Grants Invest in Arts and Cultural Economy

posted on: Thursday, October 30, 2014

Over fifty-five organizations and state legislatures joined Erie Arts and Culture at the experience Children’s Museum on October 21st for the 2014-15 Erie Arts & Culture Grant Reception. All Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts and Erie Arts and Culture Grantees received checks for their upcoming projects. “This is a very exciting day for the organizations and the community. Today, we invested $ 241,761 into the arts and cultural economy through these two grant programs,” exclaimed Amanda Brown Sissem, Executive Director of Erie Arts and Culture. 

Some of the funded programs include a Clay Club for Refugee Elders at the Erie Art Museum and funded by the Virginia Vieser Fund for Arts in Education programs. Eight organizations received funding from the Clarence C. Beyers Endowment Fund including the Erie Chamber Orchestra at Gannon University. The Friends of the Erie County Public Library will be unveiling a new public art sculpture in the children’s library. The sculpture is being funded by public art money raised on Erie Gives Day through donations to Erie Arts & Culture. Snoops Neighborhood Watch Association’s mural project at the Ash Street Railroad overpass also received public art funding.  “The Millcreek Flood: 100 years later”, a project of Box of Light Studios is one of thirty-four projects supported by unrestricted funds from the annual Arts & Culture Campaign.

Click here for or a complete list of Erie Arts & Culture funded projects or call Melinda Meyer, Grants Manager at Erie Arts & Culture at 452-3427.  

Cee Williams is the 4th Erie County Poet Laureate

posted on: Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Erie County Poetry Committee announced the 2014-2015 Erie County Poet Laureate on Friday, September 5, 2014, at 10:30 a.m., at the Blasco Memorial Library in the entrance lobby area. This year’s winner is Cee Williams.  Mr. Williams has worked extensively in Erie’s poetry community for many years. He operates Poet’s Hall on East 6th Street; a place where poets from around the region perform their work.  

Mr. Williams stated, “On behalf of Erie County's Poetry Community, I with great modesty and humility do gratefully accept the position of 2014-2015 Erie County Poet Laureate. I hope to achieve during my tenure, what I have always hoped to achieve over the years through my involvement in Erie's artistic community, via weekly readings, poetry festivals, and publications I hope to make the art of poetry accessible and integral our collective community cultural consciousness.”.

Four finalists were selected to participate in a final reading of works on Monday, August 25, 2014. The finalists had already been scored on the written poetry submitted with their application, as well as their community project. The scores from Monday’s performances were combined with those previously achieved by the finalists.  

Current Laureate Ron Hayes concludes his second term this summer. “My time as Poet Laureate of Erie County will always be two of the most special years of my life. I serve students every day in a job I love teaching subjects I love, but poetry is my passion, and I am grateful for the chance to serve not just my students but my entire community. I am particularly proud of having visited every public high school in the county during my tenure, and I will always remember the joy and pride I felt at sharing my second reading with over a dozen aspiring young poets. I’d like to thank the ECPLI committee for choosing me, Doug Smith for his kindness, Greg Brown for his guidance, Chuck Joy and Joe Giles for starting this initiative, and my family for their unwavering support.

As we transition to our fourth laureate, it’s gratifying for me to know that my successor will continue to work tirelessly at bringing poetry to every citizen of Erie County. Cee will be a tremendous asset to the lower east side, to the city of Erie, and Erie County and beyond. What a privilege it is to live in a community that chooses to invest in poetry! I am forever grateful.”

Previous Laureates include Dr. Tom Forsthoefel and Berwyn Moore. The Erie County Poet Laureate is an emissary for poetry who will promote an awareness of poetry and inspire an appreciation of the art form in our community.

The Poet Laureate initiative has been honored by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and the National Association of Counties for excellence and for the promotion of the arts by County government.  

Large Scale Mural Project Announced

posted on: Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First it was fish. Then we had frogs. Now several organizations are coming together to announce Erie’s newest large-scale public art project, The Big Picture.

The new project is a collaborative effort between the Erie Art Museum, Erie Arts & Culture, and the YMCA with support from Tungsten Creative Group. The goal is to provide resources and support to artists and property owners interested in the creation of murals. It’s an idea that was first considered in 2012 when Erie was chosen as the host city for the Governor’s Awards for the Arts.

“We made a commitment to provide seed money to a large community project that extended the theme of the Governor’s Awards for the Arts, “art in everyday life” says Tammy Roche, 2012 Governor’s Awards for the Arts co-chair, “the creation of public art is a direct way to make art more accessible in the environments where we live, work and play.”

The Big Picture will leverage the power of visual storytelling to inspire and beautify neighborhoods by placing large-scale murals in public places. “Noticeably, there is an organic effort in many of our neighborhoods to use murals to beautify, brand a space, inspire community conversation and build pride,” says John Vanco, director of the Erie Art Museum. “The Big Picture will provide the organizational framework to leverage human capital, financial resources and expand impact.”

The Governor’s Awards for the Arts organizers have designated $35,000 for The Big Picture. The seed money will fund project management, training and technical assistance for artists and property owners and support the creation of up to six new murals. “We’ll kick-off activities with training for artists by the award-winning, Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The training will cover muraling techniques, strategies for community engagement and practical considerations like mural maintenance,” Erie Arts & Culture director, Amanda Brown Sissem states. The free workshop will held on Sept. 6 at 10 a.m. at the Erie Art Museum and is open to all interested artists – both those engaged in their own mural projects and those who want to participate in the opportunities available through The Big Picture.

Contact Ally Thomas at the Erie Art Museum for more information at (814) 459-5477.

Veterans Make Artistic Legacy

posted on: Tuesday, July 08, 2014

By Matt Knoedler
Originally posted here.

Military veterans at Erie’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center have found a creative way to show off their legacy in the armed forces. It’s called the Bald Eagle Mosaic, a project that 20 VA patients spent five-and-a-half months completing. It symbolizes and expresses their lasting legacy in the armed forces.

"This is a nice opportunity for veterans who come to the VA and to the Behavioral Health to show off their artwork,” said Jamie Zewe, assistant chief of Behavioral Health at the Erie VA Hospital. “We have a lot of veterans who are very talented, and so this is a great opportunity to show the community and other veterans their craft.”

The veterans partnered with artists from Erie Arts & Culture for what is an alternative therapeutic method, allowing patients the chance to highlight their military service through a creative medium.

"I saw a hesitancy in the beginning and it sort of burst out toward the end with all of this creativity and they didn't want to stop and it was hard to pull back the reigns at one point,” said Kathe Umlauf, resident artist.

The Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Clinic serves nearly double the amount of patients it did just six years ago, and that makes events like these even more necessary than in the past.

"Veterans that are involved in behavioral health programs that we have, a lot of them are dealing with mental health issues like PTSD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, all of that,” said Sarah Gudgeon, public relations specialist for the Erie VA. “Art gives them a way to escape for a little bit and to focus their energy on something else.”

Veterans also produced photographs and paintings during the mixed media project. Some even showed their skills off of the canvas. The opportunity for veterans to remember the freedom they fought for allowed them to be free while creating their masterpiece.

"They were happy about it and they took initiative in areas they hadn't done before. And they were talking and I thought it was a really healthy environment, and my impression is that there was some healing going on,” Umlauf added.

2012/13 Annual Report

posted on: Monday, June 09, 2014

The 2013/13 Erie Arts & Culture and Erie Downtown Arts and Culture Coalition combined Annual Report is now out! Have a look at the details of an eventful year for the organizations here.

Erie Community Foundations Shapes Tomorrow as an Anchor Investor

posted on: Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Providing great stability and strength…the Erie Community Foundation becomes an 
Anchor Investor with announcement of Shaping Tomorrow Grant 

Erie Arts & Culture received a Shaping Tomorrow Grant from the Erie Community Foundation on Tuesday, April 8th to launch  Erie Arts & Culture as the backbone organization for arts & culture in our region. The Shaping Tomorrow Grant in the amount of $238,959 will be distributed over a three year period; this grant will help Erie Arts & Culture  achieve its strategic goals as outlined in the recent merger with the Erie Downtown Arts & Culture Coalition. 

 “Over the last two years, we engaged our Partners and volunteers to help assess how we could best serve the Erie Region through the advancement of arts and culture. We incorporated their feedback into strategic goals that are shaping the future of Erie Arts & Culture. The Erie Community Foundation’s investment breathes life into this work and is a reflection of their commitment to strengthening the vibrancy and vitality of the Erie Region” says Amanda Brown Sissem, Executive Director of Erie Arts & Culture. 

Erie Community Foundation support will be used to consolidate the organization’s multiple websites, introduce online grantmaking tools, and provide capacity-building resources to partners/members with a priority on measuring impact. Additionally, the Shaping Tomorrow grant will enhance annual support to partner organizations and arts and cultural projects in Erie County, and aid in the development of a collaborative endowment-building strategy and marketing tools in partnership with the Erie Community Foundation. 

With this grant, the Erie Community Foundation becomes the second Anchor Investor for Erie Arts & Culture. New to Erie Arts & Culture in 2014, Anchor Investors are businesses, corporations, government agencies, foundations or individuals contributing at a leadership level and pledging to give at the same or a progressive level for multiple years. The Erie Community Foundation joins the first Anchor Investor Erie Insurance Group who made a recent pledge of up to $380,000 over the next three years. 

“The ‘Anchor Investor’ concept is based on the desire to create a greater impact for the general public by uniting major donors and providers to think strategically about the health and impact of arts and culture as community assets,” says Sissem.  “Multi-year commitments create stability by allowing both arts and cultural providers and the investors to plan their budgets and shift focus from solicitations to evaluating and understanding the impact of the investment.” 

Research shows that arts and cultural activities help to increase educational achievement, inspire health and healing, attract a creative workforce/businesses, engage and connect people and build vibrant neighborhoods. “These are all relevant conversations in the Erie Region but creating a real impact on these issues takes a dedication of time and resources,” Sissem adds.  “The Anchor Investor helps encourage providers of arts and culture to enter these conversations knowing they will have support for a timeframe necessary to make a difference. We are extremely encouraged by the commitment of the Erie Community Foundation to work with us to achieve these goals.”  

Mercyhurst program brings art into Erie schools

posted on: Thursday, April 03, 2014

PUBLISHED: MARCH 11, 2014 12:01 AM EST
UPDATED: MARCH 10, 2014 3:54 PM EST
BY ERICA ERWIN, Erie Times-News
See original post here.

The paper began as a blank canvas before Braydon Bartlebaugh covered it with sweeping swatches of vibrant red, yellow and orange paint.

It was a sunset, Braydon explained.

After the paint dried, the 8-year-old artist added other elements he saw in his mind's eye: a black castle, green trees.

On a second painting he'd drawn the same scene and added a U-Haul truck. The castle's inhabitants were moving, apparently.

"I like to draw," Braydon said. "I get to use my imagination."

Braydon and a small group of second graders from Erie's McKinley Elementary School are participating in a new arts integration program offered through Mercyhurst University's Carpe Diem Academy.

Carpe Diem Academy, funded by a $1.5 million grant from the state Department of Education and launched in 2012, offers after-school programming to hundreds of students at McKinley and three other Erie elementary schools: Edison, Lincoln and Jefferson. The students receive lessons in math, reading and the arts four days a week from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.

The arts integration program is funded in part by a $5,000 ArtsErie grant and uses a teaching method called Visual Thinking Strategies.

Educators and student-teachers in Mercyhurst's education program help students to hone their observation, critical thinking and language skills by asking questions about artwork -- "What's going on in this picture?" for example -- and through a variety of activities.

During a recent afternoon at McKinley, a group of second graders finished artwork, drawing details onto painted paper.

Mary Elizabeth Meier, director of art education at Mercyhurst, had asked them what they saw in the painted brush strokes, and to find and highlight details in the image.

An 8-year-old girl added the finishing touches to a dolphin in a sea of green, orange, white and blue.

"They're exercising their imagination by searching into the picture," Meier said. "It's kind of like cloud gazing."

After they finished, the students broke into small groups and rotated among tables, doing different activities, each meant to teach through art.

At one table, four students grabbed brightly colored red, blue and yellow geometric shapes from a bucket and fit them together to build different structures: a house, a butterfly.

At another, Don Benedict asked students to roll Play-Doh into long strands shaped like snakes, and then asked them to cut the snakes first into two equal halves and then into three equal thirds.

Benedict is a graduate assistant working on his master's degree in special education and a certified teacher. He is the lead teacher for the second grade Carpe Diem Academy class.

The arts integration program helps students express what they see and feel, he said.

"It's them exploring, being able to use their creative side," Benedict said. "The best part is them being able to explain what they did to you."

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

Erie Insurance Pledges $380K to Arts & Culture Campaign

posted on: Wednesday, March 12, 2014


A newly unveiled local arts and culture organization will receive $380,000 from Erie Insurance over the next three years to help get it started.

At a meeting Wednesday at the Erie Playhouse, ArtsErie and the Erie Downtown Arts & Culture Coalition announced their groups' merger and creation of a combined organization to be called Erie Arts & Culture.

The new organization will support regional arts and culture through grants and advocacy.

"We started with a blank slate basically, and said 'What does this need to look like?'" said Amanda Brown Sissem, EAC's executive director. "We need to be the organization that helps connect all those parties, unite all those voices."

Erie Insurance is the first major investor for the Erie Arts & Culture 2014 Arts & Culture Campaign, a yearlong effort to raise funding for arts and cultural projects and events in the Erie region.

A three-year funding commitment makes the insurance group an "anchor investor," Sissem said. Anchor investors receive special benefits, including discounts, promotion and the opportunity to nominate candidates to the Erie Arts & Culture's board of trustees.

"Erie Insurance has been a strong supporter of the arts and culture community for many years," said Ann K. Scott, manager of community outreach and human relations for Erie Insurance. "Becoming an anchor investor makes a strong statement about Erie Insurance's commitment to the arts and hopefully paves the way for other anchor investors to join us."

ArtsErie and the coalition have discussed a merger since 2011, and the decision was approved by the organizations' boards in August 2013.

"It was a very simple decision. It made a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons," said John Vanco, director of the Erie Art Museum and chairman of the Erie Downtown Arts & Culture Coalition.

The new group has a new slogan, "the collective voice for a vibrant region," and a three-arch logo designed by local artist Todd Scalise.

"We believe this is a name that can work with us through the years," Sissem said. "(It) best summarizes the work that we've done and the direction we need to move in."

Read the original article here.

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

Erie Arts & Culture unveiled and 2014 Arts & Culture Campaign Kicks off with $380,000 Campaign Pledge

posted on: Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Today, ArtsErie and the Erie Downtown Arts & Culture Coalition (EDA&CC) unveiled Erie Arts & Culture, identifying a new era of collaboration for Erie’s arts and cultural organizations.   Erie Arts & Culture is the result of collaborative work by both ArtsErie and EDA&CC, bringing together their combined histories, their common goals and shared needs to meet the needs of a changing community and the collective voice of shared stakeholders.

The mission of Erie Arts and Culture is to strengthen the vibrancy and vitality of the Erie Region and enrich the lives of our people through the advancement of arts and culture.  Amanda Brown Sissem, Executive Director of Erie Arts & Culture explained, “Erie Arts & Culture will be positioned as the backbone organization for arts and culture by uniting artists, arts and culture organizations and those who participate in, benefit from and support their work.  We will lead in the promotion of best practices and advocacy for arts and cultural education and engagement and be a preferred partner for those whose passion for arts and culture inspires a legacy of giving.”

Erie Insurance acknowledged the collaborative spirit of Erie Arts & Culture and the 2014 Arts & Culture Campaign with the presentation of a maximum campaign pledge of $380,000 over the next three years.  Ann K. Scott, Manager of Community Outreach/Human Resources for Erie Insurance expressed, “Erie Insurance has long been a supporter of the arts and culture in our community. Over the years we have supported ArtsErie and the many major arts organizations that comprise its membership such as the Erie Playhouse, the Erie Philharmonic, the Erie Art Museum, the expERIEnce Children’s Museum, the Erie County Historical Society and the Flagship Niagara League. The arts play a vital role in the community by educating our children, impacting our economy, and creating a vital, thriving place where we work, live and play. Becoming an anchor investor sends a message about our commitment to the arts and hopefully helps to pave the way for others to join us.”   This makes Erie Insurance the first and inaugural Anchor Investor of the 2014 Arts & Culture Campaign.  Anchor Investors, new in 2014, provide leadership level campaign support over a three year period. 

The 2014 Arts & Culture Campaign is the means by which one gift can support multiple arts and cultural organizations throughout Erie County, new initiatives and goals of Erie Arts & Culture.  Erie Arts & Culture will be on the “Campaign Trail” at various arts and cultural events with campaign information and exciting giveaways.  Join Erie Arts & Culture on the Campaign Trail and follow our updates on Facebook or on Twitter @eriea_c, #VibrantErie. 

With the beginning of this new era of collaboration, Erie Arts & Culture invites everyone to “Join. Support. Participate.” in arts and culture.  

2014 Poetry Out Loud

posted on: Monday, February 03, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014, 11 am

Vukovich Center, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA

Poetry Lovers! Arts & Language Educators! High School Students and Parents!

Join us at the regional Poetry Out Loud semifinals to celebrate the hard work and progress all of the participating students have made. Representatives from five high schools and Poets' Hall will recite great poems for prizes and the chance to travel to Harrisburg and compete at the state level, plus other. This year we welcome distinguished guests Senator Curt Sonney (5th District) and Lee Steadman, board member of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Director of Bloom Collaborative.

Where are the students from?

  • Central Career and Tech, Erie
  • Hickory High School, Hermitage
  • Farrell High School, Farrell
  • Mercyhurst Prepatory High School, Erie
  • Poets' Hall, Erie
  • Ridgway Area High School, Ridgway