By Erica Boniface, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
It’s always so fascinating to catch up and reminisce with Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Livingston Fellows. Not just to hear what they have to say about the Fellowship program, but to also listen to their stories.
Livingston Fellows never cease to tell amazing stories. They’ve traveled the world. Have created (and fostered the creation of) impactful works of art. Have passions for life that is hard to explain. They’re captivating leaders in Colorado, each doing important work within their organizations and communities. The journeys they take in the course of their Fellowship can involve internal self-discovery, honing leadership capacity and building skills through training, and exploration of other cultures and communities. They continually challenge themselves to be powerful agents of change.
Rachel Basye, Livingston Fellow Class of 2015, was open to learning and growing in her position as Executive Director of Arts Students League of Denver. She wanted to take the unique opportunity provided by the Fellowship and use it to benefit herself, her colleagues – and her community.
We wanted to catch up with Rachel to see what she’s accomplished within the Livingston Fellowship program. And she ended up telling us about a wonderful road trip to Marfa, Texas – and the journey and life lessons she learned along the way.
BSF: In 2012, you became the Executive Director of Arts Students League of Denver. Tell us more about what you did prior and how you stepped into that role at ASLD.
RB: I had worked at the Colorado Housing and Authority for a long time. I had a lot of experience with nonprofit management. And I was also doing my own artwork on the side, part of a co-op gallery. I had been on the board of the Arts Students League of Denver at one point. So, when the former Executive Director left the organization, the board president contacted me to be on the hiring committee for the position.
That was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me. Fast-forward, I threw my name in the ring for the position and was hired.
BSF: Obviously, you have a passion for Arts Students League of Denver – what drew you to the organization?
RB: I do have a huge passion for it. The organization has been around for over 30 years and it’s basically a community of professional artists that teach courses in all types of visual arts media to students of all ages and abilities. Our students range from 6 years old to over 90 years old. And the courses cover all types of media – from photography, painting, sculpture, fiber arts studio, jewelry – you name it. It’s not about getting a degree or earning an ‘A’. It’s about learning something you’re interested in and having Arts Students League of Denver get you to your artistic goals.
BSF: If someone says – I want to do mosaics – they can go to the website and find a course? How does that work?
RB: That’s how it works. Let’s say that you’ve always wanted to learn how to throw a pot on the wheel. Today is the day I’m going to do it.
BSF: Is there a success story of a student that has always stuck with you?
RB: I have a lot.
But one success story is about Taiko Chandler, who originally is from Japan and her husband is British. They moved to Colorado maybe five years ago. She had been doing some art on her own but was looking for a place to take more serious art courses. Somebody told her about us and she’s been really active in our Printmaking Studio. Now she’s being shown all over the city. She has a show right now at the Denver Center for Performing Arts. Her career is just taking off. And she still does all of her printmaking here in our studio.
One of the programs we’re most proud of, is our teen program. The Friday night teen drop-in studio has really grown. The instructor, Karl Poulson, was a student here as a child and went to Chicago Art Institute and came back to Denver. He’s doing his own paintings now and connects with the students in the program because he was an art kid as well.
BSF: What about your job motivates you to get up each day?
RB: It’s all about working with community and connecting with people. Not only stories about what happens within Arts Students League, but also what we do outside of the organization that excites me. I am energized by the level of interest in the arts and culture sector right now in the Metro Denver area. We have a collaboration with Westwood, we’re doing bilingual arts courses for both kids and residents of an art community.
BSF: You’re a 2015 Livingston Fellow. What has been the most profound experience to date since you began the Fellowship program?
RB: I am so thankful to the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation for the Livingston Fellowship opportunity. Everything I have done has been pretty amazing. Not only the experiences on my plan, but the connections through my cohort of 2015 Fellows and the whole Fellowship program. In some ways I feel like that has been as powerful as any of the other things.
I should share I’m not done yet.
One of the things that I was did was a road trip to Marfa, Texas – it’s a little art town in the middle of Texas – and you can’t fly to it. The easiest way is to fly to El Paso and drive three hours. It became an art community because of the sculptor Donald Judd for his work in the 60s and 70s. I really wanted to go there as part of my Livingston Fellowship experience. As it turned out, my dad also followed Donald Judd’s career in the 1970s and wanted to take the trip with me (even though it wasn’t covered as part of my Fellowship). Not only did the trip grow my leadership, but it was a wonderful opportunity to really bond with my dad.
My biggest takeaway from the trip: I’m very much a planner, so I wanted to create an opportunity to be less planned and let it unfold. So, I really let things just go and was spontaneous – and I appreciated how meaningful that can be. I realized that it is important to recognize that we make assumptions that we may not be aware of – I mean, I made assumptions about how the trip would go. About Donald Judd. And so many of those assumptions were wrong – they didn’t even happen.
BSF: So overall did that trip and letting go, in turn, help you with your leadership skills when you returned home?
RB: Yes. It did. Because I have learned that sometimes things will just come and you need to be ready to live in the moment and not plan for everything. Sometimes you can get more out of a moment if you’re living in the moment and not planning for what comes next.
BSF: Is there a motivational quote you live by?
RB: I have two – one I have on a sticker in my office. Actually, I have both of them in my office. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and, “Don’t believe everything you think.”