Jabberwocky Studios embraces arts as avenue to understanding

The mission of Jabberwocky Studios is to create urban and ethnic arts and spread inclusion. When COVID-19 hit, the nonprofit adjusted to continue to bring dance, art, poetry and its other offerings to the Columbia community.

The organization moved dance classes outside and many of its academic classes to virtual meetings. More recently, the nonprofit saw a need for tutoring and stepped up to provide those services. The program has helped onboard 11 students into online classes, and it plans to tutor others who have shown interest.

Jabberwocky Studios is being honored with one of the inaugural Kindness in Business awards in the Kindness to Youth category. The awards recognize businesses and organizations that have shown and promoted kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the Kindness in Business awards and meet the honorees.

Jabberwocky Studios was founded in 2015. Among other arts projects and culture initiatives, it provides classes for hip-hop dancing, break dancing and other urban dance styles; hosts a slam poetry group; and paints murals around Columbia each summer.

For Executive Director Linda Schust, a ray of sunshine throughout the pandemic has been the support Jabberwocky has received from the community. The nonprofit typically partners with many local organizations to fund the art and host events. But Schust said she’s noticed more support, a gesture that is appreciated as she sees reserve funds slowly dwindle away.

“It’s really heartening to see how many people want to pull together and want to try to do what they can do to improve the situation,” she said.

Schust spoke with Missouri Business Alert about Jabberwocky Studios and its approach during the pandemic. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: How does Jabberwocky Studios try to embody kindness?

Linda Schust: I think our mission is basically driven by the idea. It’s driven by kindness and a desire to understand other people and meet other people as who they are and to accept them based on the premise that everybody has dignity, and there are good things to find out about everybody. If we see a problem or an issue or way we can try to use art to make things better, we always try to say, “What can we do?” It has to be something that falls within the scope of our mission, but that’s why we ended up having so many different programs, because we saw different opportunities to be helpful.

MBA: What special efforts or adjustments has Jabberwocky had to make during the pandemic to help people?

LS: The tutoring and homework help is a completely new thing that we’ve added to help refugee students. And the other adaptation we’ve had to make is that our studio space is very small and we did not feel comfortable trying to have people come in there to do any of the programs that we normally do.

We were lucky enough to get permission from the Business Loop Community Improvement District to use the pop-up park that they just put in on the Business Loop. So we’re actually able to hold our classes outside. And people have to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and take their temperature when they come in. But that’s actually worked out. Our enrollment is down, but that’s actually worked out really well. It’s been really fun to dance at that park. So that’s the way we’ve adapted. And, obviously, when the weather gets cold, we’re gonna have to switch gears again.

MBA: Why did you decide to start the tutoring program?

LS: I knew that these kids were going to be facing a lot of barriers. And I was right, more right than I realized. The first few weeks have basically been a lot about troubleshooting technical issues that the kids are having so that they can even access their classes. Each family has a different situation, and some of them have been doing quite well. But there are some kids we’re working with who, as of yesterday, hadn’t been to any classes. So if you don’t speak English very well, you don’t know the culture, you don’t have reliable internet access, and you’re three and a half weeks behind, that’s a huge hurdle. We’re just taking it one step at a time. And every small victory is a victory. And, eventually, we’ll get there.

MBA: What inspired the decision to start the arts programs?

LS: There are a lot of things that provided inspiration. One is that I have a mixed-race family. It became very apparent to me that when my white biological children were in certain situations, or participating in arts activities in the community, it was a very comfortable place for them to be. And it was not a comfortable place for my adopted daughter to be because there was nobody there that looked like her. And I think the barriers are both cultural and financial.

The other thing was just that, as a society, we’re so divided right now. I really believe that if you get to know somebody — because your kids are doing something together, or because you’re doing something with them in person — even if you have stereotypes in your head, you will probably come to realize that that person is the exception to those stereotypes and maybe start to rethink those ideas. And I feel like if you can bring people together who have different lived experiences, they can learn a lot from each other.

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