This blog entry started with curiosity about Marwen’s early days. I wasn’t the only one curious about this topic: Marwen’s Student Advisory Board beat me to the punch with 25 @ 25, which interviews a myriad of people who have worked with Marwen over the years. Nonetheless, I was excited to interview Marge Kelly, Marwen’s very first studio programs Teaching Artist who has been with the organization since the beginning!
Angee Lennard: How did you first come to Marwen?
Marge Kelly: I knew Antonia (Marwen’s Executive Director) through the Art Institute teacher programs where she and her staff were designing very exciting kinds of programs. I was teaching art on the west side and was looking for ways to keep my students interested and excited.. I needed to get excited so that I could transfer that to this students.
Over a period of time Antonia frequently mentioned a project she was involved with. And that she thought I should be, too. Finally one day she disclosed that she was working on the mission and philosophy for a soon to be not-for-profit called Marwen. The following year Marwen began with me as the only teaching artist in our newly constructed studio on Huron.
Marge talked about the founder, Steve Berkowitz who invested the initial finances to start the organization and the first Executive Director, Dianne Fitzgerald, who was also the development director, and who ran the organization.
MK: I was very happy to work with a group of students who elected/wanted to be in an art program, and where I didn’t have to sell the product or sell myself
This remains a big advantage for teaching artists at Marwen. Here is another thing that hasn’t changed in 25 years:
MK: We never knew how many students would come to orientation. We began with one small studio, and one class on Saturdays.. We were sure we would soon have more applicants than programs, and devised a plan that we could quickly activate using a local artist’s studio. When we moved to a bigger space we had other issues such as getting the word out to Chicago public students?” This was the early 90’s and the means available were mail, phone, fax. We would host teacher in-service days strategically trying to reach many people with few staff.
It was very interesting from the beginning to address issues such as “How many outside community programs should we have? What communities? How do we get really good teachers in all of our programs? How do we evaluate programs?
Again, I am struck that this is all so similar to what Marwen is still looking at today. These are questions that don’t have finalized answers; the mere act of inquiry leads to discovery which leads to growth – and growth will re-instigate evaluation. Art Administration is starting to sounds like a creative practice!
AL: What is something you have seen change over the years?
MK: It is harder today to identify the youth population we should be serving. In the 1980’s there were no elite schools and frequent teacher strikes. We felt every student was under-served because there was no guarantee any student would get a full school year. This is an issue that has been in our consciousness from day one.
Marge’s role at Marwen has also changed over the years. Her experiences include coordinating Community Outreach programs, hanging exhibitions, managing Studio Programs, Teacher Programs, and School Partnerships. She is currently arranging Student Recruitment workshops as coordinator for the Marwen Institute. I asked Marge to talk about how change and growth are instigated at Marwen.
AL: Has growth in the organization been steady or have there been large spurts?
MK: There has been the organic growth I mentioned earlier, but a few large spurts as well, especially when we moved to this space, growing from 6 programs to 17 in one year (in 2000). We had volunteers and alumni for many tasks. but had to quickly hire more staff to manage this larger space.
AL: How much have funding options affected programming?
MK: There has always been very careful thinking about grants and finding those that fit with our mission and philosophy. Our development team is very thoughtful about keeping informed about programs and convincing people to support us.
Although the overall budget is much more complicated now, the first year’s fundraisers were a bit draining. Staff was small and physical space too so we had off-site locations for our major fundraiser, the Paintbrush Ball. In the early days, murals were an important means of raising monies and making the organization more visible. For example, Marwen received a commission to wind the entire block around the Chicago Ave. MCA with murals while the building was under construction.
AL: From my perspective, I can see that the personalities of each person through what their work in some way or another. Can you talk about how Marwen allows for this or encourages it?
MK: We have a very close working environment, a democratic way of making decisions and most importantly are all very respectful of one another. And I think we have been good at allowing space for personal expertise outside of the original job description.. Everybody has involvement with the students who are the centerpiece of Marwen. Development visits programs, and all new employees come to an orientation to see the start of the whole process. What more could you want from a work place?
Angee Lennard is best known as the founder and director of Spudnik Press Cooperative, a community printshop inclusive of art making, writing, and book classes, youth programming, exhibitions, residencies, private studios, publishing, and so much more. Her teaching at Marwen focuses on printmaking, design, and community-based art practices. Her own artistic practices include printmaking, illustration, and drawing, with past clients including Green Lantern Press, WBEZ, and many local musicians.