Talk about an “inaugural” visiting artist. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s soon-to-open School of the Arts just landed its first visiting artist, poet Richard Blanco, who read his poem “One Today” at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Additionally, Blanco will also serve as a mentor for SPAC’s 2022 Festival of Young Artists.
Blanco, a Cuban-American, is known for exploring his cultural identity through his work, which is shaped by experiences, memories and complex stories. Besides being President Obama’s second inaugural poet, Blanco was also the first education ambassador for the Academy of American Poets. Blanco will collaborate with faculty at the School of the Arts, injecting poetry into the school’s multi-genre curriculum, which aims to provide access to under-represented art forms, as well as deepen the students’ connections to one another and to the world around them.
“Richard Blanco is one of the most deeply affecting, insightful poets today and we are delighted to bring him to Saratoga as our first visiting artist,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of SPAC. “Guiding an exploration of the larger questions of ‘where do I belong’ and ‘what is home,’ he will help us examine deeper issues that spark conversation and understanding on cultural identity and diversity—teaching our aspiring poets how to connect to the heart of human experience.” Sobol added: “Over the past several years, we have expanded SPAC’s mission to incorporate literary arts into our programming. Richard will bring poetry to our school curriculum, naturally infusing elements of music, dance and theatre into its teaching.”
A vibrant, multidimensional speaker, Blanco combines the power of his poems and stories with his wit and wisdom to excite students about poetry and their shared humanity. Using his poems “Declaration of Inter-dependence” and “Looking for the Gulf Motel” as inspiration for the winter 2022 semester theme, Blanco will lead workshops, mentoring and guiding students to create a collaborative “Where we’re from” poem about their own cultures, communities and experiences. Students will engage their creativity, learning to become better writers and readers of poetry, while also discovering its life-affirming power, especially with respect to matters of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality.
In his added role as a literary arts mentor for the 2022 Festival of Young Artists, Blanco will select the poetry submissions to be featured in the festival. He will also mentor and help develop the crafts of three poetry finalists who will be chosen to recite their work on SPAC’s amphitheater stage alongside the inaugural poet.
“As an immigrant child from a working-class family, I had very little access to the arts while I was growing up,” says Blanco. “As such, I am a champion of arts education and have found a perfect fit with SPAC’s School of the Arts. They believe—as I do—that the arts should not be a luxury, but rather, a necessary part of learning. I’m honored and thrilled to be part of the school’s programming, helping students to explore their creativity as they learn new and vital ways of thinking and feeling about themselves, their communities and the world at large. The School of the Arts serves as the proverbial campfire around which students can gather to explore their stories, assert their humanity and understand our interdependence through art.”
To celebrate his new role and to commemorate the opening of SPAC’s School of the Arts, Blanco will recite his poems “Declaration of Inter-dependence” and “Looking for the Gulf Motel” at the school on September 18 at 10am. Following his poetry readings, families with children ages 4-18 are invited to participate in classes in music (ages 4-6), dance (ages 7-12), and theater (ages 13-18) in addition to meeting the faculty and enjoying refreshments. The event will be held outside in the school courtyard or inside the Lewis A. Swyer Studios in the case of inclement weather. The community is encouraged and invited to attend. Advance registration is required as space is limited; visit the school’s website here to reserve a spot.
SPAC’s School of the Arts is a multidisciplinary school dedicated to dance, music and theater, with additional offerings in literary arts, visual arts and media arts.