The art of equipping trauma-informed teaching artists, a conversation with Beth Feldman Brandt

In this episode of Artblog Radio, Wit speaks with Beth Feldman Brandt, the Executive Director of the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation. Beth shares how the Bartol Foundation supports teaching artists and arts organizations in the Philadelphia region, and talks about how her own art practice impacts her organizational work.

[Editor’s Note: Due to COVID-19/coronavirus, the window of time for Bartol site visits to take place has been extended to May 15th, however applicants must still request a site visit by April 3rd.]

Beth Feldman Brandt, Bartol Foundation. Photo courtesy Beth Feldman Brandt. Edited for Artblog.
Beth Feldman Brandt, Bartol Foundation. Photo courtesy Beth Feldman Brandt. Edited for Artblog.

You can listen to Artblog Radio on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Thank you to Kyle McKay for composing Artblog Radio’s original podcast intro and outro!

Wit López:: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Artblog Radio. I’m your host for today, Wit López:, and I am absolutely delighted to be sitting in the Friends Center with the executive director of the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation, Beth Feldman Brandt. Welcome to the show, Beth.

Beth Brandt: Hi, Wit.

Wit López:: Hi. So full disclosure, also, I was recently invited to be a board member at the Bartol Foundation, so I’m extra excited to be able to talk with Beth about what this foundation does and to be able to inform our listeners about the opportunities that exist because of the Bartol Foundation.
So, Beth, Bartol, this is awesome [Wit laughs]. Uh, so can you explain what the mission of the Bartol Foundation is for our listeners.

Beth Brandt: Absolutely. We, um, have a couple different parts of what we do, all focused on really in depth, hands on, community-based arts education programs in the city of Philadelphia. And that means we make, uh, grants to individuals, we make grants to organizations, we have programs that support teaching artists. Um, and mostly we try and make connections between artists and teaching artists and community members and community organizations and all the different areas where we think, uh, artists and making art matters.

Wit López:: That’s amazing. One of the things that really stood out to me that Bartol’s doing that I haven’t really seen done in many other organizations are these trauma-informed workshops for artists. Could you talk to us a little bit more about that?

Beth Brandt: Sure. We started a few years ago doing these programs that we called “Artists Plus,” and as part of our professional development workshops for teaching artists, we started finding a community partner in an area that we thought should be taking advantage of artists and teaching artists, and we would do a workshop together.

And so a few years ago we did a workshop with the Scattergood, a foundation for behavioral health, about trauma. And it was just this sort of phrase that was going around the community, and, everyone should be trauma informed, and what did that mean? And in particular, what did that mean for teaching artists?

And so we decided to develop our first long professional development program. So it’s a 20 hour training in trauma-informed practice, specifically for teaching artists. And, um, the idea is to sort of combine what we need to know about the, the science of trauma and brains and communities and kids and then take a very particular point of view, which says, if you’re just a teaching artist walking into a setting with young people, um, in school, out of school, uh, in juvenile detention centers and homeless shelters in any kind of situation where people might be impacted by trauma, how does that inform how you teach? And so with some money from the WAYNE PENN? Foundation, uh, Philadelphia Foundation, CHD Trust, and some other foundation partners, we were able to design and pilot this training and now we’re in our fifth class. So by the time we’re done with this training, we’ll have had, uh, 60 artists-

Wit López:: Wow.

Beth Brandt: -who have completed 20 hours of trauma-informed practice training.

Wit López:: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And I, as a teaching artist, myself, and also someone who believes very deeply in the need for trauma-informed pedagogical practices, hearing that you’re having trainings that are teaching artists, teaching teaching artists the opportunity to understand how trauma works in a lot of community- communities is so important because sometimes we’re encouraged to go into communities where we have no real connection, and we don’t understand the history of that particular community, and we don’t understand how, you know, society has impacted that community. And so I feel like it’s very necessary for every teaching artist to get that kind of training. So I’m really glad to hear that, you know, there are 60 people out there who have gotten that training and who are a little forward thinking within uh, you know, within their teaching artist practice, to be trauma informed when working in the community. So that’s really awesome.

Beth Brandt: And what you said is really interesting because one of the ideas of the class, uh, which was designed by, uh, Mindy Early, um, is that teaching artists are essentially always mid-streaming. You’re always walking into a setting. You don’t know what happened to the participants before they came to you.

Wit López:: Right.

Beth Brandt: You don’t know what’s going to happen after you leave.

Wit López:: Right.

Beth Brandt: All you can do is, um, be present with the behaviors you see in front of you-

Wit López:: Yeah.

Beth Brandt: -which may or may not come from trauma. You don’t know, um, because it’s really rare that you have every single student’s entire history when you walk in.

Wit López:: Right.

Beth Brandt: But at the same time, it turns out that, that trauma-informed teaching is good for everybody.

Wit López:: Absolutely.

Beth Brandt: And so you don’t have to get some kind of checklist, uh, of everybody’s personal history. You can just sort of, uh, be a thoughtful and empathetic and informed teaching artist, and it benefits everybody and it benefits you and your own care and your own boundaries and all the things you need as a teaching artist to keep doing this work without getting burnt out.

Wit López:: Yes, I agree. I agree. So you mentioned that the trauma-informed training is part of the professional development workshops that are offered by Bartol. What are the other professional development workshop offerings that exist at the organization?

Beth Brandt: So for more than a decade, since 2007, we’ve been offering, uh, free professional development for teaching artists, uh, usually a two or three hour workshop. Hopefully you come in, you learn a bunch of stuff in three hours, you can leave tomorrow and use it in your classroom or your entrepreneurial practice.Um, and so it varies between, um, very discipline-specific workshops, like printing without a press or improvisation games or something. Then we have a three-part marketing series that we do once or twice a year, which is more about how you present yourselves, uh, as a teaching artist. What’s your teaching artist statement? What’s your signature lesson? How do you negotiate for yourself? Um, and then, um, other things that are helpful, like we do a mandated reporter training in person, you know, in September every year cause everybody needs that training under their belt to be able to teach. And so we do, um, now about, uh, maybe about 20 free professional development programs a year-

Wit López:: Wow.

Beth Brandt: -to about 300 artists that, that come through in any given year.

Wit López:: That’s amazing [Wit laughs]. That’s really, really amazing. So in addition to teaching artists, there’s also a program for arts educators, uh…

Beth Brandt: Administrators.

Wit López:: …administrators, right [Wit laughs].

Beth Brandt: So, um…

Wit López:: Arts administrators, let me get that correct [Wit laughs].

Beth Brandt: You got it. You got it. It’s a, it’s a mouthful. Um, yeah, we’re hoping to, uh, pretty soon to pilot our first class for arts education administrators who, uh, an in depth training, not for people who are in the classroom, but for people who are doing the program design, supporting teachers, um working with community partners. And so it’s a, uh, the foundation is a lot, a lot is the same as the teaching artist training, but it just has a different point of view, and it adds some layers that are more about, uh, community partnerships and, and supporting teaching artists.

Wit López:: Uh, so the foundation also offers grants to artists and to organizations. Could you tell me a little bit more about those grants?
Beth Brandt: Yes. Um, we have always, since the beginning, since 1984 made grants to organizations in Philadelphia, or who are serving, uh, people in Philadelphia, for hands-on, in-depth arts education programs. And, and that can be anything. Um, it doesn’t have to be in school. It can be out of school. We’ve funded things for seniors. We funded things for veterans. We funded things… Um, for example, right now we have a grant out with Power Street Theatre that’s doing theater and playwriting with, um, adults in their community in the evenings.

And so we, we really want to see, um, people making art in any art form in a really authentic way over a long period of time. And so those grants are between five and $10,000. Depending on the stock market and, and our own resources [Wit laughs]. Um, and we make about 20 grants a year, so about a hundred thousand dollars.

And the important thing coming up on that is that, um, the deadline for, for all of our 2020 grants is May 1st, which is not that far away because, uh, in order to be able to apply, you need to do a mandatory site visit before you apply. And you have to ask us to do your site visit by April 3rd and, and we’re, here we are in March already. And so it’s super important if you think you might want to apply for an organization, uh, at our May 1st deadline, jump on our website, which is and check out if you’re eligible, give me a call if you’re not sure if you’re eligible, and then submit your, your site visit request right away. Um, the, the, um, the benefit of being really Philadelphia-based, um, with a board of primarily practicing folks like you, is that we can go see everything that we might be funding. And so, especially if you’re, maybe you’re not actually even an organization yet, you’re fiscally sponsored, you can still apply. Um, maybe you don’t have a professional grant writer. Um, but in those cases, we’re going to come see your work.

And we have had organizations that it’s the first time we’ve, uh, we’ve met you. Uh, we go out, it’s a great site visit, and you wind up getting, uh, getting a grant your first time out. Um, so that’s why the site visit is, is really important. Um, so people really need to remember, go to a Bartol, B-A-R-T-O-L dot org. Go on our “Apply for Grants” page. See if you’re eligible. If you’re not sure you’re eligible, shoot me an email. My email’s on the website. And then make sure to definitely get your site visit request in by April 3rd. Sometimes it’s really heartbreaking where someone says, “I thought you had a May 1 deadline and it’s April 10th, and I thought I was really ahead and I started to work on it, and I see the, the site visit deadline has passed.” And that that’s just the way it is, cause we have to have enough time.

Wit López:: Right.

Beth Brandt: If you ask on April 3rd, we have another couple weeks to get your site visit finished by May 1st, and so don’t miss the chance. Um, you know, just get on the site, get your site visit in. And to some extent, sometimes we say to people, if you think you might apply, let’s get a site visit in the books. Um, and if at the last minute you, you realize you can’t pull it off or we decide together, it’s not a fit, it’s always better to ask and have the site visit, than have it be too late, and now you can’t apply for a whole year.

Wit López:: Oh my goodness. Yeah [Wit laughs]. You, you’ve heard it from Beth. Make sure you schedule that site visit by April 3rd so that you don’t miss the May 1st deadline for the grant, um, for the grant opportunity.

Beth Brandt: And then for individuals, just in the last few years, we started a micro-grant program. So that, um, is for an individual teaching artist who already has a community project going and they just need money, either to finish it or get closer to finishing it. And so that is, um, a total of 10, up to 10, $500 grants to an individual, and that deadline was a little bit ago. We’re actually looking at the applications right now and should be announcing by the end of March, uh this year’s, uh micro-grant winners.

Wit López:: Wonderful. That is, that’s really wonderful. I’m looking forward to it. Absolutely looking forward to it.

So Beth [Wit laughs]. So in addition to being the executive director here, at the Bartol Foundation, you are also an artist yourself. You’re a poet, and right now I’m looking [Wit laughs] at this really wonderful book of poetry called Retro Love, by you.

Beth Brandt: By me, right.

Wit López:: It’s amazing. The poetry is very thoughtful, and there’s even a really beautiful, uh, little reaction statement on the back by Nikki Giovanni. So that’s, that’s pretty deep [Wit laughs].

Beth Brandt: It was deep.

Wit López:: That’s really amazing [Wit laughs]. She’s definitely someone that I looked up to as a kid, so like to see that someone that I’m working with in community, their work is admired by Nikki Giovanni is really… that’s really cool.

Beth Brandt: Isn’t that insane?

Wit López:: That’s super cool [Wit laughs].

Beth Brandt: It was one of those things.

I was working on the book and spoke to a friend about the book and I said, while I was writing it. And it’s about, um, essentially dating before the internet for those of us of a certain vintage. Um, when I was trying to explain somebody, um, dating before you had to answer machines-

Wit López:: Oh my goodness.

Beth Brandt: they just looked at me like I was… I don’t know what. A dinosaur. but the idea that you would give someone your number, but then… you couldn’t go out, because once they called and we didn’t have an answering machine, or we didn’t have call waiting. And, um, and then I just started thinking about all the things that have changed and all the things that haven’t changed, really about relationships.

Um, and I was talking to a friend about this and I said, the only poems I was reading while I was writing this were Nikki Giovanni. And they said, I know Nikki, you want me to send your book?

Wit López:: Oh my God. Oh my goodness.

Beth Brandt: Um, and then of course I’m, you know, you’re watching the, the tracking. I’m like, Oh my God, it’s in Nikki Giovanni’s kitchen.

Wit López:: [laughter]

Beth Brandt: I’m like, this is crazy. Um, and then I just got this great little handwritten, like on a piece of paper, you would write your grocery list, um, note, with the blurb that she let me put on the book. So, uh, and then it was also a really great show. I was, um, not a performer at all, not really songwriter. Uh, and I got invited by Philadelphia Jazz Project a few years ago to make Retro :ove into a show.

And so we, um, I worked with the amazing first lady of jazz, Monnette Sudler, uh, Joilet Harris, Great jazz band and, uh, Monette and I wrote songs together and, um, had, uh, two nights, uh, sold out at The Drake, and then another, another night at World Cafe Live. And, um, got me out- got me on stage, which was… very much out of the comfort zone. But I had, I had good people backing me up, but it’s, it’s interesting. I be, I became a poet, you know, pretty late in my life. And so it just gives me this new insight into, um, you know, sort of the struggle of creative work and trying to make that time and, um, how you get a lot of no’s, but, you know, can I make the no’s to people… useful or informative or humane, and it just has really given me just to know a whole other layer of, uh, what it means to maintain a creative practice.

Wit López:: That’s really amazing. And I can only imagine how that might impact your work on the foundation side, or do you find that it even impacts your work on the foundation side, that you, yourself are also an artist?
Beth Brandt: I think it does. And I think, um, as you know, cause they had been to one board meeting with us. Um, our board is, uh, probably three quarters or more of the board are people who are working in the field. So they’re artists, they’re arts educators, they’re, um, running community programs. They’re running their, their own nonprofit.

And so, um, they understand that work real really deeply. They, uh, go out and do site visits and they understand the work really deeply. Uh, if you’re doing really strong, authentic work, they’re going to see it. If you’re not and you’re just doing work, which is, Oh. Not that anybody does this, but you know, there, there are different levels of how people engage with communities and also, um, folks for whom this is an outreach extra thing.

And that is awesome and we love it. Um, but we’re also looking at who’s really embedded in a community, who’s serving, um… people within the communities, that they already live and work, and, uh, our board members can really go out and, and figure that out. And they can, you know, we have folks that either specialize in an art form, work within particular communities, like you do,

Um… I had board members, if you do bilingual programs, and they’re mostly taught in Spanish, I have board members who can go out and do a site visit if you’re mostly do a program in Spanish. And so, Mmm. We do our best to make sure that the people who are reading your grants, whether it’s teaching artists who are reviewing the teaching artist proposals, or it’s our board who review the organizational proposals, um, it’s…

You’re going to be seen by people who know what the work is. And, um, so I know that it’s disappointing, sometimes we only fund about half of the applications we get, but I can say to people, um, either “We see you and you’re doing really good work, and we ran out of money.” Or, um. “This is what we saw. This is what we know is good practice. Here are things to think about. You can do them or not, but here are things we noticed about your program that made it less competitive. Um, and if you want to come to a workshop about that, or you want to reach out and talk to us about that…”

We do our best to make sure that even if you don’t get a grant from us, you’re still part of our community. So you’re getting our newsletter, you’re coming to workshops, you’re doing the trauma training. Maybe you’re applying for an individual grant, but you’re part of another organization and they’re applying for grants. So we try and have, uh, a lot of doors and, uh, because our, our resources are limited. We don’t have that much money to give away, but we have a lot of knowledge and we have a lot of networks.

And we work really hard to, to connect people with resources, resources that they can benefit from. And a lot of times it’s- grants are great, but it’s not just grants that we can do for people.

Wit López:: That’s wonderful. So recently, uh, Bartol tabled at an event that I curated. Do you table at other organizations’ events as well? Is that a thing that can happen, is it a possibility?

Beth Brandt: We can. We’ve really, um, put a focus this year on how do we expand our network of people who know about us because we think there are people out there that are doing the work and they’re just, their head’s down, they’re doing the work, they’re paying for it out of their pocket half the time or 90% of the time. And they don’t even, they don’t even know about us, and we don’t even know who we don’t know. And so this year, in terms of the new board members we brought on, like you, we were saying, okay, what networks don’t we have? Like, where are people we should be connecting with? Um, and my coworker, Melissa Talley-Palmer, is the best networker known to man-

Wit López:: She really is [Wit laughs].

Beth Brandt: -and woman. And so, um, the idea of doing some tabling at events is something that’s really appealing to us. And you can always reach out. And if we can get it on our schedule, we’re really happy to go out and table or be on a panel or, uh, be part of a conference just to help more people learn about what we do.

Uh, even while we’re on, you know, you can follow us. We’re on mostly Instagram and Facebook, so we’re always spreading the word there. We have a newsletter which talks not just about our programs, but also job opportunities and other interesting things. So you can jump on our website and get on our newsletter list.

Um, if you look on our website, we have, uh, a video library of, you know, one minute teaching artists tips and spotlights on great teaching artists. So we’re really trying to have more people know about what we do. Um, and especially people who might not be in that first circle of people who know about grants and apply for grants.

Um, we try and make the process not too hard. Uh, but at the same time, helping you get clarity on what you’re asking for a grant for, and so, um, we hope that really every year we have more people coming to our programs and applying and, and learning about what we do.

Wit López:: That’s wonderful. For me, one of the reasons why I really love Bartol is because it’s not just about training artists, right? With those, with the pro- uh, professional development workshops, but it’s also about funding people’s practices. And it’s also about funding the organizations that sometimes hire teaching artists, and that also are in the community, as you said, embedded in these communities doing this work. So it feels very like a well-rounded sort of situation where it’s not just like, here’s a bag of money, go away. You know? [Wit laughs]

Beth Brandt: Right.

Wit López:: Which, which happens sometimes, but it’s like, they’re also- they’re not just- you’re not just concerned about making sure that projects are funded, but you’re also concerned about the artists themselves and about the health of the organizations, too. I think that’s really great. That’s really great.

Beth Brandt: I think what we’ve done over the year is, uh, because we’re not that big. We’re not, we don’t have a huge endowment. We’re not going to make billions of dollars in grants, is we’ve just carved out this very particular space to say we care about, you know, hands-on, in-depth, community-based art education, art making, and it, whatever discipline you, you find yourself, and, um and then we just keep going deeper into that. So, so we started out with just grants to organizations, and then we added programs, and then we added more in-depth programs. And now with the individual grants. And we’re also just, you know, we’re around, you can, uh, somebody called me the other day, and they got all flustered and they were like, “Oh, I didn’t think you’d pick up the phone”. [Wit laughs]

I’m like, I don’t know. I pick up the phone [Wit laughs], but there’s not a lot of barriers between, um, between us and the people who want to access us. So people can always, you know, email us and call us and, um, there are only two of us, so it might take us a minute [Wit laughs], but we do our best to, to just be really accessible and, and, and in a, in an important way to say what you do is a fit or what you do is not a fit because, um we don’t also don’t want you to be spinning your wheels and waste your time because you think you’re eligible for a grant and then you go through this whole process. We’ve all done that. And then at the end they’re like, “Oh, no, we don’t fund what you do”. Um, and so through the application for a site visit, we try and have conversations really early.
And, um, if you think you might be eligible, you know, reach out and ask us. And that way, you know, before you go through the whole process and the work, or you hire somebody to use the grant, um, we’ll figure out not only if you’re eligible is kind of one term, but also if you’re competitive. And a lot of times I can just say, okay, so if you apply for that project, here are all the questions that I think the reviewers are going to ask.

And sometimes people say, cool, okay, I got it. And sometimes they say, Oh, we’re not anywhere near being able to answer those questions. We’ll come, we’ll come in next year. Um, and so sometimes someone’s saying not yet or no earlier in the process is actually helpful, I think.

Wit López:: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, Beth, uh, just to round things out a little bit [Wit laughs]. Uh, do you see yourself doing more performances in the future of your poetry?

Beth Brandt: Um, I don’t know. I, I’ve been in sort of the, um, you know, we go through those little dry spells of, of art making and I’m kind of swimming back out of it. And so, um, ask me in a year, and I’ll tell you where I’ve landed, but I’m glad there is, there’s a little poetry spark somewhere. And I’m just trying to, you know, kind of blow on it [Wit laughs] and see if it’ll turn into anything, so stay tuned on that one.

Wit López:: We will absolutely stay tuned. So thank you so much, Beth, for joining me today on Artblog Radio.

Beth Brandt: Thank you so much for having me and being part of the Bartol crew, we appreciate it.

Wit López:: Oh, thank you. Thank you. And I appreciate you and everything that Bartol does for the community here in Philadelphia. So you heard it here, folks. Make sure that if you’re interested in applying for an organizational grant with the Bartol Foundation, that you schedule your site visit by April 3rd even though the deadline is May 1st for the grant, you have to get a site visit in by April 3rd. Thanks again, Beth, and thank you to the Friends Center for allowing us to use the space here to record this episode of Artblog Radio. That’s it for today. Bye y’all.