Raquel Jimenez first picked up the French horn in middle school, thanks to an arts program funded by her Florida public school system. She later joined youth orchestras, the school band. Eventually she decided to study music in college.
But the narrowness of a traditional arts education became all too apparent during her undergrad years at New England Conservatory.
“There are people who believe art is art — that we shouldn’t expect anything other than an aesthetic experience,” Jimenez observed. “So I think the question becomes, how can we learn to shape or perhaps even advocate for the kinds of experiences we want to see in Boston.”
Jimenez, 35, spent a few years working as a professional musician. Now a PhD candidate in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, she’s turned her focus to studying and creating entirely new kinds of learning opportunities, specifically ones that are less white-washed than what she experienced as a young artist.
She supports that work as a scholar-in-residence at Urbano, the Jamaica Plain studio and nonprofit that unites creators and community through art. Her new “Create, Connect, Catalyze” conversation series with Urbano features community-based artist-educators trading ideas on the possibilities for civic change through art. Upcoming sessions include “Radical Care and Healing” (March 31), “Representation, Power, and Joy” (April 14), and “Identity and Solidarity” (April 28). More information is available at www.urbanoproject.org.
Reforming legacy institutions isn’t always the answer to improving learning experiences for young artists, Jimenez stressed in a recent call from her home in Roslindale. “Reform is not the only story of arts and culture in the city. There are dozens of smaller organizations expressly focused on supporting arts and cultural production that are deeply local — that reflect the needs of the city.”
But centering organizations run by people of color can be strangely controversial, Jimenez added. “I’ve been in places that were really limited in thinking about what counts as music, what kinds of people were qualified to be musicians, and thought music played a pretty limited role in society.”
In fact, her work today, and even her dissertation research, was inspired by her experience as a young musician. After graduating from NEC, she joined an orchestra and began asking fellow musicians about their college experiences. Because for most people who study, live, and breathe music, she said, their work was never just about aesthetics. So why was the curriculum so singularly focused? How might young artists use their work to advance their values and make change? Did her peers leave school as unsatisfied as her? “We just wished we had had a broader education,” she remembered.
Those conversations ultimately led to her exploration of learning opportunities provided by smaller, more community-based cultural organizations. “And by that I mean organizations that have an explicit commitment to local culture,” she said. “Sociologists refer to our city as sort of a fountainhead of art in the United States. Our flagship institutions are some of the oldest and most prestigious in the country. But as the history books show, they were developed with a pretty explicit focus on Eurocentric culture.”
Jimenez hopes the Urbano conversations demonstrate that there are places for young artists who feel as lost as she did. Urbano is one of those spaces, Jimenez said. Others include the Transformative Culture Project in Roxbury, Raw Art Works in Lynn, and GrubStreet in Arlington.
“Ideally,” she said, “I hope people that attend the series will feel like they do have an entry point into some of these conversations that can feel very vulnerable to wade into.”
CREATE, CONNECT, CATALYZE
March 31, April 14, April 28, May 11, and May 25. Free with registration. www.urbanoproject.org
Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at email@example.com.