Artists Learn-and-Share: An Interview with Hanna Satterlee

How the Public Art Learning Fund strengthens public art-making practices

photo by Mary Jo Cahilly-Bretzin

In this "Artists Learn-and-Share" blog series, we take a moment to reconnect with some of our Public Art Learning Fund (PALF) grantees. We invite you to hear how their grants have strengthened their public art-making practices over the grant period. We hope this can inspire the range and depth of possibilities of what we hope the PALF opportunity can offer New England-based public artists in their ever-evolving practices as creative stewards of more just and thriving public culture.

Artist Hanna Satterlee creates performance experiences and conceptual artworks for stage, site and film. She engaged in a professional development cohort program led by Christal Brown for her PALF opportunity.

Kamaria Carrington (KC): What was the professional development opportunity that you accessed with PALF? And what has this opportunity meant to your practice as a public artist?

Hanna Satterlee (HS): I applied for PALF funds to take a course that was called Dream Builders.  It was a group coaching module led by an artist in Vermont named Christal Brown. It was a 12-week program that was all online, because it was during the COVID lockdown that had chapters of learning mostly about yourself and your art practice.  We learned about our goals that we may have hidden—stored away in our dream world—that maybe each of us hasn't achieved yet and what the personal roadblocks are that are negating us from having that experience. She's just a very powerful person, leader, and guide. I had met her in a dance context years earlier and was like, "Who is this powerhouse?" And then the opportunity to learn about myself with her guidance felt really meaningful. At the time, I was running a nonprofit that I started, and it was very much about producing events for public and bringing dance to public spaces and engaging in community conversations around art and things that I consider to be my public art practice.

But I didn't feel creative within it. It felt very logistical, executive, and organized with a different side of the brain. Then I felt lacking and a little less happy than I thought potentially I could be because my own art practice was suffering. I didn't know, going into the program with Christal, how much my life would shift in terms of my career trajectory, but I ultimately figured out I needed to resign from the leadership position and have since started my own performance and production company to continue that work in the public sphere, but from a more creative point of view. It had a huge impact that I didn't know it would, and I didn't go into it saying I needed to change my life. I just was curious what her support and what the program and the cohort would teach me. It was very meaningful.

Black and white: a white woman throws her arms back and leans back next to a mountain.
photo by Andreas John

KC: Wow! the next question was what was something surprising you learned about yourself, your practice, and public art making through accessing this opportunity? And I don't know if that's the surprising thing or if there are other details in there that you think were also surprising along the way.

HS: Yeah, I think the particular cohort situation was really intimidating for me because it was made up of people from all different walks of life using different strategies towards success. They all had different ideas of what they wanted to do next with their career and their personal life, and I was always shy to speak about mine. And I see how really at the beginning of the process I was, and I think that's why it was so nerve wracking to share my dream, because it felt really selfish to move from a position where I was supporting other people—really doing this service for our dance community in Vermont—and knowing that my desire was to go back to my own art making and art sharing, and that felt really vulnerable to speak and say, "I want to turn back into myself."

I didn't really engage vocally a lot with the group, and that surprised me because I felt comfortable with everyone. But looking back on it, I can see why I felt so shaky because I didn't know how to make the transition and I didn't have this idea for the company that I now run. I just knew it was this inevitable shift that I had to make in order to continue to serve any audience without holding a grudge. Just looking back at the effect of something that you think will have one outcome and then really how much it can change over time.

It was a little bit about measuring success, but it was more about measuring your own success. Taking that vulnerable situation and recognizing how different it is to work with people that aren't in your community when you're in a public sphere, when you're meeting strangers or you're stepping into somebody else's reality, instead of them coming to you or you sharing the same world. It really changes how you speak, how you create, how you dream. That was a good lesson.

KC: You said Christal Brown was such a powerhouse the first time you met her, and I'm just wondering about her leadership in this cohort space and guidance through the curriculum. What did mentorship in particular opened up for you? Are there any leading qualities that you noticed really touched your ability to grow in that space?

HS: Yeah. When I think of her, I think of the motto, "Worry about the what and not the how." And this continuous focus on the outcome and not the detailed structure of how the heck it's going to be possible. And that has helped me in so many situations in art making. And to just keep the goal in mind and know that that's your dream, and you have no idea who or what's going to support you to get there or who, or what boundaries or blockages are going to affect your path, but to really keep that end goal in sight. That was really powerful. And then she applies a lot of humor and faith into her own practices, and those are things that I also do. So, feeling in alignment with that as part of my art practice. Honoring self-care and community care as part of how we navigate in our offerings, and not just always the doing, but how to be holistic about who we are as changemakers or artists.

A white woman dances in front of painted wooden wings.
photo by Liesje Smith

KC: Do you recommend other artists accessing this opportunity or maybe something like this opportunity?

HS: Absolutely. I think anytime you're learning from somebody else's perspective, you learn something about your own. And I think specifically with support of the PALF Funds. I did a meeting during the office hours with a member of your Public Art team and they were encouraging me to write in the cost of my time. That blew my mind that I could be supported to learn more about my own practice, which would then affect other people! Having that support financially enabled me to block off time in the week to do the assignments from the cohort and to really dig into the readings and make the vision board, do the mapping—whatever the assignment was—and not feel stressed about the time crunch of adding in a new program. I think artists are notoriously very busy. So, the logistical support of paying for the program, and then on top of that, the financial support for me to be really fully engaged was so incredible.

KC: That's really excellent! I think that that's wonderful advice for applicants to consider what you need to access the opportunity. And maybe it is beyond just funding the tuition cost or the conference fees. Maybe it is also time, maybe it's babysitting. I don't know. Maybe it's some other things that really make it hard to access the thing that you're trying to access as the learning opportunity.

HS: Yeah. I was so pleased to learn that.

KC: Is there any other advice you have for potential applicants?

HS: Use the NEFA office hours if you have any questions, because they're so nice. And why not have your questions answered and learn more about the grant before you spend so much time on it?  I just highly recommend doing that.

KC: Great advice! Thank you so much.

HS: Thank you.

A white woman throws her dress back on top of a stone building next to the water.
photo by Liesje Smith

Artists Learn-and-Share Series

For more "Artists Learn-and-Share," read our interview with jen berger (VT), Chris Battaglia (ME), Yara Liceaga-Rojas (MA) and Shey Rivera Ríos (RI).

Hanna Satterlee

Hannah lays back on some wood. She is white, has light hair, and wears a purple sweater.
photo by Andreas John

Hanna Satterlee creates performance experiences and conceptual artworks for stage, site and film. Hanna holds degrees and certifications in dance therapy, psychology, performance, choreography, vinyassa/yin/restorative yoga, non-profit management and arts integration. Hanna shares these passions as an intergenerational educator, interdisciplinary performer + collaborator, experimental curator and event producer. Hanna is the founder of the Vermont Dance Alliance (a non-profit organization), as well ANIMAL Dance Performance and Production company based in Burlington Vermont.

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