We are thrilled to be connecting with Dana Rice again. Dana is an Arts Educator, Author, Creativity Coach and is also a content partner. Content partners help Voyage in so many ways from spreading the word about the work that we do, sponsoring our mission and collaborating with us on content like this. Check out our conversation with Dana below.
Dana, it’s been too long since we last connected. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with our community again. Some readers might have missed our prior conversations, so maybe you can kick things off for us with a quick intro?
I come from all-day-Sundays in Jackson, MS spent singing Gospel Music in church and listening to preachers “hoop” while men and women dressed to the nines waved handkerchiefs as they yelled, “Say That” and “Preach, preacha!” Between folks “getting happy” dancing in the middle of the aisle and overly zealous ushers chastising grown folks for chewing gum in church, I could barely sit still waiting for the benediction and Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house. Sundays were quite eventful to say the least. It is against this backdrop that I received my introduction to the arts complete with all the drama, music, and dance that anyone could imagine. Today, I’m a singer/songwriter, author, arts educator and creativity coach based in Metro Atlanta. I help people discover and develop their artistic voice by enticing, exposing and illuminating the Gift – welcoming it to step forward – making it feel comfortable and confident to achieve Big Dreams. My music is a jambalaya of my favorite genres – Gospel, Soul and Jazz. I write and teach from the Black perspective with a focus on social justice and the wisdom of Black Grandmothers.
Recently there has been a renewed push for equity, access, and inclusion in all aspects of society from education to corporate America. How have you responded to this current wave of social justice activism?
The dialogue that has resulted from this current wave of social justice activism has given me a great deal of hope that we may be at a point where real change can take place. Over the past year I’ve been blessed to have candid public and private discussions about race with neighbors, friends and strangers. Through these discussions I believe that people on both sides of the equation were able to gain insights about others that hopefully help us see more of the humanity in each other. I am extremely honored that a fellow creative and friend of mine, Alicia Kelly agreed to do a mini web series with me where we discussed the events from last summer. Our 4-episode series is called Face It: Black/White. We discussed the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and what all of it means for us as individuals. If you’re interested in viewing the series, you can find it on Facebook.com/FaceItBlackWhite As an arts educator I also wanted to do something that would amplify the voices of Black arts educators. I created a global directory of Arts Education programs and resources with the purpose of connecting students and families to culturally relevant training in the arts from the Black perspective. The directory has sections for Dance, Music, Theater, Visual Art, Photography so far and we are looking to expand to include more art forms as well. So far there are teachers, schools, and programs listed from several states as well as some international programs as far away as Japan and Kenya. The site also includes a video series of interviews with industry professionals and a virtual bookshelf with arts related books by Black authors. The directory can be found at www.BlackArtsEducation.com
The pandemic has hit the creative industries particularly hard. What insights can you give us on surviving and thriving as an artist in these unprecedented times?
I actually have recently written a book to help creatives better navigate their life in the arts. The book is entitled “A Half Truth Equals A Whole Lie: Practical Tips And Words Of Wisdom Grandma Used To Say- For Creatives”. It’s filled with 31 time tested, pandemic-proof wisdom sayings I heard my Grandmothers use while I was growing up in the South. The wise sayings inside this book and the practical tips related to each of them cover a wide variety of topics including money matters, relationships, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-discipline that will equip today’s creatives with tools to help them not only survive, but thrive in the most difficult of times. One of my favorite sayings from the book is “When life gives you lemons, it’s OK to make chocolate milk”. I especially like this one because it’s saying that when you have a problem, the answer is to throw a healthy dose of creativity at the problem. Do the unexpected! The key to surviving as an artist is to always be tapping into the thing or things that make you different. That’s where the excitement resides. That’s the stuff that reaches people and makes them fall in love with your work. To all my fellow creatives in the arts I want to say, “Keep Going”. When I think about my Grandmothers- Black women whose grandparents were enslaved, and whom they themselves lived through the Great Depression and Jim Crow in Mississippi- I’m reminded that there is NOTHING I can’t do. One of the sayings in my book is “It’s not the size of the dog, but the size of the fight in the dog”. So it doesn’t matter how far along you are in your craft or how much recognition your work has gotten so far. What matters is how much fight you’ve got in you. If you’ve got enough fight, you will be alright!
What role do you see the arts playing in helping us navigate the challenges of living through COVID times and beyond?
I believe that the arts are key to helping us navigate the challenges we are facing due to COVID. At a time when so many creatives are out of work due to COVID restrictions, our natural creative thought process can be very helpful in teaching companies, communities and government entities how to see the challenges in ways that would help us develop new solutions and new possibilities for life even beyond COVID times. The arts would take on an educational role. We’ve also already seen the arts play a critical therapeutic role during this time of social distancing and isolation. The demand for entertainment has skyrocketed as people try to cope with loneliness and uncertainty. Being able to turn to recorded music, film, and tv has been paramount for so many people’s mental health- including my own! Another interesting way the arts is serving as therapy during this time is in the form of people learning new artistic skills such as dance, musical instruments, painting, and crafts like sculpting. I’m excited to see where this takes us in terms of new creative thought. I hope that a new paradigm of the arts being centralized as part of our educational systems and daily lives emerges.
What are the most significant lessons you feel we must learn from the past year?
To say that this past year has been difficult would be an understatement, but there are a few things I hope the experience has taught us so far. As a creative, one of the main lessons I hope people grasp is that the arts are not extra. Throughout this whole ordeal, it is the arts that have helped us maintain a shred of sanity. During this time, the arts have been medicine for lonely hearts and restless minds. Likewise, the lack of so many arts outlets due to social distancing requirements has also had a telling effect on mental health. People have suffered greatly because of not being able to participate in normal activities such as simply going to the movies with friends or going to a concert or play. So I think a major part of our plan moving forward must be increasing funding for arts education and designing a more balanced curriculum in which the arts are valued as part of the core. In addition, we have to take better care of all artists, but especially our indie artists and creative freelancers. In many ways they are unsung heroes. They are first responders to personal crises, internal conflict, community celebrations and sorrow, yet rarely do they get recognition for the direct work they do in the community on a daily basis – mentoring youth, showing up for weddings, funerals, and other special occasions- often for little to no pay. We need to do better for our communities. We need to do better for ourselves and our future. As a Black woman married to a black man, mom of a black son, and as a descendant of enslaved people I feel we as a nation must finally come to terms with the racism that is embedded in the very fabric of our country. The lesson in the social unrest from the past year is that America has a problem. Racism is so normalized that many people weren’t even consciously aware of it before this past summer. Obviously as a person directly affected by racism on a daily basis for my entire life, I find this lack of awareness hard to understand. However, what has become painfully clear in the past year is that a large percentage of White America is actually in favor of the racist practices while another percentage of White America is grappling for the first time with the fact that they have directly benefited from the racist practices. If we do not address the problem of systemic racism and root it out, it will be the undoing of the nation. There is no greater evidence of this fact than the barbaric acts we all witnessed on January 6 with the storming of our nation’s capital. Too many people are in denial about the existence of systemic racism and its consequences on not just Black people, but also on Whites, Asians, Latinx, and others. What we have is not an African American problem, it is an American problem with which all citizens must contend.
Alright, so before we go, how can our readers connect with you to learn more and show support?
I’d love to connect with people interested in achieving Big Dreams and Social Justice through the arts! Feel free to contact me directly through my website at www.DanaRiceMusic.com and on social media @DanaRiceMusic. I’m mostly active on Facebook and Instagram, but you can also find me on Twitter, Clubhouse and LinkedIn. Leave a review or comment with your thoughts on the article! To get more info about my book and the upcoming virtual book signing tour, “A Half Truth Equals A Whole Lie” visit www.DanaRiceMusic.com/GetMyBook or simply purchase on Amazon. And don’t forget to check out www.BlackArtsEducation.com to find an arts educator near you or to join the directory if you’re an arts educator!