Interview with second-year student, Carolina Cambronero Varela

DSCN2759ARAD’s social media coordinator and first-year student, Mari Takeda, recently sat down with second-year student and president of Student Advocates for the Arts (SAA), Carolina Cambronero Varela, to talk about being a TC student, running SAA, and more.

Mari: What drew you to this program?

Carolina: Having the access to interdisciplinary resources in education, human rights, leadership, and peace education (to name a few) in conjunction with the dual (visual and performing) arts administration (ARAD) nature of the program. I came to ARAD with the question of how can the arts, particularly its transformative power, create social change? The opportunity of being in this program has provided insights into the importance for advocating that the arts are a human right. The arts change lives by providing freedom to thrive!

M: Can you describe what it’s like it to be a student here?

C: You can choose from such a variety of classes! You are not restricted to a business or management curriculum, but rather you can complement this base with art education, psychology, and anthropology courses (to name a few options). Students should grasp and be open to this holistic possibility. We are not here to just complete a program for a degree, or at least for the majority of us, this is not the case. Most of the people I have come across here at Teachers College have the will to make a difference in the world – it does not matter from which angle they approach it- we share this objective. If we come together and collaborate, we can approach the issues from different angles and make the change exponential. We see this as a platform to interact with the community and engage with different perspectives driven by passionate people that strive for noble ideals that will become realities.

M: How did you get first involved with SAA?

C: Student Advocates for the Arts’ (SAA) leadership members came to our orientation as we started our first year as ARAD students. They presented this student organization’s mission of “empowering emerging art leaders by serving as a platform for critical debate, resource sharing, and capacity building in arts advocacy” (SAA’s mission statement). It seemed natural to explore my goal of change through the arts via this organization. As president of SAA, we progress this mission statement by organizing events that will create discussions that must happen. Often times, these conversations and thoughts occur informally, or as afterthoughts – but when these topics are represented as an event, it gives the concepts more weight, hence producing collaborations for artivism.

This spring semester, SAA and Advocates for Cultural Engagement from New York University, are attending the National Arts Action Summit hosted by Americans for the Arts from March 4-5, 2019 in Washington, D.C. SAA is also planning a meeting with a UNESCO representative at the New York United Nations Headquarters on April 3rd, 2019.

In addition, on Tuesday, March 26th our panel will bring together artists, scholars, and community members to discuss how we can engage with public art to shift the frameworks of representation. We will examine these issues in terms of the social and political histories of the communities in which they emerged, as well as discuss the potential role of new monuments which engage with histories of oppression and prejudice. This event is co-hosted by the Bronx Community College, the Arts Administration program at Columbia University, The Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Community Affairs, and SAA. Our sponsors include Advocates for  Cultural Engagement from New York University, Friends of Japan, Global Citizen Club, The Peace Education Network, Teachers College Peace Corps, Teachers College Office of Government Relations, Society for International Education, Teachers College Student Senate, and Gottesman Libraries. These are just a couple of our spring semester events to raise awareness about the  importance of the arts!

Please visit this link for information regarding our Fall semester interdisciplinary panel discussion, Liberating Imagination though Artistic Activism and visual arts exhibition Brave Spaces: Where You, Me, and We Meet.

M: What’s it like to run a student organization at TC?

C: SAA works closely with the Office of Student Affairs which provides the opportunity to put into practice managerial skills such as grant writing, marketing, partnership building, and event planning. Apart from the administrative component, managing this organization has opened doors to meet so many marvelous people on and off campus. It is refreshing to work with people that understand and fight for the arts as an integral component for a dignified life (please refer to The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966)).

M: Has being involved in a student group allowed you opportunities you might not have experienced in a classroom or through an internship?

C: Yes, it’s a different perspective. I would unequivocally recommend students to get involved as much as they can – do not be afraid of the substantial time commitment. Even with the rigorous requirements from our ARAD program, we can still make time – with a little dedication, commitment, sacrifice, and teamwork.

Take advantage of this opportunity! Experience being in this setting, participate in events throughout Columbia and New York City.  Grasp the opportunity in front of you and make the most out of it, do not let it pass!

M: Tell me about your most recent internship experience.

C: I was honored to do my internship last spring semester with NURTUREart, a gallery in Brooklyn that has over 20 years of experience. During my internship at NURTUREart, we worked with middle and high school students, emerging artists, emerging curators, and administrators in crafting empowering programs for social change through art. NURTUREart, as the name indicates, nurtures everyone involved in the process for development, teamwork, and empathy building. Through this comprehensive internship, I was able to engage in gallery, administrative, and educational management while seeing the final products first hand. For example, NURTUREart’s Project Curate, united a class of high school students with an emerging curator to organize a visual arts exhibition, with emerging artists, from conception to opening night and every detail related to a curatorial design. I am grateful to NURTUREart for proving the opportunity to be part of their team and reinforcing, in practice, my belief that the arts’ transformative power changes lives.


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M: What are some lessons you’ve taken away from your elective courses?

C: Many times we, as creators, are too focused on the final project. Art for Classroom Teachers, follows the principle about the importance of the art-making process. We emphasized that art students of any age must explore and experiment, which become transferable skills for any other field. In other words: you must QUESTION and SEARCH!!

A key concept from Human and Social Dimensions of Peace was that we live in a culture that wants to stop violence rather than create peace. “I want to stop violence” and “I want to create peace” are different ideas. How are we creating peace through our practice?

Comprehensive Educational Opportunity highlighted the importance of a support system and truly understanding the environment at hand.  The ladder of inference from Executive Coaching class is also a very useful tool to dismantle mindsets.

M: Any final words?

C: Thank you Mari for this space to share a glimpse of my perspective and experience as president of Student Advocates for the Arts and as an arts administration student at Columbia University. First, I am immensely thankful to God and the Virgin Mary, without them, nothing is possible. I would also like to thank Dr. Lena, Dr. Mangione, Ms. Wong, and everyone that has been part of this journey.

All of these experiences – being a student at Columbia University, working with SAA, managing collaborations, and creating platforms for discussions – are part of the transformative power of art because it is all a team labor of love.  It also emphasizes how, if you are denied the arts, you are being denied imagination. If you question – as simple as this may sound – you control your destiny!

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