Around the state in 365 days with California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia

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This week marks one year since Dana Gioia began his adventure as “poetry’s public servant” in the Golden State. In that time, the state poet laureate has taken his role as advocate for the art of poetry across the state quite literally, making it a point to visit every county in California.

Earlier this week, Gioia took the time to answer some of our questions—about poetry, his position, where he’s been, and where he’s headed next.

One year in—how has your experience as California’s poet laureate met your expectations? Has anything surprised you?

PR_Ventura_Oct2016_9I started with the huge assumption that there would be an audience for poetry everywhere in the state. Indeed there was. What surprised me was how big and varied it was—no matter where we went. We got big audiences in the smallest towns. There was also a wonderful mix of people. There were, of course, the local poets, musicians, and teachers we expected. But we also got mayors, ranchers, shopkeepers, accountants, almond farmers, veterans and veterinarians. The ages ranged from newborn to near centenarians.

Where have you done your poetry events?

I try to meet in the public library, but for many small towns it doesn’t have enough space, so we also meet in taverns, churches, galleries, museums, and parks. I went to a jazz club in Oakland and the National Cemetery in San Francisco. I go wherever the community invites me.

Was the program mostly you reading your own poetry?

No. Everywhere I go I invite local writers, musicians, and students to participate. It becomes a local celebration for poetry and creativity. I also try to end every event with a question-and-answer period so we all can have a public conversation about literature and literacy.

You still have one year left in your term. You have covered a lot of ground in your 58-county tour. You’ve visited 44 counties so far. What are the plans for the rest of your term?

Well, I have to reach those last 14 counties. Next week I go back to USC for the fall semester. That limits how much I can travel in the next few months. I will then finish up the tour in the spring. Once I reach the finish line with county 58, I will start over.

Why do you need to visit counties more than once?

PR_Mendocino_Feb 18 2017_4I’ve done almost 100 events so far, because it is important to visit the large counties several times to reach different communities. Los Angeles County has nearly 10 million people. That requires lots of events. The same goes for the Bay Area. When I was asked to read a poem at the Memorial Day ceremony at the Presidio’s National Cemetery, I immediately accepted because the gathering served a different audience from the venues I had already visited in San Francisco. I also knew that poetry was important for the troops, veterans, and families on such a solemn occasion.

You’re a native Californian. Having traveled to some lesser known and less populated parts of the state, have you gained new perspective on the state and what it means to be a Californian?

Absolutely! I thought I knew the state pretty well, but these trips have been a continuous discovery. I now realize how little I knew about the eastern half of the state, especially up pr_kern_dec2016_3.jpgin the Sierra Nevadas. Those counties are not only spectacularly beautiful, they are also central to the state’s history. There were also a lot of towns I knew only from driving through them on the way to somewhere else. How different it is to meet local people and spend a day or two there.

I just finished spending two weeks with BBC, which is doing a documentary on the statewide tour. I asked that the show only be partially about me. I wanted it to be mostly about the California that the British don’t know—the mountains, the Central Valley, the desert, and the north coast.

What makes a poem good?

There are many ways in which a poem can be good. Mostly, a poem works by shaping speech into a kind of song. A poem needs to be beautiful, memorable, and expressive. By “beautiful” I don’t mean merely “pretty” or superficially attractive. Beauty is a kind of heightened perception in which we recognize the deeper forms of reality—the way, for example, the shape of a tree tells about the light, the soil, and the winds around it.

What advice do you have for the uninitiated who may view poetry as pretentious or irrelevant?

I tell people just to relax and listen. Don’t feel as if you are in a classroom. Pretend you’re listening to music in a club. If I have learned anything on this tour, it is that most people enjoy poetry.

One last question, just for fun. If you were hosting an intimate dinner party, and could invite any three people, living or dead, who would they be, and why?

Honestly, I’d invite my mom, my dad, and my late Uncle Ted, because I miss them. But if I had to exclude family, I’d ask William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Oscar Wilde. I’d open up a bottle of good California wine and then listen to the conversation.

A gathering of young poets at the Yuba Theatre

To see more pictures from Gioia’s travels and learn more about past and upcoming events, visit http://capoetlaureate.net.

Reflections on the Americans for the Arts Convention

During an unseasonably warm weekend mid-June in San Francisco, more than 1,200 arts and culture workers gathered for the annual Americans for the Arts Convention. Hosted locally by the San Francisco Arts Commission, the convention provided a great opportunity for the California Arts Council programs staff to network with their peers, connect with grantees and learn more about the issues that impact our work to support creativity and culture across the state.

Upon return from the Bay, members of our staff were gracious enough to reflect on the experience and jot down their thoughts on what would be most helpful for the field!

Shelly Gilbride, Programs Officer:  

Take-away #1: Foster evaluation from within – honoring the curiosity, explorations and intellect of artists and participants.

One of the sessions that inspired and energized me the most was one on … EVALUATION! Oh, I hear the virtual groans from all of you grantees and applicants. I hope you will read on, because these toolkits and resources from Animating Democracy are very cool and super useful. The Aesthetics Perspective Initiative is an 11-pronged framework that can give artists, arts organizations, funders and supporters a common language to unpack conceptualizations of “artistic merit” or “artistic excellence,” addressing the dominance of Eurocentric aesthetic standards, and acknowledging that artistic merit is relative to the community where the creative work is situated, as well as the work’s intent and goals. Check out the Companion Guides for artists, funders, evaluators and curators. I am still thinking about how to apply this framework to the CAC’s grant programs. Certainly it is food for thought as our staff and Council continue to assess review criteria for our grant programs.

Josy Miller, Arts Education Programs Specialist:

Take-away #2: Diversifying arts leadership relies on pre-professional development from within the field.

The dynamic session on “Building Next Generation Leadership in Arts Education,” facilitated by Tamara Alvarado of the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza (a CAC grantee!), included a multiplicity of voices from around the country discussing how to foster emerging arts education leaders. Perspectives were diverse, and specific strategies reflected important differences in organizational goals and contexts, yet a single refrain emerged over the course of the discussion: Young leaders must be fostered from within.

Both veteran and emerging leaders shared personal histories on how they got their starts, not only in the arts, but as arts leaders. Time and again, these stories included instances in which the individual had been invited and encouraged to take on high order tasks and duties. Crucially, these were not lessons, but rather actual chances to develop and implement projects that had real organizational consequences. The potential for failure hovered, mitigated by the presence of a mentor that supported, but did not direct their mentee’s process and decision making. These opportunities not only imbued those young people with the skill sets necessary to evolve into successful arts leaders in the future, but cultivated their understandings of themselves as leaders already.

Americans for the Arts is currently crafting a toolkit for arts education leadership development, which is set to be released in January, so certainly keep your eyes out for that. In the meantime, we at the CAC invite you to partner with us in fostering leadership talent from the ranks of amazing young people that are already in our midst!

Jaren Bonillo, Arts Program Specialist

Take-away #3: Model new forms of action, change narratives, share stories, and be of service to others.

On my way to the opening AFTA plenary, I took a photo with my phone of one of the texts of the 11 artistic attributes on display from the Aesthetics Perspective Initiative mentioned by Shelly above. I am not sure if it was the visual representation of the attribute or the title Disruption that caught my eye, but after reading,

“Art challenges what is by exposing what has been hidden, posing new ways
of being and modeling new forms of action,”

I used it as a mantra throughout the convention. The mantra continued to resonate as I listened to stories of civil unrest and injustices in Bryan Stevenson’s powerful keynote on his personal journey and the importance of changing historical narratives. Inspirational stories move me to tears—and laughter—and make me uncomfortable by challenging my worldview or triggering an old wound. Stevenson’s keynote delivered as such and was eloquently told as a classic tale of the “hero’s journey,” as popularized by Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. His speech invited us to be open, to dive deep into our personal and collective messiness—and come out the other side with transformational tools for being of service to others. These themes were further discussed in the “Talking About the Social Impact of the Arts” session. There was a generosity and vulnerability in the room of sharing personal and professional motivational values and how they drive us in our work and in practice to inspire and influence change.

My personal reflections, take-aways and observations from AFTA generate more questions than answers. Many of you may find the same as the field engages more with conversations around equity, diversity, and inclusion in our work and in our communities. In my own practice, I aspire to model the empathy needed to equalize and normalize the conversation around difference. And share and encourage stories! Sharing stories heals and serves the world—it connects us, rather than divides, and supports us to be in service to others, humanizes the work, and allows for new ways of seeing and being. For:
“the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on
his fellow [wo]man.” – Joseph Campbell

 

 

Blog bite: The power of poetry

Online news source Circa put the spotlight on poetry this week, publishing a story that called out the work of Street Poets Inc. The L.A.-based California Arts Council grantee has a firm grasp on both rhyme and reason: Dedicated to transforming the lives of at-risk and incarcerated youth, the organization inspires its participants to find their voices through the art of poetry and chart a new course toward a better future.

Street Poets Inc. is funded in part by the California Arts Council JUMP StArts grant program, supporting arts education and artist-in-residence programs for youth engaged in the juvenile justice system, in the classroom, after school, or as a social service or in an incarceration setting.

We’re proud to support the work of Street Poets Inc.! Read the full story here and check out the video below:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcirca%2Fvideos%2F1424937644239623%2F&show_text=0&width=560

This week in arts funding

It’s been a busy and exciting week in the world of arts funding!

On Tuesday morning, the California Arts Council made what is arguably our biggest announcement of the year: more than $15 million dollars to be distributed among 1,076 grantees! We increased maximum grant request amounts within many of our programs and expanded our arts education grant programs to reach students outside the classroom. We also funded grantees through three new pilot programs this year: Reentry through the Arts, Research in the Arts, and Arts and Public Media.

Award totals were nearly double that of last year, and mark the largest investment in grants for the Arts Council since 2003. No small achievement!

We will admit, it’s our favorite time of year. It’s the culmination of all of our efforts here at the CAC. To be able to share the news, congratulate all of our grantees, then sit back and put the spotlight on the great work they’ll do locally with the state’s support—fostering art and creativity, shaping our communities, inspiring and informing.

Right away, our social media started lighting up with giddy grantees and appreciative art supporters. We love it, and we love our grantees!

We were still floating high on that cloud when, the very next morning, another big reveal: this time from the National Endowment for the Arts. The federal agency announced its second round of funding for the 2017 fiscal year, including $5.3 million for 162 grantees in the state of California. More than $1.1 million will provide support directly to the California Arts Council.

NEA funding has a massive impact on California communities, not just through direct contributions to arts organizations in the form of grants, but through its intrinsic value. The power of an NEA grant can attract matching funds and spur economic interest through other means.

And the NEA as a leader and partner is, of course, invaluable to us at the Arts Council. The annual grant we receive supports the fulfillment of our strategic plan, provides additional funds to our grantees, and helps California’s overall creative economy thrive.

A huge thank you to the NEA, and a whopping congratulations to state and federal grantees!

(Pictured: The Regional Organization of Oaxaca in Los Angeles will receive a California Arts Council grant to produce a series of workshops celebrating the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The organization also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts.)

Blog bite: Shakespeare at work in Solano State Prison

A quick shout-out to one of our Arts in Corrections providers, the Marin Shakespeare Company! Yesterday, CNN’s Great Big Story highlighted the theater group’s work with inmates, helping them to confront emotions and heal through self-expression, channeling their own life stories through Hamlet.

Arts in Corrections is a partnership between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Arts Council to combat recidivism, enhance rehabilitative goals, and improve the safety and environment of state prisons.  The program has reached more than 2,000 inmates since its return three years ago, and is expanding this year to all 35 institutions statewide.

Check out the clip of Marin Shakespeare Company’s great work below:

State of the arts: Joint Committee on the Arts assembles voices on creative economy and creative space issues

The California Arts Council was at the state Capitol on Wednesday as artists, arts agencies, organizations and advocacy groups gathered for a seat at the table of the Joint Committee on the Arts. Joint Committee Chair Senator Ben Allen and other committee members listened intently and asked questions as various panelists expressed their views on the state of the arts in California.

At the top of the agenda was the newly released Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California, with special attention paid to the addendum white paper addressing the need for safe and affordable live-work spaces for artists. The turnout and the passion was so great, we’d thought it best to let the attendees speak for themselves, with a sampling of quotes below. You can check out the full hearing in the Senate media archive.

On the Otis Report:

“The [Otis Report] challenges the existing understanding that the arts are side activities to the ‘real’ economy. … It asks the question, what would it look like to put the economic output of creativity connected industries front and center in our economic and political initiatives?”

“It’s my hope that cities and counties throughout California can leverage the Otis Report to encourage further investments in art education, economic development and cultural planning.”

“If we could touch the invisible or some of the soft statistics, these statistics would be even higher and more productive for you to look at, I think, as a major, major engine of the economy.”

Bruce Ferguson, Otis College of Art and Design

“Artists don’t conform to the way that the government likes to collect statistics. I would say that the numbers in here are undercounted.”

“Activities based on creativity are essential components of a robust, healthy and growing economy.”

Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation

On the value of the arts:

“The question is, how can we in the United States immerse ourselves so fully in arts and culture but place so little value on artists, when other countries place their arts and culture in higher regard?”

“Part of why California has been able to be the economic juggernaut that it is—the sixth largest economy in the world—has so much to do with the creativity that exists here, and the fact that so many business want to be in this creative place. For that, I am eternally grateful to our creative industry, our creative economy.”

Senator Ben Allen, Joint Committee Chair

“Being someone in education now for the past 25 years, I can tell the difference when I walk in the school whether there is a robust arts program or not. Without seeing the classrooms, without seeing what’s on the walls, there’s a feeling in the way the kids bounce through the halls.”

Donn Harris, California Arts Council Chair

“All of these different groups now understand what we as the arts sector can do, and it has fundamentally changed our relationship with the city. … This one project, with each of these agencies, it helps meet each of their discreet missions. And that’s magical. And that’s one of the things that you can do when you use the creative process to address a problem.”

“These programs matter. Arts matters. It has powerful potential to change our communities.”

Michelle Williams, Executive Director, Arts Council Santa Cruz County

“Certainly cities and developers have been using artists for ages to stimulate growth, so we need to find ways of protecting them as well.”

Teri Deaver, Vice President, Consulting and Strategic Partnerships, Artspace

“If this is what we value, we need to put a little more wood behind the arrow.”

Ron Vidal, Oakland artist and firefighter

On artist displacement:

“We really do have a challenge. There are a lot of artists out there that are struggling to do their work, and do it in a way that doesn’t break the bank. But ultimately, how do we do it in a sustainable way? …. Nobody should have to choose between having a roof over their head and having a place to make a living.”

Senator Ben Allen, Joint Committee Chair

“The community is feeling it. It’s a very public conversation. It’s a challenge for organizations like Self Help Graphics who are undercapitalized, and have historically been undercapitalized, to continue to support the community in a moment where they’re under so much pressure. It feels like a very personal attack on the community, this idea of displacement and being pushed out due to high rents.”

Betty Avila, Associate Director, Self Help Graphics and Art

On artist housing:

“Controlling real-estate, or art space, is critical to the long-term sustainability of the arts. No space, no art. No art, no good.”

Ron Vidal, Oakland artist and firefighter

“Our first obligation, especially at a state level, is to enact legislation … that will allow a sustainable model for our low-income live-work communities.”

Jonah Strauss, Oakland Warehouse Coalition

“What can we do to ensure that we have affordable housing? One is preserve what we have currently. There is a lot of displacement happening—can we extend rent stabilization and tenant protection rights to artists that are living, perhaps, in nonconforming, nontraditional housing situations in light industrial areas? Can we create special use permits in areas that have existing communities that can be put toward safe spaces that are in some of these more industrial areas?”

Teri Deaver, Vice President, Consulting and Strategic Partnerships, Artspace

“The energy, activity, and economic development created by [the Warehouse Artist Lofts] community of mostly low-income artists has exceeded even my own expectations.”

“We created a platform for artists to build a community and to do what they do best—imagine, create and inspire.”

Ali Youssefi, Vice President, CFY Development Inc.

On the aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire:

“The wider DIY community across America is under threat.”

Sinuba Solomon, Oakland artist

“We’re past the raw impact of the [Ghost Ship] fire. It was immediate, it was visceral. … But now we’ve moved into committees and proposals and policies and rules, and so now it’s about enacting change based on what is the way forward, as opposed to the urgency of the response.”

Ron Vidal, Oakland artist and firefighter

“Regardless of how aggressive the city is, we have some very reactionary landlords who go after the tenants in no uncertain terms. So we’ve had this wave of evictions. … The Oakland warehouse scene is dying.”

Jonah Strauss, Oakland Warehouse Coalition

On safety issues:

“If you don’t have a safe place to be in, you can’t function as an artist. … I mean safety from eviction, safety from fire, safety from crime, and economic exploitation, and long-term affordable work-live.”

Thomas Dolan, Oakland architect and artist

“There’s this issue of life safety people keep talking about. It’s like, of course we want to be safe, but there’s this other form of safety that’s just being able to exist as yourself, completely free. Representing your gender, representing your race, representing your history.”

Sinuba Solomon, Oakland artist

Lastly, an eloquent and simple summary for a complex problem, from the author of the Otis Report’s addendum on the artist housing crisis, Artspace’s Teri Deaver:

California’s creative economy is booming (and it’s our duty to help it stay that way)

In case you missed it: Some big deal data was dropped this morning.

For the last four years, the California Arts Council has supported the generation of a report, developed by Otis College of Art and Design and its research partner, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. The Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California takes a deep dive into California’s creative industries; more specifically, into their impact on our state’s economy.

Artists are often an overlooked contributor to our state’s GDP. But it’s no coincidence that California leads the nation in creative jobs and stands alone as the sixth largest global economy in the world. And this year’s figures back up that relationship, putting the money where our muse is.

A snapshot of some relevant findings:

  • California’s creative economy generated 747,600 direct jobs, nearly 270,000 more than the second ranking U.S. state for creative occupations, New York.
  • From 2010 to 2015, direct wage and salary employment in California’s creative industries increased by 88,600 jobs to 747,600, an increase of 13.5 percent.
  • Creative occupations often require high levels of education or skills training, with close to 50 percent of those examined requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Property taxes, state and local personal income taxes, and sales taxes directly and indirectly generated by the creative industries totaled $16.7 billion across all of California.
  • The total income reported by arts-related nonprofits in California was $7.8 billion.

So, what do all these numbers mean? It means the arts matter—for wealth as much as health. It means California is awesome—skilled, diverse, imaginative, altogether unique. It means that creativity is an enterprise in and of itself, woven into the fabric of doing business in our state, not as an accent for an already flourishing economy.

It also means that in order to maintain our position as the nation’s nerve center for creativity, we need to invest in our artists that give our state its identity. With rising real-estate costs, an artist’s ability to secure an affordable, appropriate and safe place to live or work presents an enormous challenge. The Ghost Ship fire in Oakland was a harrowing reminder of the reality facing California’s artists, often sacrificing safety for the sake of their work.

This year’s report features an addendum tackling the issue of artist housing, offering solutions for the future. It’s our duty to support the workforce that supports us, and keep the welcome mat out for the creatives to come.

Check out the full report, including the addendum, at www.otis.edu/otisreport.

California Arts Council tours Chicano Park

Underneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge lives an amazing display of color and culture.

After our public meeting in San Diego on Tuesday, Arts Council members and staff took some time to explore a highlight of the city’s vibrant arts and culture scene—Chicano Park. Steering committee members Tommie Camarillo, Victor Ochoa, and Josie Talamantez, along with park artists Mario Chacon and Irma Patricia Aguayo, served as our gracious tour guides.

Chicano Park stands as a cultural and political stronghold for San Diego’s Chicano community. In 1970, as neighborhood gathering spaces were being lost to rigorous development, residents of Barrio Logan held their ground, staging an occupation of the area for 12 days before city officials conceded. Just three years later, a large-scale art project was organized, paving the way for what is now the largest collection of outdoor murals in the world. The vivid hues and evocative images range in size and subject, but all share a story of human experience—and empowerment.

It’s been a national symbol for Latino activism nearing 50 years, but the 7.4-acre park earned its rightful place as a National Historic Landmark just this year. And with fewer than 200 of the 2,500 registered landmarks tied to minority ethnic groups, we were honored to offer our full support for the national designation.

To have such a knowledgeable group share this rich cultural icon with us was a real treat!

As an added bonus, we were delighted to be there as our partners at the Latino Arts Network of California presented Josie Talamantez with her Maestro Award, recognizing her commitment to work in the community. Among many other accolades, Josie is the founder and chair of the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center, a member of the Royal Chicano Air Force, and—we’re proud to say—a former CAC staffer for more than 20 years. Congratulations, Josie!

ChicanoParkTour_6
A beautiful day at Chicano Park!

A year in the life of an Arts Council grant

We know the grant process can sometimes feel … a little long. There’s somewhere close to six months’ time between application availability and approvals, with a whole lot happening before, after and in between.

Whether you’re new to California Arts Council grants or you’ve been here before, join us on a journey through the seasons to demystify the grant process, phase by phase.

Phase 1. A grant (program) is born. It’s late summer: The California sun is shining, the air is warm, and your grant is, more or less, still a twinkle in the eyes of the Arts Council. The state budget for the fiscal year has just been finalized, and our Council members and CAC staff are taking a long look at last year’s program priorities, making improvements upon existing programs—or establishing new ones, if funds allow. As the leaves start to turn, the Council and staff spend the next couple months developing and updating everything you’ll need to succeed during the application process.

Phase 2. There’s an app for that. This is the part where you—the applicant—come in! Once everything is in order—nearing the end of the calendar year—the grant programs are announced. Guidelines and applications are posted to our website, along with deadlines and other useful documents and significant dates. You are now free to start putting together your primo application package, with approximately 6-10 weeks to get it done.

This is also the time when we provide extensive technical assistance to applicants. Our knowledgeable programs staff host webinars, post FAQs, respond to your emails and answer your calls pertaining to the application process. We really, really urge you to take advantage of these opportunities for guidance—especially first-timers—we can’t stress enough the value this can have in helping you to get answers to any questions you may have in order to create a complete and effective application.

Phase 3. Crunch time. Around early spring comes the final scramble before deadlines. Ask any final questions you may have of our staff, and be sure you have all the required components of your application accounted for.

And while you’re all tenaciously assembling your apps, we are (also rather tenaciously) recruiting panels of experts to guide the review process—bringing us to Phase 4.

Phase 4. Read, rank, recommend. Things get pretty quiet on your end around this point, wondering and waiting—but there’s a lot going on over here. The rest of the spring belongs to our peer review panels. Groups of three to five panelists, experts in their respective fields, meticulously pore over each grant candidate’s application, scoring them based upon our ranking guides. Once that’s done, it’s time for some serious math. A Council committee and staff analyze in depth how to distribute funds equitably, taking into consideration the funds available, the number of applications, and their ranks. Their recommendations are submitted to the Council, who vote on the final grant awards.

This is actually the phase we’re in right now, with applicants for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The Council will be reviewing the panel’s recommendations during their upcoming public meetings on May 9 and June 7.

Phase 5. Funds in the sun. It’s summer—again! The sun is shining, the air is warm, and your grant has been approved! You’ve received a letter notifying you of the award, and sign your grant agreement. Keep in mind that based on ranking, most grantees receive only a percentage of funds requested, and you must still be fully able to commit to your proposed project given that amount.

Congratulations! It’s finally time to put that hard-earned money to good use, enriching the lives of Californians by connecting them with the arts and cultural experiences.

And if this wasn’t your year, don’t be discouraged! There’s still good news for your organization. All applicants receive detailed notes on the panel’s analysis of their application—so even if you didn’t get the grant, you do get valuable input from our expert panelists to help you learn from the experience and better your chances for next year.

Note: This specific timeline applies to most but not all CAC grants. All follow this process, but deadlines may vary for some programs.

Levi Lowe represents California at NEA Poetry Out Loud Semifinals

High school senior Levi Lowe approached the microphone. Standing tall under bright lights, in a low and steady tone, he began:

I am wondering what became of all those tall abstractions
that used to pose, robed and statuesque, in paintings
and parade about on the pages of the Renaissance
displaying their capital letters like license plates.

The 17-year-old made Sonora High School and California proud last night, performing on the national stage of the Poetry Out Loud competition for a second time (his first was in 2015). The National Endowment for the Arts program inspires students’ interest in poetry while increasing self-confidence and developing public speaking skills.

At this year’s semifinals, held at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Levi recited “The Death of Allegory” by Billy Collins and “Chorus Sacerdotum” by Baron Brooke Fulke Greville. With conscious gestures and telling looks, he conveyed his authors’ meanings through action as well as words.

Though he won’t be moving on to the finals this evening, it was no easy feat to have made it this far. To earn his place in the national contest, Levi first had to beat out more than 35,000 of his fellow students here in California, the biggest state poetry competition of its kind nationwide.

“To win—not once but twice—with such a large number of students in such a highly competitive event is a testament to Levi’s talents for spoken word. His delivery is captivating and we are proud to have been represented by him,” said Ayanna Kiburi, Interim Director of the California Arts Council.

Well done, Levi!