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Xanthia Walker recommends those interested in pursuing a career in the arts to “kindly roll their eyes” at naysayers.
“I believe that the arts are one of the most powerful tools on the planet for creating spaces where people can see and hear each other, who might not usually be inclined to see or hear each other,” she said.
Having always been inclined to view the world through a more artistic lens, Walker — who obtained her Master of Fine Arts in Theatre, Theatre for Youth in 2010, from ASU's School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts — is very involved in the Phoenix community through initiatives like the Soul Justice Project, and Rising Youth Theatre, of which she is the co‐founder and artistic director.
She also serves as the theatre program chair for the Arizona School for the Arts, co‐edits the online publication Incite Insight for the American Alliance for Theatre and Education and is in the beginning stages of producing a pop‐up performance series around the Valley.
The artist recently took time from her full schedule to talk about her work with the arts.
Q: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?
A: Looking back on my childhood, I have always processed the information of the world through an artistic lens – so I always knew I wanted to do something performative. When I was an undergrad at the University of Minnesota I had an opportunity to work with a group of young people at a local high school to create a piece of theatre about issues of justice at their school. I had no idea what I was doing and just jumped in because I thought it sounded exciting – and it was! I worked with three other facilitators who were all undergrads in the theatre program with me, and interestingly enough, all four of us are still making some kind of theatre that intersects with community and social change work.
Q: How has your experience at ASU helped to put you in the position you are in today?
A: The MFA program in Theatre for Youth is world‐class, and it was an honor to get to do the deep study work of grad school in this program. My professors helped me to pair my wild ideas with tangible skills. Not only did this program grow me immensely as an artist and scholar, it also connected me to the
Q: You were recently featured in Phoenix New Times for your work with The Soul Justice Project, which was described as “an ongoing enterprise in promoting community awareness and dialogue.” How or why do you think the arts have the power to influence society?
A: I believe that the arts are one of the most powerful tools on the planet for creating spaces where people can see and hear each other, who might not usually be inclined to see or hear each other. As an artist, I am most excited by the opportunity to create work that is in collaboration with people and communities who maybe don't think theatre is for them, or whose stories do not currently appear very often in the dominant narrative – it is important to me to create pieces of theatre that invite people to see the world a little bit differently, but not to do that with “hammer-over-the-head justice issue plays” and instead with honesty, humor, love and hopefully really compelling work. I think the Soul Justice Project is an exciting manifestation of that. I am hugely honored to be a part of it. The arts get people talking because if you see something that is inspiring, compelling or even something that makes you angry, you have to talk about it.
Q: What is your favorite part of the work you do today?
A: Getting a bunch of "artists" and "non‐artists" in the room together, and getting to be a part of this group of people making something that can only exist because that specific group is in the room together. Rising Youth Theatre partners community experts with professional artists to create new works of theatre, and my favorite part is the moment when people first get in the room together and start to get excited about working together.
Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in the arts?
A: Don't let anybody tell you that a career in the arts is unsustainable or that a degree in the arts is a waste of money. There are a million ways to make a life in the arts. I recommend kindly rolling your eyes at anyone who tells you it is a stupid idea. Be prepared to work hard, advocate for yourself, take advantage of every opportunity possible to learn and grow and gain more skills in your area of expertise, and find someone who is already doing what you want to be doing and ask them to be your mentor. Also, learn how to be a teaching artist because not only is it vitally important work but there is always demand for awesome teaching artists.
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