TALKING WITH … Alice Santana, Interim Director of Education and Community Engagement

Recently appointed to the position of interim director of education and community engagement, Straz staffer Alice Santana has a lifelong love of the arts and deep-rooted passion to make an impact in her community. 

Her journey with the Straz Center began in January 2016 when she was hired to work in the Patel Conservatory as the student affairs and community relations coordinator. As she flourished and her programs grew, Alice’s role in the organization quickly developed into something much larger and profoundly impactful. 

In recent months, Alice – along with colleague Fred Johnson – has embarked on a mission to combat racism through the performing arts. Charged by the organization’s leadership, the community engagement team is shaping the focus of the Straz Center’s commitment to anti racism by listening, learning, sharing, taking action and advancing ideas and solutions to accelerate social justice demands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color.   

As the new slate of fall classes begin in the Patel Conservatory and as the world reels from the ongoing pandemic, Caught in the Act asked Alice a few questions – some profound and some silly – to better get to know this intriguing personality. 

CAUGHT IN THE ACT: What has been the hardest part of this coronavirus experience for you?  

ALICE SANTANA: It has been learning to balance working from home and e-learning with a now first grader. Maintaining two Zoom meeting schedules has been a fun puzzle to sort through. 

 CITA: How are you filling your time, both with work and otherwise?  

AS: During quarantine, I have completed several home improvement projects and even learned to use a drill and miter saw! The rest of my time has been spent binge-watching Netflix and learning to cook new recipes with my family. We love to cook and bake. Workwise, my team likes to joke that we have now joined the digital marketing team as we have learned to produce events virtually in a live or pre-recorded format. It has been a wonderful journey learning how to still bring important programs to our community even when we can’t be in-person. 

Alice and her daughter.

 CITA: How did you get started in arts education administration?  

AS: I’ve always been in the arts since I was a kid. I was in church choir, took private lessons and studied music theory. I even went to a performing arts high school and majored in music business in college. During my senior year, I interned for an arts organization called Artist & Musicians of Latin America (AMLA) in Philadelphia. They ran an after-school music program, an artist residency program and produced concerts and festivals featuring local, regional and national Latin artists. They offered me my first job right after graduation to run their after-school music program and in-school residencies. I was with AMLA for five years and was hooked on being an arts education administrator. I learned so much about the impact the arts can have on a student’s life if given the opportunity to learn. I had the opportunity to offer programs for free to the underserved community I was working with and I got to be an advocate for the importance of arts education in a school district that was having the arts stripped away from their curriculum. 

 CITA: What is your worst quality?  

AS: I can be stubborn, but I blame my dad for that trait — LOL. 

CITA: What music is on your playlist?  

AS: My daughter controls my radio so as of late it has been a lot of JoJo Siwa and Disney’s The Descendants. 

CITA: What’s your sign and what does it say about you?  

AS: I’m a Scorpio which are known for being assertive, fierce and passionate. 

CITA: Read any good books lately?  

AS: Right now, I am reading Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States edited by Lori M. Carlson. I am working on content for our October virtual Arts Legacy REMIX event and I’m reading this book for a potential poetry reading we would like to include. Our upcoming virtual show will be honoring Hispanic Heritage Month. 

CITA: What’s always in your refrigerator?  

AS: Tons of fruit and cheese! We are big on strawberries and cheddar. 

CITA: What’s the greatest thing since sliced bread?  

AS: Amazon Prime 

CITA: What’s your “guilty pleasure” television show?  

AS: I am a sucker for cartoons. Right now, I am obsessed with the show Central Park on Apple TV. It’s from the creators of Bob’s Burgers with an all-star musical cast featuring Leslie Odom, Jr., Daveed Diggs, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad and Stanley Tucci. 

CITA: In the movie version of your life, who would play you?  

AS: America Ferrera. I have been told I look like her. 

CITA: Who or what inspires you?  

AS: My mom and my grandmas. I come from a long line of loving, strong, and kind women. I always want to make them proud of me since they have done so much for our family. 

CITA: What do you consider your greatest successes – personally and professionally?  

AS: Personally, my greatest success is raising my daughter and encouraging her love of the arts. She runs around The Straz like it’s her home. Professionally, I have to say when I got to be a part of the team that brought the Hamilton education program (EduHam) to the Straz Center. We worked to bring 2,400 students to perform original works inspired by the musical and then they got to watch a special performance just for them. It was a project that took all the departments to pull off and it has been a highlight so far of my time at The Straz. 

Morsani Hall filled with students (L) and students lined up on the Straz campus (R) for EduHam, 2019.

 CITA: If you hadn’t chosen a career in arts education administration, what other career path do you think you’d have followed?  

AS: That’s a tough one – I try not to think about! I would probably still work for a non-profit organization focused on helping families and kids. Possibly working with the foster care system. 

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CHECK IT OUT:  In collaboration with Johns Hopkins Medicine International Arts + Mind Lab, the community engagement team hosts a weekly series of Arts & Mind Village Chats that have met with thunderous praise and enthusiastic audiences. Catch the final chat in this 6-part series this Saturday, Oct. 3 on Facebook. They are currently working on season two which will air in the spring of 2021. 

The community engagement team also hosts the Your VetChat every third Thursday of the month on Zoom. The next one will be Oct. 15 at 6p.m. 

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