This summer, Young Audiences of Abilene welcomed Talan Cobb as its new Executive Director. Operating as part of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council (ACAC), Young Audiences of Abilene brings together schools, communities, and professional teaching artists, creating programs that help make the arts an integral part of education for students in the community. We spoke with Talan about her background and involvement in the Abilene arts community, why the arts are so important for children amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and her goals for the future of Young Audiences of Abilene.
Were the arts a part of your life growing up?
I come from a family full of artists, with a variety of artforms: my mother and sister are a painter and sculptor respectively, while my father’s love of music led him to play in a mariachi band throughout college.
I got my own musical start taking piano lessons in Kindergarten, later taking up guitar and mandolin. But it was during a 6-hour-long car ride to the beach spent listing to The Phantom of the Opera on repeat that I discovered my passion for musical theatre. For me, artistic expression is, and always has been, an important part of my life and personal wellbeing. In fact, I still love to take part in local musical theatre productions and other acting work on the side.
Tell us about your background and how you came to join Young Audiences of Abilene.
"The more I heard about [Young Audiences of Abilene's] work to enrich [this] community and its schools through the arts, the more I thought to myself: 'that is exactly what I need to be doing.'"
Since graduating with a degree in communications, I’ve become involved both personally and professionally in the arts community of Abilene as a singer and actor, through local freelance marketing work, and in a philanthropic capacity.
I entered the nonprofit world officially in 2018 as Associate Vice President of World’s Okayest Mom, Inc. (WOM, Inc), an organization designed to provide social emotional support through a Facebook group and financial care for moms in need. Through this role I also gained valuable experience with nonprofit social media communications, developing a strong relationship with Facebook, Inc. working on the national #moretogether campaign.
I learned about Young Audiences of Abilene in January 2020 when I had the opportunity to collaborate with the organization’s previous Executive Director, Diane Hunt, on preparations for Abilene’s Annual Children's Art & Literacy Festival. The more I heard about the organization’s work to enrich the Abilene community and its schools through the arts, the more I thought to myself: “that is exactly what I need to be doing.”
Why are the arts so important for children right now? What challenges are you facing as an organization?
"Programs centered on the social-emotional benefits of the arts... have enormous potential to help kids right now."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, children are dealing with a lot of change and uncertainly. In addition to keeping kids engaged and learning, the arts can also play a valuable role in providing the social and emotional support kids need at a scary time.
We saw exciting evidence of this in a pilot study conducted last year by Young Audiences of Abilene. Called Art Shine, the study looked at the impact of delivering therapeutic arts experiences within a school setting as a means of assisting at-risk students. The results point to arts counseling serving as an effective outlet for these students and a means to help them channel anxiety or aggression into the art-making process. The truth is that frequently, schools end up being the sole providers of emotional mental health support. We are looking forward to furthering this research and hopefully expanding the Art Shine program. Programs centered on the social-emotional benefits of the arts, like Art Shine, have enormous potential to help kids right now.
As an organization, right now we are being challenged with an inability to make accurate projections or solid plans. Program funding is trickier to secure when you always need to be ready to pivot. On the other hand, the virtual learning format also gives us the opportunity to reach communities we haven’t had the chance to work with previously. For example, we have been in touch with homeschooling groups to discuss a possible partnership to provide arts-integrated programming to home-schooled students.
Looking ahead, what initiatives or programs are you excited about? What are your goals for the organization?
We are looking forward to expanding our professional development offerings for teaching artists as well as opening these opportunities up to classroom educators. Now more than ever, educators are looking for ways, like arts integration, to help students through this time and keep them engaged and learning.
Moving forward, we are also very focused on research and evaluation. Being able to point to both quantitative and qualitative data on the impacts of arts integration bolsters all of our efforts, from advocacy, to fundraising, to program development.
Abilene is a small community that offers such great opportunities for children to learn. In this new role, I am excited to continue our great work with children in Abilene and will strive to continue expanding our impact in the community in the future.
To learn more about Young Audiences of Abilene, please visit: https://www.yaabilene.org/