The performing arts can address critical issues by sparking important, thought-provoking discussions on a wide array of topics, including social justice and inclusivity; and it is through the arts that we can begin to destroy negative stereotypes and offer a local and global perspective to all who consume it.
It is with this critical mission in mind that the IDEA initiative was born. IDEA – inclusivity, diversity, equity, and access – developed by the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall education department and made possible through the Van Wezel Foundation’s generous philanthropy, recently concluded a first-of-its-kind Artist-in-residence program with the Bilingual Hip-Hop Artist, Producer, Activist and Scholar Olmeca.
A Kennedy Center Artist Fellow, Olmeca grew up in L.A. and Mexico, a reality that brewed his blending of music genres and cultural sensitivity. Currently, Olmeca is celebrating the release of his new album, “DEFINE.” While he is widely respected for his lyrical content, experts value the production, and educators utilize Olmeca’s music in their classrooms. This, along with his social commentary and community efforts, makes Olmeca a stand-alone artist in how he can intersect various identities and demographics. It is also for this reason that he is not only a gifted performing artist, but a university lecturer doing guest lectures, residencies, and keynote speeches in universities throughout the United States.
While the pandemic challenged the IDEA initiative, in partnership with the incredible Olmeca, we were still able to deliver a culturally responsive year-long program to the community by seamlessly melding digital events with in-person ones to form a hybrid prototype that can serve as a model, not only for future Artist-in-residence programs in Sarasota and the Southwest region at large, but nationally.
Throughout his year-long residency, Olmeca engaged educators, students, families and community leaders in virtual trainings, workshops and performances designed to utilize the performing arts to build culturally responsive communities and classrooms.
In the final week, we were able to host Olmeca in our beloved Sarasota, where he led curated in-person community lectures, workshops, a master class, and capped it off with a free, bilingual community performance. During the concert on the Van Wezel Lawn – the first live performance since the beginning of the pandemic – Olmeca mixed his signature music genres, Hip-Hop and Latin Alternative, to an engaged audience that consisted of all ages and backgrounds, bringing our community together as one.
Throughout his residency – both virtually and in person – Olmeca delivered incomparable teachings and performances, that were as empowering as they were inspiring.
Thanks to the generosity of the Van Wezel Foundation, Jenne Britell and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation this groundbreaking residency was made possible. The Van Wezel Foundation is dedicated to expanding on the IDEA initiative into the future, as we recognize the importance of bringing social justice scholars, like Olmeca, to our community, to reflect the diversity of communities and connect, through the arts, with different cultural perspectives.
At the Van Wezel Foundation, we believe that the arts can open a world of new possibilities for all, and that message was truly embodied by Olmeca, and we look forward to continuing this important mission-driven work.
– Cheryl Mendelson, CEO of the Van Wezel Foundation