Making New Friends
By Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp, Editorial Assistant
At the Museum, we can hardly believe it’s almost time to ring in a new year. As we bid farewell to a whirlwind year of developments —online, in London, and here in Denver—we are equally nostalgic and eager for what 2017 will bring. One of the many things we are both reflecting upon and looking forward to is the Museum’s ongoing collaboration with the Denver Public Library’s New Americans Project. The collaboration is the brainchild of Sonia Rae, the Museum’s director of audience and community engagement, and Will Chan, program administrator for the Denver Public Library’s Services to New Immigrants. I sat down with Rae and Chan recently and asked them a few questions about the collaboration, the New Americans Project, and their plans for the new year.
What can you tell me about the New Americans Project?
Will Chan (WC): The New Americans Project is the umbrella for different services that the Denver Public Library offers immigrant, refugee, and asylee populations in Denver. Our Plaza programming is our signature program within New Americans, and it offers migrants support including second-language conversation skills, citizenship programs, business networking, and much more.
Sonia Rae (SR): Will and I met for the first time about a year ago, when he asked the Clyfford Still Museum to provide museum passes for the nine library branches where the New Americans Project operates. The Museum enthusiastically agreed, but we were worried that program participants might not come on their own without first having a safe experience here. So, we organized the New Americans: Day of Culture and Art at the Clyfford Still Museum to coincide with Denver Days, a program Mayor Michael Hancock launched four years ago that strives to create a community where people feel safe.
Why are you excited about the Clyfford Still Museum’s collaboration with the Denver Public Library on the New Americans Project?
SR: I’m always excited to introduce new people to the Museum. I gain enormous satisfaction from seeing people come to the Museum who might never have made the trip. I’m also very aware that Denver’s demographics are changing and that we need to reach more diverse audiences. I also love working with Will and the Denver Public Library. They’re great partners.
WC: The library has offered services to new immigrants for about 20 years in some capacity. However, I started with the program five years ago, and it has grown from 13,000 participants in six locations to approximately 32,000 participants at nine locations. I think part of that growth is because of the partnerships we’ve established with organizations like the Clyfford Still Museum.
What can you tell me about the Denver Days New Americans event?
WC: Denver Days was a big success. We had nearly 200 participants, and everyone had such a great time. The performers on stage were from all over the world. We were very mindful when curating the experience. We had spoken word, dance, and visual arts. In addition to different media, different cultures were represented; we had Indian dancers, a Chicano slam poet, French storytellers, an Ethiopian food truck, and a Filipino food truck. It was a mini global festival that was anchored by the arts and anchored by the Clyfford Still Museum.
SR: The event was a highlight of the year for me. Entire families came, including grandparents and kids, and genuinely enjoyed themselves. Our partners (RedLine and Alliance Francaise), the staff at the Museum, the food truck vendors, and the performers all worked together to produce a fun, unique event. And the Mayor came! There are hundreds of Denver Days events, so I was really pleased that he took the time to stop by and say a few words.
What do you have planned for the collaboration in 2017?
WC: After Denver Days, the Clyfford Still Museum started on-site programs for New Americans Project participants at several branch locations. We plan to continue those on-site programs and our partnership with the Clyfford Still Museum. We are also planning another event in January, but on a smaller scale to continue introducing our audiences to the many offerings provided by the Museum.
SR: We hope to plan another Denver Days event next summer. In the meantime, we will continue to visit branch locations, bringing the Clyfford Still Museum’s programs for kids and adults to communities with the hope that those communities will, in turn, visit the Museum. During the event on January 14, families will explore our current exhibition, Clyfford Still: The Works on Paper, create in the DRAWING Room, and participate in other family activities like the Detail Detective and Family Sketchbook.
With big plans for 2017, not only in outreach, the Museum ends the year with a sense of accomplishment and anticipation. We look forward to making more new friends through partnerships with organizations like the Denver Public Library. As well, three major artists join the Museum to curate exhibitions for our Artist’s Select Series. We hope you can join us for the exceptional programming we will have in 2017, and we wish you and yours a happy new year!