Candidates Support Arts and Culture

posted on: Thursday, October 30, 2014

With the election coming up on Tuesday, November 4th, candidates running for Governor, PA and US House and PA Senate have established their platforms for major issues such as education and the economy.

Arts and cultural issues tend to be less emphasized in the overall scope of government policy despite being critical to economic revitalization and central to community vibrancy and personal development. Program elimination and budget cuts are evidence of art and culture's lack of prioritization and support.

Two candidates, Glenn 'GT' Thompson, US Representative for PA's 5th district, and Luke Lofgren, candidate for District 3 PA Representative, responded to Erie Arts & Culture's prompt to share their position on supporting arts and cultural advancement. 

Representative Thompson's response:

In Fiscal Year 2014, I was proud to support the National Endowment of the Arts, which received $146 million, a significant increase over the previous year, offsetting the effects of sequestration.

As representative for the Fifth Congressional district, I host an annual art competition for eleventh and twelfth grade students to present their works to an independent panel, which chooses the winning piece of art that is placed on display in the U.S Capitol. Many if the works that are submitted amaze me just how talented some of our young people are. 

As the father of a music teacher and a member of the House Education & Workforce Committee, I understand the importance of the arts for enhancing a well-rounded education and expanding creative thought. 

Additionally, in our free time, my wife Penny and I volunteer to work phone banks for Public Broadcasting fundraising drives. This is important because the programming provides basic access for many Americans to the arts, theater and music. 

Luke Lofgren's response:

I am regularly thankful for all the art and cultural activities in the Erie area. We are very blessed for a community of our size to have such a great depth and diversity of healthy organizations. As a Representative I will confidently assert that Erie must be treated on equal footing with other allocations from the Commonwealth not based on mere population count, but based on the fact we serve the northwest corner of the state. 

Thank you Representative Thompson and candidate Lofgren for your response and for your actions to support arts and cultural activity in Northwest Pennsylvania. In addition, Erie Arts & Culture would like to thank our local members of the PA Legislative Arts & Culture Caucus for their support. Click here to see a list of current members.

Erie Arts & Culture is committed to building a greater understanding of the importance of arts and cultural activities to the development of our communities. We look to our elected officials to embrace this importance and lead efforts to increase support and access to arts and culture for residents and visitors to the Erie Region. Use your voice to do the same - don't forget to vote on November 4th!

Fall for Arts & Culture Award Winners

posted on: Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Congratulations to the 2014 Fall for Arts & Culture Appreciation Award Recipients!

Awards will be presented at Fall for Arts & Culture on Wednesday, November 12th, 5:30 pm at the Erie Playhouse with reception to follow at 21 La Roux Dix. Click here for more event information.

Leadership Award - Erie Reader

The Reader is notable for its intentional and consistent support of the arts and cultural sector. The Reader offers coverage to both emerging groups and large arts and cultural institutions. They promote audience growth by hosting a robust events calendar and “If I Were You” standing feature, highlight local talent through interviews and reviews and call attention to important issues impacting arts and culture in the region. Staff of the Reader are actively engaged in shaping the sector by supporting important events, serving on committees and producing new art themselves as poets, storytellers, musicians and artists. The Reader is dedicated wholeheartedly to supporting Erie and it’s culture.

Applause Award - Al and Peggy Richardson

When you think of Al and Peggy Richardson, you think of a couple who is always together, who seem to attend every worthwhile special event throughout the calendar year, and who are willing to put their treasures to good use for numerous organizations for the betterment of our community now and in the future. Al and Peggy are synonymous with commitment.

Imagine Award - Young People's Chorus of Erie

YPC Erie provides children of diverse backgrounds a comprehensive choral music experience as a way to further their personal and artistic growth and to foster cross-cultural understanding. With an emphasis on diversity, YPC Erie brings together young singers from across the spectrum of Erie’s population. The choristers develop musical skills and a sense of community and discipline, while also forging life-long friendships. Since 2009, more than 1000 young people have been touched by the Young People’s Chorus of Erie program through participation in a choir, workshop or camp.   

Bruce Morton Wright Artist of the Year - Rev. Shawn Clerkin

Without his contributions, the Erie theatre landscape would be far less rich. It would be nearly impossible to find a theatre venue in Erie that has not, in some way, benefited from Clerkin's guidance or participation. He is the epitome of a selfless artist; he is generous with his talent and works to ensure that all areas of theatre in Erie find success. Clerkin truly embodies the spirit of cooperative art, and for that, his lifetime of contributions to the arts, and his most recent artistic achievements, he greatly deserves to be recognized with this honor.

For descriptions on the award categories, click here.

Advocacy Update

posted on: Wednesday, October 01, 2014

PA Reports

How does Pennsylvania compare to other states in the US on issues of arts, culture and education? Recent reports from Americans for the Arts and Arts Education Partnership shed light on where Pennsylvania policy and legislators stand on support for the arts.

The Congressional Arts Report Card reports that US Senators for PA received a B grade for supporting the arts in our state. The US members of Congress from PA were graded with a number of A's, however two were given F's.

None of these seats are up for reelection this fall, but stay tuned for the results of a survey of current politicians on the ballot's position on supporting the arts and culture.

A Snapshot of State Policies for Arts Education shows that Pennsylvania has adopted 7 out of 13 measures for arts in education.

Click the bold links above to review both reports and see what criteria the states and legislators were measured on and how Pennsylvania compares to other states.

Arts and Culture Caucus

A bipartisan, bicameral Arts and Culture Caucus has been created in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  This Caucus was suggested in AEI’s March 2012 policy report and has been actively supported by leadership at the  Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania.  The purpose of the Caucus is to provide research, education, policy development, and draft and pass legislation that advances the arts and culture in the Commonwealth, as well as support the arts throughout the budget process.

The stated purpose of the Caucus is:
-To provide access to caucus members on the latest research, education, and policy developments on arts and culture;
-To support caucus members in their efforts to draft and pass legislation that advances arts and culture in the Commonwealth;
-To provide analysis on pending legislation;
-To provide caucus members and their staffs with periodic briefings on pertinent issues;
-To develop issue specific talking points and press materials for caucus members to use in public and with the media.

NW Pennsylvania Members
Hon. Ryan A. Bizzarro
Hon. Jaret Gibbons
Hon. Patrick J. Harkins
Hon. R. Lee James
Hon. Mark Longietti
Hon. Curtis G. Sonney
Sen. Scott E. Hutchinson
Sen. Sean Wiley

US Members from PA Congress
Robert Brady
Charles Dent
Mike Doyle
Mike Fitzpatrick
Jim Gerlach
Tim Murphy
Allyson Schwartz
Glenn Thompson

Local Artists and Educators Awarded Best Presentation at National Conference

posted on: Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Barber National Institute team that presented at the 2014 VSA Intersections conference in July was awarded first place for the best of the conference. The conference participants had the opportunity to vote for their favorite sessions.  The three presentations with the highest number of overall votes presented again on Friday of that week for anyone who missed their first session. 

The BNI team was represented by Dr. Maureen Barber-Carey, Executive Vice President of the Barber National institute; Jude Shingle, Teaching Artist with Erie Arts & Culture; Judy Stewart, Critical skills specialist at the Barber national institute and Ann Ellison Behavior Support Coordinator at the Barber National Institute.

Their session was titled ‘Digital Art at the Intersection of Arts and Special Education’ and during their presentation and hands-on workshop they shared the development of their Long-Term Residency, was supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, with Teaching Artist Jude Shingle and the digital arts project for students with disabilities. Included in their session was a hands-on lesson using iBook and Comic Life on the iPad and discussion of future applications of digital media. The VSA conference is an international conference held in July in Alexandria Virginia.

They also told me that the win allows them to attend next year’s conference for free!  And they have been asked by The Kennedy Center to present a Webinar on December 16th.

Lessons from Pittsburgh: Downtown Development

posted on: Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Brian Kurtz, Director of Research at the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, presented at the Sally Carlow Kohler Lecture Series of the Erie County Historical Society. On Wednesday, May 28th, Brian shared with a roomful of artists, administrators, funders and community members on the success of downtown Pittsburgh development. Projects using arts, culture and entrepreneurship  have changed the vibrancy of the downtown district and have impacted the way hundreds of thousands of visitors and residency view and interact with the space.

Click here to see Brian's presentation for further details and photos of the projects the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership in collaboration with Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council have implemented.

More on the Sally Carlow Kohler Lecture Series here.

Barber National Institute to Host Professional Development Workshop

posted on: Thursday, April 10, 2014

Erie Arts & Culture will partner with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, VSA Pennsylvania, the Barber National Institute and the Kennedy Center, to offer a professional development workshop. "Teaching the Arts to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder" will offer practical teaching strategies for students on the autism spectrum.


The workshops will be held on: 
  • Monday, April 21, 2014

Click here to view a list of other VSA Workshops occurring in Pennsylvania.

The workshop will be a full day from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm (Registration opens at 8:00 am) and include the following topics:

  • An overview of characteristics of Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and other pervasive Developmental Disabilities;
  • Strategies for using Universal Design for Learning to allow greater access to the curriculum for children with ASD;
  • Strategies for behavior management;
  • Hands on arts infused lesson plans; and
  • Best practices in assessment.

The workshop implements standards-based professional development training for educators and/or teaching artists to improve skills in teaching the arts to students with ASD pre-K through grade 12. Six Act 48 credits are available.

Workshop instructors include Judy Stewart, Critical Skills Specialist at the Barber National Institute, Anne Ellison, Behavior Analyst at the Barber National Institute and Tom Ferraro, professional fine artist and teaching artist. Techniques include lecture, discussion, collaborative group activities and art exercises.

The workshop is open to arts educators, teaching artists, administrators and special education professionals. Parents and other advocates are welcome to attend. A fee of $35 covers the cost of breakfast and lunch for participants. Six Act 48 credits are available. Registration deadline April 14th. Click here to register.

Artist Residency at Wayne Elementary

posted on: Thursday, March 20, 2014

Artist teaches Erie students more than creativity

Originally posted here.

BY ERICA ERWIN, Erie Times-News
Artist in residence Saihou Njie, center, talks with Wayne School sixth-grader DeShawn Gavin, 12, right, in Erie on March 13. Gavin was explaing to the class how he made his orange sculpture, left, to reflect heroic traits. GREG WOHLFORD//ERIE TIMES-NEWS

The character was a mix of cardboard, plaster and paint and fabric.

But it stood for something much more substantial: courage and patriotism.

Marques Beeman's father survived a shooting, an event that rocked the sixth-grader and caused him to think about those who display courage and patriotism by putting their lives on the line regularly.

The end result was a character designed during a residency at Wayne School with Saihou Njie, a renowned artist and humanitarian from Pittsburgh.

Through a grant from Erie Arts & Culture, Njie has been working for six weeks as an artist-in-residence with Marques and other sixth-graders at Wayne. Their work has centered around the district's Medal of Honor character development program and the virtues of courage, commitment, citizenship, integrity, patriotism and sacrifice.

Students were asked to use iPads to write stories of a fictitious heroic character who exhibited one of those virtues. Working with Njie, they then created a three-dimensional model of the character using plaster strips, cardboard, newspaper and clay.

"It's important to engage the children in their learning," said Holly Nowak, program director for Erie Arts & Culture. "It's important because it makes learning a fun place to be again."

During a recent class, the students used iPads to take photos of their character from different angles to include in their stories.

Marques's character is covered in what looks like tie-dyed fabric.

"It inspires me to do things," said Marques, who also writes and draws comic books. "If it was a real person, it would be real courageous and help people a lot. That's what I imagine about it."

Njie is a native of Gambia, West Africa, who specializes in photography and working with batik fabrics. Art is the vehicle that can connect people to each other, to the wider world and to the six virtues of the Medal of Honor program, he said.

"I don't come into the room to teach English or build someone's vocabulary," Njie said. "I want to build the person. I want to work with young minds and nudge them in a direction that I think would be OK."

Some of the lesson is about art, but much of it is not, at least not directly.

"It's about what you're going to do to help mankind be better," Njie told the students during a recent class. "Be in school. Stay in school. Respect your teachers. Do your homework. Do what's expected of you.

"Once you have your education, the world is open to you."

ERICA ERWIN can be reached at 870-1846 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at

Ten Questions with Todd Scalise

posted on: Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Todd Scalise is a Erie native and an Erie artist. After living, studying and working around the US and Europe, he’s back in his hometown innovating new applications for art and design with his business Higherglyphics. Higherglyphics are unique Visual Public Relations opportunities that “combine art and manufacturing with project management, installation, and merchandising.” You can see his work in the Perry 200 campaign, the Erie Art Museum, on the HANDS building on 7th and State Street, and at the Erie Skate Park. Read on to learn more about the 2013 Bruce Morton Wright Artist of the Year.
Photos courtesy of Todd Scalise


1.) What made you want to become an artist?

I have always been an artist. It’s one of those things I didn’t really get to decide; I have had an instinct to create ever since I could hold something in my hand. Drawing was my first art form and my refuge throughout my childhood. My older sister Nancy was really good at drawing so I began by drawing what she drew. Through out school I was encouraged to draw more so I got that spark for art as a kid and it propelled me into my career choices.

2.) What inspires you?

Anything can trigger inspiration; the more random, the better. A part of my creative practice is trying to see the connections between seemingly unrelated source materials. A gum wrapper or a piece of junk mail might have something in it that interests me so I end up drawing those things. Another strategy is that sometimes I wait for things to find me. Meaning, I’ll take a walk down the street, go by the Dollar Store and see some funky sneakers with a really crazy color palette and decide that’s what I’m going to use for my next painting. Art making takes a lot of daydreaming. You have to be loose and open and be around people that allow you to operate like that.

3.) Can you describe your work?

Currently, my art is about personal expression and the various ways to apply that expression. Because my focus is to explore different ways of utilizing art, my art takes on various forms ranging from exhibition art to merchandise design and community art projects. I’m a visual artist with drawing and painting as the basis for what I do. This translates into almost anything you can create. I make art commercially but I’m not a commercial artist. When I create for a client, I call it Visual Public Relations. When an organization needs exposure, I accomplish that with a great piece of art that reflects their brand. In turn, that generates a lot of attention and earned media for the organization.

4.) What are some of your upcoming projects?

I am currently working on the art direction for the next Best Summer Night concert series, which featured Crosby, Stills and Nash two years ago. This spring I will be creating a large-scale mural for the downtown YMCA and finishing the Erie Skate Park mural project. Also, I am excited about launching my online business, Mosaix, which is a retail web site that enables anyone to create their own wallpaper and other vinyl products with their art. 

5.) What prepared you most for your success?

The combination of my parent’s influence, seeking people that I would like to be more like, and 10 years moving around a lot had something to do with where I am today. My parents are the classic American self-starters who did well by forming their own business. I think it takes a lot of creativity to do that no matter what profession you are in. I have been fortunate to go to good schools and be around great artists. For whatever reason, every community I go to, I run into the top people. But the essential element is that I have never stopped making art since I was a child so I have a huge body of work to always pull from.

6.) What are your goals as an artist?

Artists in the 20th century artists primarily focused on their individual voice but I want to create beyond the expression of just one individual. It is time for an evolutionary shift towards the collective so naturally finding new applications for art will be something quintessentially 21st century. This will entice people to become more creative and stimulate higher-level thinking, which results in better problem solving.


7.) How did you establish yourself as an artist in Erie?

When I returned to Erie in 2010, my first to Visual Public Relations opportunity was for the Annex Stairwell Project at the Erie Art Museum. This project is a 1,200 sq. ft. mural and merchandising project licensed and designed exclusively for the Erie Art Museum. The stairwell is the main point of entry at the museum for anyone taking classes, faculty, staff, and donors. It was an eyesore before I was invited in 2010 by the museum’s director, John Vanco, to “do something” to the stairwell. I spent 18 months working on the project as I developed my business model for Higherglyphics. It was a great primer for learning how to raise capital for large-scale community art projects and how to merchandise my art. Merchandising is important because I want everyone to be able to afford my art. The benefit to my clients is the merchandise provides a residual stream of revenue for their organizations. I am a premier member of the StartUp Incubator, so with the help of Donna Douglass I received help and encouragement while developing my launch project at the Erie Art Museum.

8.) What are some of the challenges you feel creative people in Erie face?

There are not enough outlets and opportunities for the large creative population here in Erie. Also, I think we still need more precedent for the utilization of creative capital here in our community. However, it is up to the artists to do what they are good at and create the opportunities, not only for themselves but for our community, otherwise we tend to gravitate towards the same solutions for old problems. For me, I knew I could make art. I worked hard to have that part of the equation figured out. But having the art is not the hard part; that’s the fun and easy part. The hard part is creating an opportunity with the art that benefits others. Like any other profession, artists in Erie need a resource for professional development. This way the community will be better able to fully exploit this powerful human resource.

9.) What is your vision for the arts in Erie?

It’s about combining community art with manufacturing for public spaces, simple as that. Erie has the potential to be an arts destination similar to Chautauqua but the potential is greater for regional and national impact. Our community is set up for manufacturing so instead of lamenting about ‘how things used to be’, we should be developing ways to merge our creative resources with our manufacturing capability. The residual effect would be something for the community to rally behind, much like the Perry 200 Commemoration.


10.) If it’s dawn, and martial law will be instated in 24 hours, how would you spend your day?

A perfect application for Visual Public Relations! I would prepare for the inevitable, bunker myself and make sure I had everything I need. After, I would create a poetic expression addressed to the proper authorities: a manifesto on a prominent wall explaining the temporary nature of the situation. Hopefully, there would be enough people to counteract and naturally balance things. It would be important to sight specific instances in history of similar coups that have failed. I would express this in a beautiful, but aggressive, written wall piece. Luckily, those types of hypothetical situations are not the only opportunities for an artist with something to say.

You can see community art projects by Todd Scalise at

ArtsErie Artists in Residence with Kids as Curators

posted on: Thursday, January 23, 2014

Article by Lindsey Poisson,
Originally posted on

It's the kind of art that takes grown-ups by surprise.

But give it a second. Soon, the rainbow of stuffed animals, a ziggurat built from cardboard and cathedrals made of Lego pieces, jewelry and other materials on display for the 10th annual Kids as Curators exhibit will start to make a lot of sense.

"It's like walking through the brain of a 13-year-old," said Kelly Armor, director of education and folk art at the Erie Art Museum. "It's a great exhibit for the community and for families."

The projects will be on display starting Saturday at the Erie Art Museum, 20 E. Fifth St., and will continue through March 23. Three schools are selected each year to create the exhibit, which incorporates kids' collections into interactive displays with different themes. For this year's project, students visited the Art Museum to learn about exhibits, then teamed up with local artists to plan and build their projects.

Students at St. George School were inspired by angles and constructed cathedrals. Sixth-graders at West End Elementary School in Meadville used stuffed animals to make a rainbow.

At Emerson-Gridley Elementary School, about 75 sixth-graders built a replica of an ancient Mesopotamian temple known as a ziggurat. Coming up with such a unique idea was the easy part -- thinking the project through, from start to finish, was the most challenging learning experience for students, said Deborah Sementelli, Emerson-Gridley's artist-in-residence during the project.

"What are you going to do? How are you going to put it together? You have to think about this," she said. "So we did some planning, and they did the work."

The students collected recyclable and used materials -- including paper-towel tubes, empty cereal boxes and film from old VHS tapes -- and spent about two months researching, measuring and constructing their project.

"We all just got our minds together and built it together," said sixth-grader Joshua Hall, 11. "I just liked having fun and learning new things about building and being an artist."

Hopefully, art lovers will enjoy seeing the ziggurat on display at the museum, too.

"I hope they want to do more research about it and see what is it, what does it stand for, what happened there," said sixth-grader Ajaray Ellis, 11. "Maybe they'll do more social studies."

Kids love stuff, Armor said. And the idea behind the Kids as Curators exhibit is to show students how art museums are just huge collections of interesting stuff.

"If you can make a connection between those two things, then kids get excited about the museum in a way they might not have felt before," she said. For the past decade, the exhibit has done just that. When young museum patrons see the exhibit, they instantly light up, Armor said.

"It's like watching a bunch of art-history grad students at the Louvre," she said. "They immediately connect with it."

LINDSEY POISSON can be reached at 870-1871 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at

Shop Local & Handmade for the Holidays

posted on: Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The holidays are approaching and it can be a stressful time full of expectations and too few hours in the day. The holidays are also full of some of the warmest and most joyous moments I experience throughout the year.

If one thing's for certain, 'tis the season for shopping. The economy and retailers nationwide are in high gear to meet the demand of shoppers. This year, use your holiday spending to support local and handmade.

Beginning this Sunday, November 24th

Fall Harvest Craft Fair at PACA, 1505 State Street, Sunday November 24th, 10 am-3 pm

Admission if free, but please consider bringing a non perishable food item to donate to local food pantries.

Join us and shop for home made Baked Goods, Crafts, Wreaths, Tie dyes, Hula Hoops, Aprons, Crocheted Items and Jewelry.

On Black Friday, November 29th

Made in Erie Marketplace at the Masonic Temple, 32 W 8th Street, Friday November 29th, 4 pm-8 pm

Skip the lines at the mall and join us for our first-ever Made In Erie Marketplace! Sponsored by Civitas, this Green Friday event will showcase locally made goods, local food, and local culture. The marketplace, to be held in the Masonic Temple Camelot Room, will feature: 

- Dozens of vendors selling goods made right here in Erie – from jewelry, to ceramics, to homemade honey
- Entertainment by Julio Quezada & Friends
- Open mic poetry readings by spoken word artists from Poets' Hall
- Food and beverages by Erie Mobile Kitchen

Admission is $3 and free for children 12 and under. 100% of ticket sales to be donated to charity.

Get the word out. Shop local and support Erie's entrepreneurs and small local businesses!

Friday, December 13th

10th Annual Holiday Show and Sale, Center City Arts, 138 E 26th St, Friday December 13th, 5 pm-8 pm

One of a kind gifts and original works of art including: Fused Glass, Jewelry, Painting, and Decorative Gourds. We are excited to announce a new collaboration with the Multicultural Community Resource Center adding a World Market featuring local artisans from more than 8 different cultures. 

Join us at the most unique venue in town- our stunning studio in the historic Rose Koehler Curtze estate at 26th & Holland.

Center City Arts creates opportunities for local artisans to earn income by bringing their products and their stories to the community.