Cultural Warrior: Jenni Rebecca Stephenson

Jenni Rebecca Stephenson describes herself as a recovering artist and performer who has seriously studied music, capsule dance, vialis 40mg and theater (BFA in Vocal Performance and MFA in Theater) who knows just enough about the rest to get her in trouble. An artist-turned-advocate, pill she co-founded a theater company (Nova Arts Project), and now serves as executive director of Spacetaker.


Since taking over the helm from David Brown in January of 2010, she has put in action Brown’s re-branding plan for Spacetaker to become one of the city’s leading mufti-faceted artist service organization. Under Stephenson’s leadership Spacetaker has taken the forefront in offering resources to help artists sustain their careers. In addition, their cozy space, known simply as the “ARC”, has been filled with performance and art as of late. Later this fall, she goes full speed into planning WHAM, the go to holiday artsy shopping extravaganza, featuring Houston’s finest artisans.


She took time off from her non-stop schedule to visit with A+C Editor Nancy Wozny.


A+C: What’s your elevator speech on Spacetaker, because the name sure doesn’t help us out much?


JENNI REBECCA STEPHENSON: Spacetaker is a nonprofit artist resource center aimed at elevating the professional and entrepreneurial practice of Houston’s artists. We teach artists to be better business people.


A+C:  I got to know you as a performer, and I must confess, I still miss seeing you on stage. How has the transition from performer to arts czarina gone for you?


JENNI REBECCA STEPHENSON:  I wouldn’t say I’ve closed the door on performance (I still do the occasional singing gig), but stage directing was my biggest love. We frequently serve as informal consultants for art projects, so I get my creative fix every now and then.


A+C:  What’s the hardest part of filling David Brown’s shoes. I mean, the guy has great hair.


JENNI REBECCA STEPHENSON:   That’s funny. The first time I met David, I think I was impressed with his hair, too. David has a gift for sharing his vision with others, whereas I tend to be a ‘do it, then prove it’ with numbers kind of girl. Both have their merit, but I want people to not just appreciate the work we do, but fall in love with our organization. David was great at making that happen.


A+C:   Spacetaker is getting great reviews for its ARC Workshop Series, and has taken the lead in professional development for artists in the city. How did that happen?


JENNI REBECCA STEPHENSON:   First of all, thank you, and thanks to the NEA for making it possible. I think the reason people are responding so positively to our Spacetaker ARC Workshop Series is because we listen very carefully to what artists want and need, and develop the programming accordingly. So often, one participates in professional development focusing on big-picture theory, and while you leave inspired, you’re baffled about applying it to your everyday work-flow. Nearly all our workshops are designed to create a manageable actionable plan for the time and cash-strapped artist.


A+C:   What’s the next ARC workshop?


JENNI REBECCA STEPHENSON:   On Oct. 26, we’re hosting a workshop on DIY Event Planning, dealing with all the little details involved in planning a performance/exhibition/event that no one likes to think about, such as event insurance and security.


A+C:   If anyone could make writing a grant proposal sound exciting it’s you. Remember, I saw you in “Love Loves a Pornographer.” Do you think your performing background factors into your gracious presenting style?


JENNI REBECCA STEPHENSON:   Maybe. I’ve taught forever — starting with ballet at 13. But I strive to present like my mentor, Buck Ross, the Director of Opera at Moores School of Music. I appreciated his self-deprecating humor and genuine desire to see his students grow. I, too, desperately want to see the artists with whom we work succeed.


A+C:   There’s more art going on at the Spacetaker ARC. For example, Lydia Hance is premiering her new dance film “Framing Bodies: Love Me” on October 14 and 15, and the monthly speakeasy series, where artists share their process. Talk about that decision to make your space available and how it works.


JENNI REBECCA STEPHENSON:   It’s easy. In providing professional support to artists, a big need is space for exhibition and performance. Our space is rentable, but we have an ARC Exhibition Series. Twice a year we accept proposals from artists for gallery shows, performances, really anything they envision working in our space. Our Artist Advisory Board culls the strongest submissions and we go from there.


A+C:   I know for a fact you put in some serious hours. How do you stay sane and not burn out?


JENNI REBECCA STEPHENSON:   I burn out weekly. KC Scharnberg, my number one and our program and marketing director, is Buddhist. I’m fairly certain she does a lot of chanting on my behalf.


A+C:   What’s coming up?


JENNI REBECCA STEPHENSON:   Everyone loves our Winter Holiday Art Market (WHAM). It’s a juried art festival and party, featuring unique, handmade pieces by over 60 artists. Given the timing, Nov. 18-20, it’s perfect for holiday shopping, while supporting the local creative economy.


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