I am an Artist and… an Interview with Karesia Batan, dancer

This interview originally appeared on Huffington Post.


If I ask you what kind of person comes to a place, identifies a market and creates a product to fill it, what would you say?

Business person, entrepreneur…


Artists work in ways that blur these lines when their work provides new ways to generate income, validation and connections to the community.

The moment Karesia Batan pointed her toe at Queens, she looked for other dancers. Where were they rehearsing, making work, hanging out? The challenge of finding a community of dancers in the place she now calls home led Karesia, Choreographer/Producer, The Physical Plant and Director, Queensboro Dance Festival to create the Queensboro Dance Festival.

Who are you? How do you self identify?

I am a dancer, choreographer, and producer. I consciously make sure I identify as a dancer first and foremost, to remind myself to keep my artistic practice a priority throughout all my administrative duties.

It’s definitely a constant effort to maintain a happy balance between my artist side and administrator side. I often try to find ways for the two sides to support one another directly— for example, while I am founder/producer of the Queensboro Dance Festival, which presents only Queens-based choreographers, I also choreograph and perform to be a part of that community as a Queens-based dancer myself. I think of the other choreographers’ festival experience first, to make sure their needs are being met and the festival makes a difference in their artistic endeavors and career building. I also want to make sure the festival is serving the public audience. So once the season’s programming is in place, I try to participate as an artist as well. It actually also informs me of what the festival is like on the performer’s end, so I can make improvements to the program for the following year.

“Karesia, you are an entrepreneur, an artist entrepreneur.” I said, because as a funder, I am always delighted to support something that an artist creates that are born of generosity and brings transformation.

Howard Stevenson’s definition of entrepreneurship as work that pioneers a truly innovative product, devises a new business model, creates a better or cheaper version of an existing product or targets an existing product to a new set of customers.

(Howard Stevenson is known as the godfather of entrepreneurial studies. Thomas Eisenmann, “Entrepreneurship: A Working Definition,” Harvard Business Review, January 2013.)

Tell me, what are the benefits/ challenges of being both an artist and an administrator?

It is a daily, conscious effort to make time and mental space for both sides. I knew the festival would be a lot of work and I could easily be overwhelmed. What pulls me back to center is when I start saying No to what I love. For example, I was recently asked to be part of a festival in Martha’s Vineyard. I already had an idea for it and the person I wanted to collaborate with wanted to do it. It was therapeutic, ripping ourselves away from the computer to our practice, to congratulate each other for being in the studio, to look at each other and say,”Yay! Let’s go make stuff. How are we even doing this?” We made time to make a piece. You have to fight for what you want. We need to constantly stimulate our creative side.

Being able to see both sides, to have a 360 degree view, to be transparent about how both sides work together is a benefit. To sit on both sides of the mirror and see how to optimize both sides especially working on a festival where I can serve the community and participate as an artists. It creates a platform to share work. This is a benefit that is satisfying and challenging.

For me, the community comes first. There are 2: the community of artists and choreographers and the community that is the local public and the art appreciators. Theirs is the greater need and it comes first.

My organizational, multi-tasking, and time management skills have to consistently be on point, to make sure I am upholding all my duties as an arts administrator while making time for myself to still take dance class, and get in the studio to create. A main challenge is to make sure administration doesn’t take over my schedule, as it’s very easy to get bogged down with tasks and computer work. Taking time for dancing and creating cannot feel like a task the way sending e-mails or writing grants does. It’s two different energies. I have to be committed to both sides and be able to switch modes. The benefit of being both is that I can find creative ways for my various skill sets and networks to keep advancing my dance and performance career, while still serving my Queens community. Feeling happy and fulfilled is an important gauge in everything I do.

What are you working on now?

Of course I am working on several things as both an artist and administrator, ha! Right now I am collaborating with a fellow Queens-based Filipino dancer to create a modern take of Filipino folk dance storytelling, which we will show in this year’s Queensboro Dance Festival in October (which I also produce). I am also working within my neighborhood to help curate outdoor public dance programming for several existing land/space use projects for artists, with the goal to better engage the local residents with art. As a dancer, I’ll be collaborating with a local visual artist this season as well in a live performance project, which could potentially be part of the outdoor public dance programming I’m working on.

Where can people follow your work?

My personal website is www.karesia.com, and the festival websitewww.queensborodancefestival.com. Here’s a preview video of the festival. I’m also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

What advice do you have for people who make art and/or make art happen?

Be clear with yourself on the purpose and meaning of what you do. As an artist, personal meaning and purpose is important, and we can choose how we want to communicate or share this with an audience; we can choose how we want to be understood. As a producer or administrator, it’s always helped me to focus on what the mission is. It keeps the trajectory of growth clear; it guides how the program should develop and expand. Make sure it is fulfilling a public (audience or artist) need that is currently not being met.

And believe in everything you do!

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Hoong Yee


About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

Make Art or Make It Happen: The Rise of the Artist Administrator – an interview with Kendal Henry


Kendal Henry

Have you ever found yourself waiting on line to get a book signed by an author you love and wondering to yourself, “How did she create her book, her career and make a life doing all of that?”

I think about that all the time.

When I talk to artists about what their biggest dream is and what their biggest challenges are, this is what I hear:

“I want to make a life that I love around making art.”

“I don’t know how.”

This is not good. For the artist or for all of us in the world who need artists.


The path I followed, which I do not recommend to anyone without a trust fund, led me through a master’s program in piano performance from which I emerged with a framed diploma and 32 Beethoven Sonatas committed to memory.

As an artist, I struggled to make a life as a musician.

As a grantmaker, grant reviewer and employer, I cannot remember a single time when a person’s education degrees influenced my decision.

The other path I followed I do recommend:

Unleash your inner artist administrator – Tweet that!

I am the Executive Director of the Queens Council on the Arts. It dawned on me that I was more than that a few years ago when I was unexpectedly asked by Marion Godfrey, from the Pew Charitable Trust to play a Willie Nelson song. “Could you play ‘Crazy’? Bob isn’t around and I need a pianist.”

Her request may sound like not such a big deal, especially for someone who has been playing the piano all her life, but it was. And it made me mad that I had let my practice lapse to the point where I really wasn’t confident at all about saying, “Sure, I’d love to!” Especially in a room where everyone was an arts administrator looking forward to relaxing after a full day of conference sessions. Everyone except Bob, the Executive Director of Americans for the Arts who, I discovered later, plays in a garage band. Yet, they were playing, singing and letting their musician flag fly. And afterwards, many of them told me that they considered themselves artists first. The path they chose as administrators in arts organizations was intentional: a way to support their art making and as a way to make art happen.

I had an opportunity to talk about being an artist administrator with Kendal Henry, an artist and curator who is currently the Director of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art Program and adjunct professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.

As an artist, he has worked public art for over 25 years, creating art as a tool for social engagement, civic pride and economic development.

“I am an artist.”
“My discipline is collaboration and my intent is to show people how to work together.”

For Kendal, the art he makes is an experience. “The art itself is an artifact, the result of the experience.”

Kendal believes that the most successful public artworks start with the question, “What is the artwork to achieve?” and takes into account the audience and surrounding environment in the creation of that artwork.

He begins his process with a conversation among everyone who is a partner or collaborator. This includes the artists, people from the community, the municipality or council, other organizations. The question that he poses is “What do you want to do?”

Wearing both his artist and administrator hats, his process is to go into new communities to get a sense of how they define themselves, what are people thinking, what is the energy on the street like.

In a temporary art project he completed in Vladivostok, Russia, he gathered people to have conversations about what was important to them.  There was great frustration around the development and construction going on in the city and the people said, “Give back our sky.”

Working with the community and materials that were easily accessible and plentiful, Kendal created hammocks for people to relax in and look up at the sky.

“Community building is the art.”

His approach is always that of a visitor, or an invited guest. As an artist or as a facilitator, his ability to listen and to understand what people are saying is crucial. “To listen for what is not being said is also very important.” These skills are what create true impact whether you are in the role as an artist or an administrator. “I apply my artist skills in my work as an administrator.”

“I like to create art festivals.” Festivals give Kendal a chance to collaborate with artists. For example, he was invited to be an artist-in-residence in in a town near Melbourne, Australia where he created a festival. The role of the festival was to introduce a community to public art and launch a public art program. 17 artists participated, each receiving a $1,000 fee and materials. True to his process, the festival began with conversations where the collaborators talked about their desire for a public art program, their frustration in reaching local artists, problems plaguing their community such as drugs, police brutality, homelessness. The festival became a platform where many of these conversation points could become visible.

“The act of organizing the festival was the art.”

At one point in the process, some of the artists wanted to create pieces around these issues that were potentially offensive. Moving seamlessly from artist to administrator, Kendal suggested ways to engage people who were not happy with the art and address their concerns with short and long term solutions. A better way to describe his role is “catalyst”. As a catalyst, his art is to get people to talk to each other.

“Coming from St. Lucia to New York at the age of 14 gave me the perspective of an outsider. Knowing other cultures make you a better person. I work in many third world countries and industrial places and the work always comes back to the most important things – what is is to be alive, being safe, being loved. I am humbled every time I am in a place where things we take for granted here do not exist. This becomes part of my approach – to build collective knowledge that allows people to do something about this with an art practice, using what you already have.”

“I don’t separate my artist skills from my administrator skills. It was a ‘Eureka!’ moment for me when I realized that I didn’t have to.”

“At my day job at DCLA, I work with artist/finalists who are about halfway through a 6 week process to create a proposal. I like to learn about the artist. To encourage them to create a proposal that relates to their body of work. Very often, once an artist is told they are getting $100,000 to create something, they go into shock and try to make something to please other people. I am there to tell them what we want is the ‘authentic you’. Here my role changes: I am acting in the role of an administrator with the sensibility of an artist.”

This, in a nutshell, is how I summed up the artist administrator ratio for Kendal:

Administrative skills is knowledge to get art stuff done – Tweet that!

As an artist, 80% is art, 20% is administrative.
As an administrator, 80% is administrative, 20% is art


“My next project is the the Art Prospect Public Art Festival in St. Petersburg. I was invited as an administrator and became an artist. Contemporary public art is new in Russia. The idea of 50 artists taking over a community is unheard of. This year’s theme is “Dialogue”. We will connect with other groups such as consulates to bring artists from all over the world. There is a 10 day artmaking process and the festival itself takes place over a weekend.”


“It was becoming all about me. The guy who just got here, the guy from New York. I’m more of a behind the scenes person. I wanted everybody to stop promoting me.”

For those of you who are curious, here are 2 examples of Kendal’s recent work:


Global Art Lab Workshop



The Papua New Guinea Arts Incubator


“I have a young person working for me who has interests in lots of different areas. I told him that if he can’t find a job that he likes, make it up. There is a lot of theory out there. I get impatient with all that speculation and what ifs. Just do it and see what happens.


image by Hugh McLeod

Write your own name tag, your own story, your own narrative before someone else does it for you.

I am working on creating new names for myself with one of my artist friends. What I came up with is, ‘cultural engineer’.
What do you think?”

For me, the name I like for myself is “keyboard strategist”. That covers everything I do from playing late night jam sessions to writing. Stay tuned.

Can you see yourself as a cultural engineer or another new name that best describes you?

Think about all facets of what you do to make your art happen. When you look at yourself as an artist, what you may see is an administrator.

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Hoong Yee


About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.