs, and policies. Leigh Ann Wilder, our creative economies director, is on the local planning committee and Jeff Bell, our executive director, will give opening remarks.

Arts are essential to the growth and well-being of communities. These activities are evidence of the staff’s leadership as resources for the field’s professional development, statewide and nationally.  They also demonstrate the staff’s intentional, curious, and innovative approach to the work that we do.


Kyesha Jennings

Kyesha Jennings is the content director for the North Carolina Arts Council where as a part of the marketing and communications team, she curates, produces, and develops content that highlights the diversity and vitality of the arts in our state. An award-winning hip-hop scholar, Kyesha is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where her research primarily focuses on Black women writers, hip-hop feminism, and popular culture. Her writing has been published in both academic and non-academic outlets such as LifeHacker, HotNewHipHop, Vulture, Indy Week, CLTure, and Scalawag Magazine.