Hello! Welcome to our blog for the Greater Cincinnati Alliance for Arts Education. We are excited to share helpful arts education content and happenings with you through this platform. For our first blog, we introduce our co-chairs for the 2019-20 year: Jemannie Luong and Jared O’Roark, both of whom are excited to be in this position. Learn more about The J-Team, including their background and hopes for the future of GCAAE.
Growing up, I loved to express my creative side – with music being my favorite creative outlet. I would often hold concerts for imaginary crowds and make my own music recordings using a radio and blank cassette. As I got older, I was able to harness my love of music through the school orchestra and choir. For years, my performing arts classes were my favorite classes in school, and even though it was 7th period on a Wednesday, I was happy to express myself by making music.
When I went off to college, I lost music for a little. I majored in Communication and Spanish, so there was not much room to join an orchestra or choir for fun. However, I found my way back in the arts through internships. I first interned with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in their Communication department. The feeling of joy I received by simply surrounded by live music again was overwhelming, so I decided that for my next internship, I wanted to continue in the arts.
That is how I found Cincinnati Opera. I entered Cincinnati Opera as the Community Relations Intern and was able to experience the power of art at its fullest. Not only was I surrounded by grand and great fully staged operas, but I was also able to enjoy art at a local, micro level. The concert Opera Goes to Church was one of the most powerful art experiences for me. In this concert, local church choirs join opera artists and jazz artists to create a night of music and worship. As an intern, I was excited to see this concert series for the first time. Once I experienced it though, I truly understood how meaningful this concert is to the community. It wasn’t just an “introduction to opera” but rather a collaborative group effort of music, celebration, and community.
Following my internship and experience at Cincinnati Opera, I just kept going back to the company. I interned for a second time, then worked as a seasonal staff member joining the both the Education and Community Relations departments. I would go on to accept a full time position as Education and Community Relations Associate. I celebrated my one-year anniversary with the opera this past September.
Looking forward, I hope to keep engaging the community in music and art. A population I really want to connect with is the immigrant community. Having grown up with the immigrant experience, I would love to join forces with this group so that we can learn about their art forms and combine them with ours. I especially enjoy working with young children. I would love children, especially, to have a chance to see that their culture matters – representation at its finest.
I look forward to being co-chair of GCAAE this year. I hope that Jared and I will be able to provide programming you find enjoyable and worthwhile. I also hope that we are able to create a community of arts educators who support and learn from one another. I have a lot to learn. Luckily for me, I am surrounded by people who really know their stuff.
The love of the arts existed in me before I could even form memories. I am told how at the age of two, I would never stop singing Annie and that I knew when Fame was on TV. My family may not call themselves artists, but that is precisely what they are. They instilled the arts in me without even knowing – that is how important it was in their lives. One grandmother would sing to me; the other read to me. My grandfathers gave speeches. My mother played piano and would cross-stitch, all while watching Perry Mason, All in the Family, and Big Valley (where I got my namesake.) My father was a bricklayer who did the most complex and artist things with brick. And all this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of my extended family.
In school, theater became a huge part of my life in high school. When college rolled around, however, I went to pursue “stability”. After getting degrees in Journalism, Public Relations, and American Sign Language (let’s say I had choices). However while in college, I randomly auditioned for a theater company at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida. (I figured, “why not.”) In short, I got the job and toured the country for two years. My love of the arts was reignited.
Then at 22, I met Joyce Bonomini, a Cincinnati native. She saw in me something I didn’t know I had – the love of sharing my passion of the arts with others. She asked me to be a part of an arts infusion program, primarily focusing on poetry, playwriting, musical theater and theater. (All of which I did, but rarely shared.) I later took over the arts immersion program, and began directing both at Ruth Eckerd and around Tampa Bay.
I also loved the social change aspect of the arts. I always tended to focus on work that moved, motivated and challenged. For reasons I don’t need to go into here, I didn’t realize how much the arts had help me cope with so many struggles. The arts were how I gained confidence. I learned how to share my story because of the arts. All I wanted was to be able to help people use the arts to speak their truth.
A highlight in my life was creating Project Shattered Silence. This was a project I created that helped people speak truth to power. After four years PBS noticed the project and did a documentary on it. An Emmy Award, two Humanitarian Awards, 45 film festival awards, and five years later, I’m still taken aback by the success.
I’ve done so much in the arts. I was the Artistic Producing Director to two fantastic Broadway producers: Zev Buffman and Duffy Anderson-Rothe. I have directed countless professional productions. I ran a theater in Tampa for two years. I have written several produced productions. And as wonderful as all of those things are – I have to go back to my adage: if something is in your bones, it always finds its way into your life.
I am now the Education & Outreach Director for WordPlay, a role I truly relish and love. It puts me back in my passion: using the arts as a tool to make people feel successful.
Jemannie, my co-chair in GCAAE, is very much the ying to my yang. I look forward to a very productive year with her. The two of us are not just lovers of the arts, but rather, the arts are part of our bones. It lives in our skin. The arts are part of our definition.
That is what I want for GCAAE and Cincinnati. I want the arts and arts education to become part of the city’s definition. I want arts to be part of what keeps the city breathing. The two of us also believe that this is a goal accomplished by a village. I want GCAAE to help others find their voice, achieve their goals, and realize that the arts teach. However, more than that, the arts is how we learn to find our voice and realize that our voices and our stories matter.
So if the arts are in your bones, then let it find its way back into your life. Join us.