Tamara Kaplan has been a part of New Urban Arts’ staff since 2000 serving in a number of roles beginning as our first program director. Tamara ultimately transitioned into administration and has been our Finance and Operations Manager since 2005. Tamara will always be a cherished member of our community, and we are so excited for her next adventure in life.
Before she leaves, Tamara wants to share this message with all of you in our community:
As I reflect on my past two decades at New Urban Arts, I am both humbled and excited by the path we have taken to get to where we are today. New Urban Arts has also pushed the preconceived notions and limitations I had put on myself, allowing me to become a more confident person. For me, it all started in August of 2000, when I showed up for my Program Director interview. This was the first time in my semi-professional life that I was interviewed by a high school student. I saw what I wanted in a work place; an environment that celebrated youth voice and a place where young people were seen as people.
I sometimes think of my experience as a 19-year parenting class I happen to be graduating from just as my own kids are becoming the same age as New Urban Arts’ students. I think of this space as a gift to teenagers and the adults who work here—a safe space to be who you are at this moment in time, and a space where you are encouraged to figure out who you dream to be. When we work as a group across ages and cultures to create spaces together that support young people, we can be real and thoughtful about how we want to live as humans in the world.
One day, I was expressing my frustration about not having the mental space to make art in my studio. A student stopped me mid-sentence and said that I was helping create a space for others to make art, and that is a creative practice in itself. I never saw my work that way until that day. She gave me the words to see my world as a creative practice from raising my kids, to making dinner, to sitting at my computer deep in numbers. Sometimes it is hard to see the bigger picture, but young people at New Urban Arts make me see the bigger picture as a puzzle that—when put together—makes sense.
As the Finance and Operations manager at New Urban Arts, I have live in number. This is ironic because, when I started in 2000 as the Program Director, I wanted nothing to do with money. However, when I transitioned from programming to administration, I had to learn non-profit management, financial reporting, and operations. New Urban Arts put their trust in me to learn, and in return I devoured all I could to do my job well. It scared me until I started seeing the numbers tell a story—a story of growth, thoughtfulness, history, and sustainability. The numbers became my new tools in the creative practice of making space for young people to make art.
Over the years, together, we have grown this organization from 40 young people in 2000 to over 700 in 2019. When you walk in, you still feel the same sense of vibrancy and love—it’s like a big hug. Sometimes things are really hard, but because we respect each other and trust the process, we come to a place that is more interesting than we ever imagined. This is what strong relationships look like.
We ask our students to come the way they are, to explore various media, and be open to being asked what they want rather than being told what they want. This idea is uncomfortable for some since, for many students, all they know is learning from institutions where teachers alone set the agenda. At New Urban Arts, we are all learning. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is messy. I have found that if I live in the messy it becomes beautiful and easier the next time.
As I move into my next adventure, I take with me the importance of:
- Showing up and being present in every part of my life.
- Stepping up when I need to lead and stepping back when others need to step forward.
- Multiple voices—the process may take longer, but the outcomes are more interesting.
- Listening instead of talking when people need to be heard.
- Making mistakes. Living in the uncomfortable is more powerful than taking the easy path.
- Young people being strong voices in the world. The fact is that adults need to listen to them.
- Working professionally with former students. They push me to be a better educator, person, colleague, artist, and youth worker.
- Creating safe spaces for young people to be creative and be to themselves.
- Recognizing the creativity within anything I choose to practice
- This list not being finished nor will it ever be.
Thank you New Urban Arts for the love and support all these years. I look forward to watching your future and can’t wait to see where we go.
NUA staff 2000-2019