AHCMC Welcomes Tonya Jordan

Meet our new Public Art Manager, a multidisciplinary arts administrator and 3rd generation D.C. native. We sat down with her to learn about her background in the arts, her interest in working for AHCMC, and more!

AHCMC: So, tell us about yourself.

Tonya: Working in the public art field has increased my understanding of what is to be a part of a community. Community comes in all forms whether its group focused, residential, commercial, industrial or any form of mixed use development. My family has lived in the Petworth/ 16th Street Heights neighborhood since the 50’s. Nowadays, it’s a fairly unique phenomenon that most of my neighbors have lived there for over 30+ years.  Even more important is the diversity of families our block has maintained—-with people of all ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic statuses. We have become like family—looking out for one another, cooking together, pitching in collectively when someone is in need, raising kids and staying socially, environmentally and politically active. This presents a different way of looking at collaboration and like public art, there are preferences, differing opinions and ways at looking at the aesthetics of a neighborhood and how it defines a community.

For me personally, growing up in DC and Maryland (Silver Spring and Takoma Park) in the 70’s and 80’s, two very dynamic and transitional decades—politically and artistically, was a joyful freefall! These two eras contributed to shaping my life, lasting friendships and the creative choices I’ve made and continue to make. Many of these choices were formed by relationships with access and exposure to the arts.

As children and teenagers, the arts (especially music) were a mutual connection for us, despite our different backgrounds—in the 70’s there were new kids from Vietnam, El Salvador, Jamaican kids, Jewish kids, kids with gay parents…Food, music, and our collective ethnicities were our cultural connectors and art was a shared curiosity through the exploration of fashion, design and popular culture.  It was a natural exchange. Growing up in the DMV also facilitated access to free museums on the Mall and a host of other special places throughout the region that were primarily free to enter.

AHCMC: Tell us about your background and what led you to the arts field and more specifically public art?

Tonya: Theater! It started with theater when my family lived in Montgomery County and I took my first theater class at Eastern Junior High. Back then, there really was no debate as to whether the arts would be part of our learning experience—it was just a given. I joined the drama team and debuted as the town gossip, Miss Soames in Our Town. The minute the audience fell over laughing, I was hooked!

In high school I snuck with some friends from Silver Spring and auditioned for the Theater Department at Duke Ellington School. I was in 11th grade and my parents were miffed, but I did get a degree in Theater from the University of Maryland. I loved that discipline, but not enough to starve for it! It did facilitate the realization that I had other talents and transferrable skills.

The 80’s which was such a crazy-creative and complex decade…Like the 70’s it was a period of abandon that was reflected in the art world. It was a rebellious, over the top and great time for experimentation and going beyond institutional boundaries in the arts! In DC there was Go Go music, the emergence of Hip Hop, the DC Punk scene at the old 9:30 Club on F Street, DC Space, District Curators, Mapplethorpe at the Corcoran and Woolley Mammoth Theater when 14th Street was still gritty. I was in a band called Noumenal Lingam. We had a close affinity to Sun Ra, storytelling in abstraction, improvisation and all out otherworldliness. It was an incredibly creative period for me personally.

My transition and interest in the visual arts began with a friend and artist Paula Stanley. She was/is a profoundly talented mixed media artist and showed me how to do beadwork and introduced me to Frida Kahlo. This was way before all that overhyped and saturated Frida craze. I was just intrigued by her, because I thought I was the only one that was proud of my unibrow! Her art was so brutally beautiful and her story, culture and politics were fascinating. Biography is a powerful through line in any form of art.

This curiosity paved the way for my exploration of other artists and how world history and art sparked creative, social and political motivations and art movements. This curiosity led me to curating independently.

AHCMC: What would you say is the defining moment in your career as an arts administrator?

Tonya: One of the turning points in my career was an amazing opportunity to work at the Smithsonian. I was given access to an incredible learning experience by an amazing woman-leader in the arts. I was mentored by other brilliant women and men.  It was there that I was able to build some intellectual, creative and management muscle by working on public programs and exhibitions related to Jazz. I was really fortunate and worked with curators, musicians, exhibit designers, archivists, historians, curriculum specialists and public programmers. That career turning point set the spark for a career in visual arts curation and more specifically, public art. I try to pay it forward, as I know how challenging and competitive it can be as a young arts administrator of color. Mentoring is so important. It brought me to where I am today.

AHCMC: How did you enter into the public art field and what are some of your most notable projects?

I worked in the Prince George’s County Gateway Arts District for about 7 years. I did some independent curatorial work, managed open studio tours, festival events and led some small mural projects. The DC Arts Commission was where I became fully immersed as a public art manager. Some of the more notable projects include the St. Elizabeths East Redevelopment (artist Sheila Crider), The Golden Triangle BID’s Murrow and Monroe Parks projects (artist Duillio Pasasriello), Kent Bloomer’s New York Avenue Gateway Wings, the 2014 5×5 temporary public art project with a host internationally renowned artists and curators and bringing New York’s Creative Time to DC at the Lincoln Theater. I worked with a very talented and dedicated creative team at CAH, as well as host of city-wide stakeholders, planners, BIDs and developers. I learned a lot about politics too.

AHCMC: What interested you to come work for AHCMC?

Tonya : Opportunity, and being able to demonstrate that as a striving arts administrator, I always want to bring something new, expansive and accessible to the communities I serve.  I’m excited about working with a new artist community as well. There is always something else to learn—just by the very nature the creative process and the fact that art is always in flux.

AHCMC: What are you most looking forward to as the Public Art Manager?

Tonya: Exploring the vastness of spaces to site public art and fine art in Montgomery County and working with Montgomery County communities, agencies and stakeholders who value the impact art has in our day to day lives. I’m looking to break new ground with exploratory and sustainable projects along with the people in Montgomery County.  Managing and curating exhibitions at the Kramer Gallery is the cherry on top!

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