Director, 901 Arts, Baltimore, MD
“Sometimes it means encouraging youth to come up with their own programming ideas and helping them implement those ideas in a safe and fun way. I still want to combine arts and social justice and make an impact in the world for the better.”
When Sarah Tooley '09 arrived at MICA, she was determined to find a way to combine her passion for social justice with her desire to create. By the time she received an MA in Community Arts in 2009, she had a vision for doing so that would transform the way some Baltimore residents view their neighborhood.
As part of a residency while at MICA, Tooley taught at 901 Arts, an organization founded through a successful partnership between MICA and community leaders in the 14th District of Baltimore that provides free afterschool programs in art and music to children in the Better Waverly neighborhood.
After graduating in 2009, Tooley approached 901 Arts with a proposition. If they could raise about $5,000 to demonstrate community commitment, she would be able to stay on board through MICA’s Community Art Corps (CAC) program – an AmeriCorps service program that places artists in community-based organizations in Baltimore city neighborhoods.
To ensure that 901 Arts has all of the resources that it needs, Tooley relies on a number of skills, many of which she learned while at MICA, such as how to identify key players in the funding community and how to write grant proposals.
Her creativity comes in handy, too, not only to help her conceptualize visual arts projects, but also to help her create effective fundraising strategies that allow potential funders and supporters to see the value of the organization’s work.
On a typical morning, one might find Tooley wearing her fundraising hat, but she could just as easily be building relationships with members of the community or developing a marketing and outreach strategy. She has also recruited many of the organization’s volunteers: there are currently nearly 70, some of whom come through MICA’s Community Arts Partnership Office. In addition to her administrative tasks, Tooley must develop programs that appeal to the youth who take part in the program. Approximately 70 first- through twelfth-graders participate in 901 Arts’ activities in a given year. Tooley strives to empower them to develop their creative license.
Among the projects the organization has completed with community youth is the Sea Creature Storm Drain project, in which students painted sidewalk murals of sea life around neighborhood storm drains. The effort was meant to bring attention to the impact of street trash and litter on underwater life. Tooley’s ability to promote herself as an artist and her ability to sell creative ideas have proven just as important to 901 Arts’ success as her ability to teach an art class or see a street mural to completion. While she is happy with her success this far, Tooley continues to look for new ways to bring art to the community.