December 2022 Alumni Spotlight
In this month’s alumni spotlight we spoke with MIA graduate and Excelsior Fellow, Robin Taylor. She tells us about her performing arts background, her goals for her Fellowship at the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, and more.
Congratulations! You are one of this year’s Excelsior Fellows. Could you tell us how has your experience been thus far working at the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities? Any current strategic initiatives that you’re working on?
Thank you! It’s all still very new. I am so thrilled to have been given this opportunity. My Fellowship is within the Office of Strategic Initiatives at OPWDD. I am part of a team tasked with implementing and evaluating a new statewide 5-year strategic plan.
The plan has three overarching goals:
- Strengthen the workforce and infrastructure
- Advance systems change and innovation
- Improve person-centered services and supports
We are currently working on the final draft to submit to the legislature on November 1st. I am excited about the role I will be playing in helping OPWDD better align organizational operations and resources with its broader mission. Projects I will be working on in the immediate future will include stakeholder engagement and portfolio management.
You have been the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Dzul Dance Inc. for almost 12 years. Could you tell us a bit more about this performing arts organization and share some of your key accomplishments?
The organization’s mission is to fuse dance forms with circus arts as a means to communicate indigenous Pre-Hispanic and Mexican culture and bridge the gap between contemporary art and cultural heritage. Back in 2005, we were really pioneering the use of aerial arts in combination with dance and pushing the boundaries of what was considered “modern dance”. We had an extremely eclectic and talented group of performers with expertise in various disciplines that made our organization unique and exciting. Being the Co-Founder and Managing Director of a nonprofit taught me so much about development, project management, communications, and strategic planning. During my time with the organization, it was very much a grassroots operation, but we were able to accomplish a great deal artistically.
Some of my key accomplishments include:
The implementation of a youth and community outreach program aimed at increasing access to the arts and arts education in marginalized communities. By 2016 our outreach initiatives had reached over 8,000 participants across the Americas.
Development of a strategy for corporate sponsorship and securing sponsorships from companies such as Delta, Scorpion Mezcal, and the Mexican Tourism Board. Similarly, I was also responsible for cultivating and maintaining partnerships with national and international government agencies, cultural institutions, and private sector companies such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, City University of New York, and the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce.
From 2011-2016 I was the principal grant writer. During this time the organization was awarded 15 government and private foundation grants and three long-term residencies.
Over the course of my tenure, I managed (and performed in) well over 100 large-scale performance productions in six countries.
You’ve also been a Principal Dancer and Aerialist for Dzul Dance Inc. for 11 years. That’s impressive! What do you enjoy the most about aerial acrobatics, and what are some of the benefits and risks? What has inspired you to get into this profession?
I began studying aerial arts (and contortion) because much of Artistic Director Javier Dzul’s work is based on Pre-Hispanic mythology (Javier, who is Mayan-Mexican, was a ritual dancer before going on to dance professionally in Mexico, Cuba, and the U.S). The aerial provided a tool to visually represent three different realities: the celestial, the human, and the underworld.
There was so much I enjoyed about my experience. At the moment, I would say I enjoyed most the sheer physicality of the experience and achieving that level of athleticism. We all possessed so much power. I often wondered if he was building an army and disguising it as a dance company.
That strength taught me a lot about myself I didn’t know.
What inspired me was being part of a larger vision.
As an artist you do not view things in terms of benefits and risks. If we did, I’m not sure there would be much art in the world.
On LinkedIn you mention: “I have enjoyed a breadth of professional and academic experience across multiple sectors. The common thread throughout is my dedication to social justice issues.” Could you expand upon that and share with us your journey through these transitions?
The path has not been linear.
Before I joined Dzul Dance I was completing my BA/MA in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College where I began my career in research. I worked on research projects used to inform law enforcement training and hostage negotiation with the goal of reducing fatalities and increasing awareness surrounding mental health issues.
Once I joined Dzul, I worked at NYC’s only wildlife rehabilitation center, the Wild Bird Fund, in between tours. At WBF I managed and trained dedicated teams of interns, staff, and volunteers to care for up to 120 birds at a time. I also facilitated advocacy and conservation efforts through community outreach programs.
While I was proud of my accomplishments in enhancing awareness of mental health issues, increasing access to arts and cultural, and advocating for wildlife conservation I wanted more tools to advance areas such as these further.
That desire led me to the Marxe School.
What impact did the Marxe School have on your job prospects upon graduation? How did you utilize your MIA degree towards making a change in arts and culture, public health, wildlife conservation, and mental health?
Marxe greatly expanded my career trajectory and ultimately provided me with a two-year fellowship. Ironically, Marxe reinforced a passion in me for the local, even though I studied through an international lens. Particularly relevant was the health policy research I performed for the New York Federal Statistical Research Data Center (NYRDC) which focused on risks and shortages effecting the direct care workforce during COVID-19 and tracking state and federal COVID-specific policies and legislation affecting healthcare professionals. This research laid the foundation for my thesis: The Role of Workforce Factors in Disparate COVID-19 Nursing Home Outcomes.
Currently, there is a direct care workforce crisis at OPWDD which is affecting providers’ ability to offer services and supports to the I/DD population. My familiarity with workforce issues, policies, and possible solutions was vital to my placement at OPWDD as an Excelsior Fellow.
See? It all made sense in the end.
A huge thank you to Diane Gibson, Carla Robbins, and Suzanne Grossman for their support, guidance, and advocacy.
On a side note, several of Dzul Dance’s earliest choreographies were created in and premiered at Baruch’s Nagelberg Theater. They were one of the only NYC theaters that weren’t terrified by what we were doing. I always loved performing there so I am not surprised I decided to return.