Meet Jill LeCesne Potter, Director of Programs

Jill Potter, Director of Programs, has had a big year at Urban Gateways. Not only was it her 10-year work anniversary this summer (congratulations, Jill!), but this year she was selected to participate in the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s Community Arts Education Leadership Institute, which includes leadership evaluations, a five-day in-person seminar at Bryn Mawr College, and follow-up coaching. Only 25 national arts leaders are invited to participate in CAELI each year, so to honor Jill’s participation and her decade at Urban Gateways, we thought this would be a perfect time to get to know her a bit better! Below, Jill talks about curiosity in learning, using the arts to improve social equity in Chicago, her roots in New Orleans, and much more. (Interview by Hailey Ellis, Urban Gateways Marketing Intern.)

Urban Gateways: What is the most rewarding part of being Director of Programs for Urban Gateways?

Jill: The most rewarding part of being at Urban Gateways is every day I have the opportunity to facilitate work that will be meaningful in the life of another human being; a young person, teacher, colleague, parent, artist… I’ve been at Urban Gateways for 10 years and I can confidently say that no two days are ever the same – each one is different and presents a moment to learn something new.

What inspires you the most?

We are all creative beings. I am inspired by the ways in which the creative process unfolds differently in every individual; regardless of race, age, gender, class and the many other labels we carry, creativity allows us to cross borders and build bridges between that which often separates us.

What does being selected to be a part of CAELI mean to you?

After completing the CAELI application, I sort of released it to the wind. I knew that the process was quite competitive, so when I received the notice of my acceptance, I was surprised and humbled by the recognition. I [attended the five-day Institute at Bryn Mawr College in late July] and am now in the second phase of coaching. The experience has been incredible! For now, I hope to continue living the questions of what it means to be a trusted leader in the field and reaffirm my commitment to the values I live and work by. I feel it is important that as an arts administrator, I take time to engage in practices inherent to the creative process; maintaining a curious approach to lifelong learning, allowing space for risk-taking and valuing moments for revision and reflection.

How did you get involved in arts education?

Growing up in New Orleans I was immersed in a culture that prides itself on artistic expression. My parents also built a strong foundation for me to engage in the arts at an early age. We frequented museums, supported local theatre, and then there’s this little party called Mardi Gras, so you learn to dance before you can walk. So the arts have always been part of my identify. In college, I majored in Art History. My initial plan after graduation was to become an Art Critic, but after an internship at the Contemporary Arts Center, it became quite obvious to me that there were young people who did not have the opportunities that I had growing up. At that time, the contemporary art world was well-populated with people and opinions, so I shifted my attention to working with young people who were challenged by limited access to arts experiences. When I moved to Chicago in 2003, I was introduced to Urban Gateways. Libby Chiu, Executive Director at the time, gave me my first job working in the field here and I knew that Urban Gateways was where I wanted to continue advancing my career.

What are you up to when you’re not at work?

Outside of work, I really enjoy spending time with my family and close friends, traveling, reading and scoping out cool street art and eclectic jewelry.

How are you hoping to see arts education change and improve in the future?

I am hoping that arts education is a rising priority on the national agenda, so that resources are continuously and equitably allocated to ensure sustainability of arts learning within our school systems.

I also welcome a shift in the broader conversation to focus on the impact of arts engagement on the human condition rather than a reliance on justifying arts engagement only through the lens of academic achievement. Art-making enables us to share our personal stories and connect with others in ways and spaces that require us to only show up as who we are, without the pressures of meeting or exceeding standards.

What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

When I moved to Chicago in 2003, I was struck by its diversely segregated population. The great disparity between equity and access on many levels was and remains a challenge in my work. Working in an organization and a field that prioritizes serving students most in need of the resources and services we have to offer, one can become comfortable engaging communities from a deficit-based approach. Although I haven’t overcome the challenges of equity and access, I am becoming more conscious of language and walking the line of dangerously perpetuating the broken systems that we are actively trying to dismantle.

Being originally from New Orleans, what are your favorite cultural spots there?

In New Orleans, food is not just a way of life, it’s a religion, seriously. So, many of my favorite spots usually involve taking in the culinary delights the city has to offer. I head down a few times a year. Most of my days either begin or end under the majestic oak trees at Morning Call. It’s my favorite place for beignets and cafe au lait. The best places to eat are off the beaten path (far too many to share here – email me and I’ll tell all!) or in someone’s kitchen because everyone in New Orleans wants to feed you. The French Quarter at sunrise is quite beautiful; before the bustling tourists arrive, Magazine Street is a must for vintage shopping and the art scene draws you in. New Orleanians are quite spontaneous, so wherever you are – a second line or a parade can break out any moment! There’s no place quite like it…