Art and democracy inspire new Intermedia Arts leader

 

Eyenga Bokamba
Eyenga Bokamba

Arts scenes often are p.c. cliques thriving on funding dollars in the guise of cultural integrity. Intermedia Arts (IA) naming Eyenga Bokamba executive director perceptibly goes against this grain with someone demonstrably committed to connecting with the community.

Bokamba’s track record indicates this is no cosmetic quick fix, marking a professional who bridges the chasm between society’s sidelines and the mainstream, a leader capable of creating change in which one actually can take stock. The past two years she helmed St. Paul’s nationally renowned Sprockets. It’s a collaboration of community organizations, the city and its public schools, networking after-school and summer programs, empowering youngsters to realize their full capabilities.

Of the transition from Sprockets, Bokamba told the MSR, “There’s a connection, the opportunity for people to participate in the community. One is for youth, the other is for [those of] all ages.” She stated in an IA press release, “I have long respected the inclusive, ambitious and vital work of Intermedia Arts.”

Before Sprockets, Bokamba was youth programs manager at arts-integrated social service agency Pillsbury House, where she advanced the social, emotional and cognitive growth of kindergarteners through eighth graders. She was a Minnesota’s Youth Engaged in Service Ambassador for the Points of Light Foundation in Washington, D.C. and the National Youth Leadership Council in Minnesota, during which time she co-authored the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993.

This is the legislation from which AmeriCorps was birthed. AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the nation.

There is also that fact that, as Bokamba relates, “A number of people in the community had forwarded my name” to Liefblad and Balinger, the search firm that recruited her for Intermedia Arts.

In recent seasons, IA has showcased powerfully cutting-edge work of artists of color, particularly actor and spoken word performance legend cum playwright Sha Cage. Asked about the significance of IA sustaining such a breakthrough, Bokamba answers, “When talking about [achieving] justice, Intermedia Arts has always [done that]. So, as I feel we’re gonna continue that good work, to create opportunities for artists of all backgrounds and making sure the audiences are there to hear these artists’ voices.”

Cage comments, “Eyenga has a rare combination of administrative and artistic skills with a demonstrated past of successful executive leadership and youth work. Like many others, I’m excited to have her lead Intermedia Arts, bringing her background as a practicing artist to the table.”

Speaking of which, as the press releases notes, “Bokamba is a 2006 recipient of a Bush Leadership Fellowship and is a practicing visual artist who is most drawn to abstraction as a means of expressing her perceptions of complex realities. Bokamba was inducted into the National Association of Women Artists in 2011.” She is a performing artist as well.

The release quotes her, “This position offers a rare opportunity to work in an integrated capacity as a leader and an artist, melding my two great passions: art and democratic participation.”

Bokamba adds, speaking the MSR, “I’m hoping my team will be open to expanding opportunities for visual artists.” Will IA also improve on its offering of stage plays?

“Absolutely. You want to give people the chance to explore different genres. Let’s say you’re a first-time playwright and you want a safe place to put your [manuscript] out there and get valuable feedback. Intermedia Arts has been doing that, and the good news is it’s gonna continue.”

Quite sensibly, she is not taking the there’s-a-new-sheriff approach but, instead, wants to meld with what’s already in place at the organization even as she makes her mark. “An effective leader [will] listen, first off, elevate the good things that are going on, work on the things that are not going so well.

“I would say the piece I bring is to have the different [programs and initiatives] communicate with each other. That’s the kind of leadership I hope to bring, integrating things together.”

 

By Dwight Hobbes, who welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.