Exchange on Arts Education with Danyett Tucker + Megan Fortman from Art With A Heart

Last month, co-founder, Rachel King, had the opportunity to sit down and chat with arts educators and co-programming directors of Baltimore non-profit organization, Art With a Heart, Danyett Tucker and Megan Fortman. They touched on their programming, inspiration, and advice for women interested in arts education in their own communities. Their programming positions include curriculum development, staffing, networking, budgeting, and even curating.
To learn more about Art With A Heart or how to get involved in arts integration, visit https://artwithaheart.net/.
How did you get here as an arts educator and co-programming directors? 
MF: I wasn’t fully ready to devote my education as just an artist…but then I spent a year taking various art classes and thought I really need to do this. This is where my heart is, so I got into the art program at Delaware and always grew up with a passion for helping people and spent a year as an intern here [Art With A Heart] and fell in love. To see something that I love, something that I pour my heart into being able to share that with communities, being able to sit one on one with someone I may have never met in a different circumstance and have this cohesive moment…. so that was where my passion started from.
DT: So if I could think of a moment, that led me here it was my final year in college, I took a community arts class and in that class we learned about just the community of Baltimore and the surrounding areas and we had to intern for the community artists… create our own lesson plan and create our own budget for a project that we would take out into the community…. I was like ‘what would be my part?’ and so once I started working under this intern…I saw how he changed the whole school by just putting murals up in the school, the kids become invested in the school, their grades improved,  it just turned that school around. When I saw what art can do in that way, I thought ‘this is an idea!’.
I ended up being a teaching artist for 8-9 years after that, so that’s when I became an arts educator. But after 9 years, I got burned out…I thought I need more. I wanted to find something where my voice could be at the table when it came to developing projects… I felt like a lot of people who were creating our programs didn’t have the students best interests at heart and they didn’t really understand from an artists’ perspective, like I did or the students’ perspective like I did.
So I thought I know I’m a great curriculum developer. I know I’m an innovative thinker and an idea generator. I need to find a job where I can do that.
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What is Art with a Heart?
DT: “To enhance people’s lives thru visual art and we do that in any way that we can, we have students from ages two to 102 – in school, during the school day, senior facilities, hospitals, homeless shelters – you name it, we’re there – employment programs, transitional homes, group homes, low income housing communities. We try to build a home wherever we are, our goal is really to plant seeds of creativity so people can get in touch with their art, in touch with their creative side, creative process. People who might not necessarily think that they’re creative getting to realize their potential and be exposed to techniques, artists and different stuff to show them how creative they can be.
That’s the core of what our programming does but then there’s a Community Arts Branch where we do large scale community arts projects and those can be anywhere from a mosaic to a mural or whatever and we engage volunteers to help us do that. Then there’s the Job Program that happens every fall, spring and summer. It’s a six week program for homeless youth; they make marketable art to sell in our social enterprise store, Heartwares and they learn soft job skills. Our goal for that program is that after six weeks they launch from that and are able to go out and hold a job in the community, which is pretty darn awesome. Then we have the Art of Leadership Branch where we engage rising 10th and 11th graders who apply for a yearlong cohort where we bring them from different races, religions, backgrounds, some public school, some private school. The goal is that they learn about leadership within their own communities and become leaders within their communities. So we can get rid of some of this stuff that’s happening in the world that’s our way to kind of combat that. We want to have creative conversations in any way that we can with people coming from different realms so that they can educate each other about each others circumstances and have a better understanding of each other.
MF: “Part of our job is cultivating relationships everyday. So we just finished up a program at Dundalk Family Crisis Center and we had a church that donated funds for us to run the program for a year… and we just got the letter they’re going to fund the program for another year.”
DT: “That’s the goal with every class we want you to come in like “I don’t know about this”, and leave like “YES! I’m an artist!”
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Where does your creativity derive from?
DT: “My art has always been a focus of the art of being and becoming a women… it’s the underlying thread in all of my artwork and social justice – things that make me feel – I want to say something about that. I’m very inspired by how the artists during the Harlem Renaissance came together to get the word about things that were happening in the community thru art… I feel like that’s my calling. I have a passion for illustration and literacy. It attracted me to working with children- I wanted to be able to make literature that could speak to kids and get out to the youth.”
MF: “So my artwork has…I’ve always had an issue with narrowing my focus to be completely honest, but I think most of my work has been derived from internal experiences – not necessarily my own but trying to facilitate an experience for the viewer and taking time to think about what their inner experience has been and how that relates to mine. I have two chronic diseases, diabetes and ulcerative colitis, so my physical health has been in the background and how that affects my mental health and how that internal experience has affected my life in many ways. Reflecting on what’s going on in your life and how do we affect change in our own life …and how we have a lot of control over our personal actions…and people don’t really know how to react to that. So I am always looking for ways to encourage introspection [in my curriculums].”
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Do you have a ritual or mantra that carries you through your daily life?
MF: “Our ritual is Adapt and Overcome…adapt and overcome. I think that  flexibility is the number one requirement for this job [art education]…”
DT: “Agree, zen twin.”
MF:”…and for me, that goes a lot back to meditation and my yoga practice in that at a certain point you just have to accept things as they are and all we can control is how we move forward in the action we take.”
MF: “I am strong is what I always tell myself. You have more power than you think you do and there is really no choice than to move forward.”
MF: “It’s interesting that you bring up women in that when we talk about our community of staff members here we really work together to solve all those small and big problems that pop up and we are a staff of primarily women… it’s a really unique little community.”
“Another mantra is “We come from a place of yes” we say yes and figure out how to do it after. “
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What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into arts education within their own communities?
DT: “If you are walking down the road and it’s  scary – keep walking. Don’t turn back! There’s so many ways to be involved in your community, like everybody can do a little bit. You can volunteer, just find a place. If you have goals or aspirations that kind of scare you that’s a good thing.
MF: “My mantra was k eep moving forward, it’s those times of a lot of trial, fear, chaos, and craziness that remind you of the strength that you actually have.”
DT: “We all are teachers and students and that never changes. So take those moments that you have to really get to know the person that you’re talking to, stop to get to know them – share – because I think that we learn through shared experiences. I think that’s how we combat some of the negative things that are happening in the world is just to take the time to get to know each other and talk to each other and look for opportunities to learn, grow, teach, and share. We all can do that. I learn from all my students. They teach me everyday and I’m hoping I’m teaching them a little something. I think that every encounter that we have if we take a little moment to go past “Hi” or “Hello” it’s an opportunity for you to really walk away from that and impact someone’s life and so that’s how I move in life. If I’m making eye contact with you, if I’m saying hello that’s an opportunity for me to make a difference in your life and I’m hoping you remember me or something I said and I’m hoping you give me a little something too that I’ll take along my journey. I think that if we all did that the world would be AWESOME. Much more awesome!”
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