Post image for Closing the Gaps

(This post is part of Jacqueline E. Lawton’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion blog salon.)

JACQUELINE: First, please tell me about the work you do as an artist or administrator.

HEATHER: I am currently the director of program and membership strategy at the National Guild for Community Arts Education. In this position, I am responsible for developing strategies to achieve the Guild’s mission of supporting and advancing access to lifelong learning opportunities in the arts. I oversee the Guild’s program, membership and marketing departments, and two of the field’s leading professional development events each year—the Conference for Community Arts Education and the Community Arts Education Leadership Institute (CAELI). I also direct the Guild’s Creative Youth Development Initiative. Prior to my current position, I worked as the Guild’s director of marketing and communications for seven years. I’ve also worked as a teaching artist in school and community-based settings, and published research on arts education, community arts, and creative youth development. My background is in theater with a concentration in theater for youth.

Next, can you tell me more about the National Guild for Community Arts Education? What is the most rewarding part of the work that you do?

The National Guild supports and advances access to lifelong learning opportunities in the arts. Working collaboratively with a broad range of practitioners and stakeholders within and beyond the arts and education sectors, we build the capacity of community arts education providers to 1) deliver quality programs that are sustainable and equitable; 2) secure greater financial support; and 3) contribute to systemic change to ensure all people have access to arts education. We do this by providing professional development and information resources, ongoing networking opportunities, and leadership development for current and future arts education leaders. We also work to increase awareness and support for community arts education and investment in the field by developing strategic partnerships and leveraging the assets of current and emerging leaders in the field.

The most rewarding part of this work is seeing the positive impact that community arts education organizations are making in the lives of individuals and in communities across the country.

Today, thousands of nonprofit, arts organizations and government agencies are providing professionally led arts instruction to people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities in community settings. Many also are providing learning/development through the arts with a focus on positive aging, youth development, community building and other areas. Through partnerships with public schools, senior centers, public agencies and other organizations, these organizations are ensuring the broadest possible access to arts education in our communities.

It is a privilege to be part of a movement to ensure every person, throughout their lifespan, has the opportunity to unleash their creative potential.

Now, I see that Diversity and Inclusion are key parts of your mission and that your programming directly reflects these intentions. Why is it important that to have programs and initiatives with such a specific purpose?

The Guild believes the arts are essential to individual fulfillment and community life. But the reality is that the number of people who have little or no access to arts education is growly rapidly. Wide disparities persist among different groups of people based on income, race, age, and other factors. We’re working to close those gaps.

I was excited to learn about the national Conference for Community Arts Education. What excites you most about the conversation and skill-building sessions being offered this year?

Inspired by the Guild’s mission to advance equitable access to arts education, this year’s Conference for Community Arts Education (Nov. 11 -14, Philadelphia) will offer a fresh perspective on the field’s most pressing questions. How can the arts education sector respond to and help combat structural violence in urban communities? What does it mean to authentically turn outward and engage with the communities we serve? How can strategic partnerships help us make a larger and more lasting impact?

Workshops will be organized in progressive tracks to provide delegates in-depth training in leadership development, partnership/collaboration, creative youth develop­ment, social justice, innovation, and teaching artist development, as well as the nuts and bolts skills you need to take your work to the next level. For those who want to roll up their sleeves and delve more deeply into a topic, we also are offering several full-day pre-conference institutes on high-impact partnerships with K-12 schools; making principled decisions; moving toward equity and organizational change; and storytelling for change makers. Additionally, this year’s teaching artist development pre-conference and track, facilitated by Eric Booth, will provide a rare opportunity for teaching artists and those who care about advancing the field – employing organizations, funders, organizations, that train teaching artists, and others – to work together to draft an action plan for advancing the teaching artist field.

I am excited to see the many ways in which all of the sessions and networking opportunities will spark creative and bold ideas for increasing our impact as a field, and inspire us to work together within the arts and beyond in strategic and innovative ways to enable every person to realize their creative potential.

Why do think theatre artists, leaders, and administrators will be drawn to this conference? 

This year’s conference will bring together more than 600 arts education leaders working in multiple disciplines across the country—staff, teaching artists, trustees, students, and our partners in other sectors—to explore innovative ideas and practical strategies for growing programs, and increasing impact and participation. The diversity and scope of this network provides enormous opportunity for the cross-fertilization of ideas. At the same time there are numerous opportunities to network and collaborate with your peers in theater specifically through events like our theater education roundtable, dine-arounds, and Saturday morning site visit to Philadelphia Young Playwrights, to name just a few. By attending the conference, you will be investing in the continued development of your network, skills, and leadership. You’ll also be contributing to a vital movement to ensure equitable access to high quality arts education. Join us!


Heather Ikemire, Ph.D., is director of program and membership strategy at the National Guild for Community Arts Education, overseeing the Guild’s program, membership, and marketing departments. Prior to her current position, Heather served as the Guild’s marketing and communications director for seven years, and as public relations manager for the former Madison Repertory Theatre in Madison, WI. Her research on community arts education, theatre for youth,  and creative youth development has appeared in various publications and she helped guide the development of the Guild’s highly-regarded resource, “Engaging Adolescents: Building Youth Participation in the Arts.” She has a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College and a Ph.D. in Theatre with a concentration in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University’s School of Film, Dance, and Theatre.


Jacqueline Lawton_headshotJacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com