Art Meets Social Impact | An Interview with Ilene Squires was originally published on Idealist Careers.
Are you an artist who would like to make use of your talents in the social-impact space? From volunteer work to paid positions, there are plenty of opportunities available. I interviewed Ilene Squires, a freelance photographer who teaches part time through the LA Promise Fund’s ArtsMatter program. She uses her background in photography and education to expose middle- and high-school students to media arts.
Q: What drew you to the social-impact space?
A: From the start I’ve always been a little altruistic and after a summer interning on Madison Avenue, I knew the corporate life wasn’t for me. So I started my post-undergraduate career in NYC by joining Teach For America, where I taught two years in the South Bronx as a Bilingual Inclusion teacher. I didn’t even know what that meant when I accepted the position! From there, I went on to help found a charter school in Harlem, where I later served as the Dean of Students. At that juncture I took my career into the nonprofit world. I ultimately decided I’d be best at telling and retelling stories of marginalized groups as a photographer, so I began taking night classes at The International Center of Photography. Since I was a child, I always wanted my work to “make a difference” in people’s lives and I have a lot of integrity around this. Before relocating to LA in 2016, I taught photography to teens and pre-teens at a community center in the South Bronx, which is a role I still cherish to this day.
Q: What is the ArtsMatter program, and how did you get involved?
A: Currently, I am a Teaching Artist through the LA Promise Fund’s ArtsMatter Initiative. It is a three-year grant that strives to bring high-quality arts education to South LA. After taking some time off from teaching to have my kids, I realized that I missed the classroom and wanted to work again in a role where I felt like I was giving back to my community. When I began poking around the arts community I found so many awesome opportunities that were low paying or pro bono. With two kids and a bicoastal business, it was hard for me to negotiate enough time to take those positions, but one I interviewed for ultimately led me to ArtsMatter. They liked that I had classroom experience and artist experience because that skill set is a bit unusual.
Q: What do you hope that the students get out of your classes?
A: I hope they feel inspired to pursue artistic studies or careers if that’s a good fit for them. For the kids that are less “artistic,” I hope they are more interested in the arts space, and ultimately able to find the language to describe their own work as well as the work of other artists. Lastly, I hope that my students feel seen and heard, and feel that their opinions matter. Art isn’t just about creating; it is also about public speaking, writing, and having the social acumen to earn a living.
Q: Any advice for other artists who want to make a difference in their community?
A: It’s really easy to volunteer, work pro bono or take lower paying arts jobs if you are doing something you love and have a passion for. I have two small children and a business, so my time is really limited. However, I found something that means something to me: the world is becoming increasingly digitized, and the more prepared our youth are for this, the more success and stability they will find. I don’t think being a working artist is easy or even accessible for that matter, but I do feel partly responsible for ushering the next generation of kids into the workforce with well-rounded skills that include art, media, and public speaking.
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