Thriving Cultures

Interview with


Thriving Cultures
Program Director

Judilee joined the Surdna Foundation during the fall of 2011 to lead the Thriving Cultures Program. We asked her to talk about her new position and vision for her portfolio.

How has your past work informed your new position?

Most recently, I was working to build and implement programs that support affordable work space for artists, respond to changing demographics and cultivate artistic practice as executive director at Leveraging Investments in Creativity, a national arts service organization. My experience there gave me tremendous exposure to the breadth and diversity of arts and culture around the country. At Surdna, I offer my perspective to the equation of environment, local economies and culture, and how they come together to create sustainable communities.

What were the most important accomplishments for your program
in 2011?

It has been exciting to work with grantees that recognize and are guided by a belief that arts and culture operate in dynamic ways in their community. It’s both about making art and understanding the role that culture plays in shaping the community in which one lives. We supported several projects in 2011 that bridge the work of artists with advocacy groups. In rural Tennessee, artists are in-residence at three community organizations to work hand-in-hand with organizers on issues that vary from mountaintop removal in Appalachia, to quality of jobs in the farm worker sector, to providing school access. The Thriving Cultures Program also saw great success in supporting design projects for public spaces in immigrant and low-income communities. In New Orleans’ Upper 9th Ward, residents without design resources are partnering with city architects to design and plan a community center and multifunctional outdoor space so neighborhood children can read, celebrate cultural traditions and stay active.

How will your program help build just and sustainable communities in 2012?

As we explore new themes for the Thriving Cultures Program, we will be supporting artists engaged in social change and projects that are community-based. Arts and culture offer a glimpse into a community’s cultural anthropology and remind us of who we are and our relationship to that community. They can also be a partner in catalyzing change – creating jobs through artist-owned business ventures like multimedia production firms, sculpture and functional art design studios, and artisan-based light manufacturing, or converting an old mill building into an artist workspace that revitalizes an entire neighborhood.