Welcome...

A Greater Boston native, I'm a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. I'm co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), art director of Art New England magazine, senior contributor for The Arts Fuse, and am the Boston area dance critic for the international Fjord Review. I recently completed a one-year term as co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Council, and am regularly hired as an arts advocate to speak at events ranging from legislative assemblies at the State House to entrepreneurial panels for students at Mount Holyoke College. This blog serves as a behind-the-scenes peek into the life and journal of an interdisciplinary artist. Learn more at merliguerra.com or luminariumdance.org, and thank you for reading my thoughts on setting the visual and performing arts into motion.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Arts Advocacy in the Great Hall of Flags

Each season, I find myself marveling at an experience I never could have imagined back in 2010 when Luminarium first started. Back then, Kim and I were new to the world of Boston performance venues, to grant-writing, and to speaking on behalf of the arts. With each year that passes, we've continued to expand our experiences, knowledge, and reach—and this week brought a new highlight to the company's memory banks.

Six months ago, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) reached out to me to inquire if Luminarium would be interested in performing at its prestigious Local Cultural Council (LCC) Statewide Assembly. This day-long event is held every two years in the beautiful Massachusetts State House, celebrating the efforts of the state's 329 local cultural councils, while encouraging state legislators to help these councils fund and further the arts.

Matthew Kyle and Chun-Jou Tsai perform Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle at the LCC Statewide Assembly
at the Massachusetts State House, 2016. Photo: Merli V. Guerra.

We were of course thrilled to participate in this event, and immediately began planning. There were some amusing anecdotal hiccups along the way, but in the end, we were proud to present two of Luminarium's recent works: The opening duet from my own Phoenixial Cycle (with performers Matthew Kyle and Chun-Jou Tsai), and Kim's Getting There is Half the Battle (featuring a new cast of myself, Amy, and now Kim!).

Matthew Kyle and Chun-Jou Tsai perform Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle at the LCC Statewide Assembly
at the Massachusetts State House, 2016. Photo: Merli V. Guerra.

Blanketed under the quiet glow of a gray afternoon, the company performed in the beautiful (and appropriately named) Great Hall of Flags to perhaps our most appreciative audience to date. We often pride ourselves on our accessibility, performing for audiences made up of art-lovers and new-to-dance viewers alike, yet to have this experience of performing in a room full of the state's top arts and culture supporters was as fulfilling as it was daunting. Fortunately, the energy in the room was palpable, and the hall echoed with uproarious applause following each piece.

Matthew Kyle and Chun-Jou Tsai perform Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle at the
LCC Statewide Assembly at the Massachusetts State House, 2016. Photo: Mercure Photography.

Matthew Kyle and Chun-Jou Tsai perform Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle at the LCC Statewide Assembly
at the Massachusetts State House, 2016. Photo: Mercure Photography.

l. to r. Amy Mastrangelo and Merli V. Guerra perform Holman's Getting There is Half the Battle
at the LCC Statewide Assembly at the Massachusetts State House, 2016. Photo: Mercure Photography.

l. to r. Kimberleigh A. Holman, Amy Mastrangelo, and Merli V. Guerra perform Holman's Getting There is Half the Battle
at the LCC Statewide Assembly at the Massachusetts State House, 2016. Photo: Chun-Jou Tsai.

l. to r. Amy Mastrangelo and Merli V. Guerra perform Holman's Getting There is Half the Battle at the LCC Statewide
Assembly at the Massachusetts State House, 2016. Photo: Chun-Jou Tsai.

At the Assembly, I found myself wearing not only my performer/choreographer cap, but my speaker cap too, with the opportunity to engage in a discussion near and dear to my heart: How to further enrich communities through the arts. It's the topic that keeps my annual Cultural Community Outreach Project fresh with new ideas each season, and it's a discussion best had with those who are actively engaged in and/or funding the arts in their communities day in, day out.

Merli V. Guerra introduces her co-director Kim Holman and fellow Luminarium company members to keynote speaker
Sally Taylor. Photo: Mercure Photography.

For this event, I was told that I presented the perfect "trifecta" for the panel: As an 11-time LCC grant-winning artist, as recipient of the MCC's prestigious Gold Star Award, and for my recent work on the "ground floor" of the LCCs as Co-Chair of the Arlington Cultural Council. For these three reasons, the MCC invited me to speak as an active member of the LCC community whose reflections would serve to link the panel back to the LCC volunteers filling the room.

It was an honor and a privilege to sit on a panel comprised of Sally Taylor (musician and founder of Consenses), Scarlet Keys (Associate Professor, Berklee College of Music), and Ben Taylor (musician) as MCC Executive Director Anita Walker led the lively discussion as moderator.

Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker introduces the morning panel. Photo: Mercure Photography.

l. to r. Sally Taylor, Merli V. Guerra, Ben Taylor, and Scarlet Keys. Photo: Ed Cohen.

l. to r. Sally Taylor and Merli V. Guerra. Photo: Mercure Photography.

Merli V. Guerra speaks on the morning panel at the Local Cultural Council
Statewide Assembly, 2016. Photo: Mercure Photography.

Merli V. Guerra speaks on the morning panel at the Local Cultural Council
Statewide Assembly, 2016. Photo: Mercure Photography.

This panel invitation came at the perfect moment: After six years of working in the arts field, it was only in the past year that I finally acknowledged that the work I put forward extends far beyond myself, my company, and my immediate community. My work instead touches hundreds—thousands, at moments—through the very basic acts of encouraging young artists to grow and explore the world, acting as a mentor to new artistic entrepreneurs, and offering guidance to those entering the realm of grant-writing and government funding. No longer do I describe myself simply as an interdisciplinary artist, but—proudly—as an arts advocate as well.

My snazzy new business cards, kicking off 2016...

All in all, we could not have asked for a more receptive audience for Luminarium, nor could I have asked for a finer group of panelists and MCC staff to work alongside leading up to this event. Goodbye for now, State House... I wonder when we'll next perform inside your prestigious walls?

l. to r. Amy Mastrangelo and Merli V. Guerra perform Holman's
Getting There is Half the Battle at the LCC Statewide Assembly at the
Massachusetts State House, 2016. Photo: Mercure Photography.

Luminarium Dance Company at the Massachusetts State House, 2016. Photo: Ed Cohen.