A Life of Service,
and the Art of Empathy
by: Samantha Rojas
In the game of life, how does anyone get anywhere? Some make specific plans and follow through. A few more never make specific plans and just go with the flow. The rest might make plans and dreams but don’t follow them; life gets in the way.
Sometimes, those with no plans end up in great places. Such might be the case with the Broward Cultural Division’s Grants Management Specialist Adriane Clarke, who didn’t plan for that. Why? Because she was supposed to be writing for Essence Magazine in New York right about now!
However, she owns a self-described superpower in empathy that always seems to get in the way. As you see her world unfold, Adriane Clarke has been drawn to service from the get go, in spite of her dreams of being a writer. She has been pulled, instead, into life of community service and family life. Superpower empathy makes sense. But you decide.
Speaking of communications and feature writing and news reporting, for which she went to university, she says, “It’s hard work. It’s not as easy as people think. And that’s not really what I minded, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around how you get into this industry. In most arts-related programs they teach you technique…the craft…and you have no idea about how to get to the place where you really want to be with it, unless you have a connection.”
The writing world called her even before graduation, when she read an original poem at a luncheon at FAU during a visit by Essence Magazine’s editor-in-chief (at the time), Susan L. Taylor. At the end of the readings, Taylor approached her with business card in hand. “You need to be in the intern program at Essence Magazine in New York,” she said to her. And right there was the answer to, “how you might get to the place where you really want to be.”
Clarke didn’t call; she still has the card. Self-doubt overwhelmed her.
Adriane, not Grace.
What didn’t overwhelm her was a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program at the Urban League of Broward County. Fresh out of Florida Atlantic University with a BA in communications, Clarke facilitated the ARTS (Arithmetic, Reading, Technology and Science) program, from which we get an early preview of how grants administration and community service began shadowing Clarke. Through this grant-funded youth development program, the participants (young girls) had to accomplish things: “If their grades were low, we had to put a plan in place to bring them up; if they were having trouble at home, we went to the home and mediated discussions with the parents and kids; if they were not showing up to school, we had to intervene,” recounts Clarke. Pretty hard core stuff for a fresh university graduate in communications, don’t you think?
And yet, it seems to be where her natural inclination lies. “What I liked about it, is that I knew that I could do this.” She wasn’t ready to go to Essence Magazine, but she was ready for this. “I did have nerves but it went away over time, because the needs were high; the kids were hungry for it. The children who wanted to stay, stayed; and you bond with them. Ultimately, the kids don’t come for the program; they come for the person facilitating the program.” They came for Clarke.
And they come for Clarke at the Cultural Division, too; the artists do.
Upon being hired, Adriane Clarke knew that she was now the grants specialist, she knew she wanted to be in the Broward County Main Library (she loved the building) and she knew she wanted to be involved in the arts. While she was at the Urban League, she experienced the other side of grants administration writing and applying for grants and implementing programs. Now, she was wearing the hats in the approval and evaluation processes. “My approach to this job is that art is about people, period. It’s about a person facilitating an experience and it’s about the end result,” says Clarke. “When I talk to you about your art, I want to know why you are doing what you are doing, how is this experience going to help you to get to the next level of where you want to be? And what kind of experience are you trying to create for the public?”
Meet the family.
She has taken this position way beyond grant applications and approvals and we are back to nurturing, empathy, the social side of business, the human side of her heart. Sometimes, though, Clarke says she feels like a hypocrite. She feels as though she is coaching artists into following their dream, and they ARE doing it. And yet, she is not following hers. Or is she?
“I find that my goals are now mixed up with the goals of the Division, trying to establish a sense of place, access to the arts, making programming available to the public; trying to create a sense of community with artists here in Broward.” Clarke wants to know, “does the grant program accomplish this? And then, did the artist really grow through implementation of their program?” These are the things that intrigue this mother of three.
“One of the things that I always wish for the Cultural Division is to stop getting that comment, ‘I didn’t even know the Cultural Division existed.’ I want everyone to know we exist,” she says. Clarke wants to reach out MORE to everyone, even those who are not in the arts community, whether it be students, people who hate the arts, people who don’t know that they love the arts. She mentions the Cultural Division’s programs such as Friends of Public Art, which offers random pop up activities, such as flash mobs; and Creative Artist Advancement Program and the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute – as some of the more engaging opportunities for the broader community.
“Through these programs,” she says, “we meet with people who may not self-identify as artists, yet are in creative jobs, whom we never knew existed; and they never knew about us.” And more times than not, she finds that when she sees what these people are producing artistically, she is amazed; and then wonders, “where have you been? Why don’t we know each other?”
Today, Clarke is pursuing her master’s in English and Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University. She is raising Zenzele (13), Tafara (10) and Lion (7). At 36, she is a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend to many – all while offering steady guidance to Broward County’s artists and grantees. Who can find time to write?
Among many things, she dreams of writing a book that looks at the voice of the female West Indian protagonist and addresses the curiosity for first-generation Americans with a Caribbean ancestry. She is passionate about race, culture and personal identity; poetry, fiction and screenwriting. “I can still do everything,” she says, “but I am realizing now that kids are little humans, and they don’t follow a mold. Everyone is different and has different needs and demands, and my goal is to give them everything they deserve, and give my artists everything they deserve, and give my art and the Division everything it deserves.” That’s a great place to be.
The Broward Cultural Division is Broward County’s local arts agency, designated by the State of Florida with a mission to enhance the community’s cultural environment through the development of the arts. It’s a lofty mission nestled in a hub of the Broward County government administration. In this swiftly developing business community - home to millions of annual tourists, regular “snow birds,” and a growing population of residents - there lies a unique backdrop of sand, sea, and miles of environmentally-friendly, lush natural swampland, as well as a strategically-central location in the South Florida region. Today, the Division consists of 21 individuals, each independently and uniquely passionate about the concept and application of arts and culture into the daily life of a developing community with a unique predisposition.