Filmmaker Adina Pliskin, Brush Class of 2002

Adina PliskinProducer and Documentary filmmaker, Adina Pliskin admits that as a young teen, she was the person that parents warned their kids to stay away from.  “I was hanging out with a rough crowd, smoking, drinking, you name it”, she says.  Her upbringing in South Euclid was fraught with struggle, as her mother’s mental health issues and subsequent divorce from her father, forced Adina and her older brother Ariel to grow up quickly. These days, the busy producer/director is living in Los Angeles with her husband of four years, the Emmy-nominated comedian, Mike Lawrence.

Adina attended SEL Schools from K-12, and found the teachers there to be a lifeline when things got tough.  “In third grade when my parents got divorced, my teacher at Rowland, who was a Hungarian immigrant, took me aside and we had many conversations about what was happening, which made me feel less alone.  Because my parents were immigrants (from Argentina and Israel) too, I felt we had a special bond”, recalls Adina.  In addition to school, Adina took refuge in art.  “My grandparents had a deep love of arts and culture and made sure that I was exposed to art classes for kids at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  In spite of her grandparents’ positive influence, by the time Adina reached middle school, she was often getting into trouble.

Things changed when Adina joined a youth theater program called, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”—a program created by the Free Clinic of Cleveland that brought sketches about teen health issues into inner city schools. This was followed by a job with the AIDS Task Force, as a youth outreach worker where she handed out condoms and AIDS prevention information.  She created “zines” and flyers to help get the word out about safe sex. Adina had found her purpose in activism.

At Brush, Adina got involved with the art program.  Two brand new teachers, Sarah Curry and Hadley Conner became important influences in her life, as Adina found a home in the art department.  Ms. Curry encouraged Adina to consider moving to New York City following graduation to pursue her creative interests and meet like-minded people. Adina took her advice and obtained a degree in painting from Hunter College. During college, Adina spent a year abroad in Argentina, studying documentary filmmaking. Film was the fusion of Adina’s passion for art and her love of movies and television.

After graduation, Adina found work as a waitress while attempting to find jobs in film production.  A dinner out with a friend on Cinco de Mayo proved to be an unlikely turning point. “My friend and I were in a crowded restaurant, and woman knocked over my drink.  I recognized her from the show ‘Party of Five’.  It turned out that her companion was a documentary filmmaker.  He gave me his card.  I ended up working for him for four years”, recalled Adina. An impressive number of documentary film credits ensued.  One of the most memorable and poignant for Adina was a film about the Holocaust called Defiant Requiem.  Adina’s paternal grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, so working on the project, which was filmed in Prague, held deep meaning.  Back in New York, a stint filming segments for Sesame Street ensued—a favorite project that remains close to Adina’s heart. “For several seasons, we did around six minutes of every episode of the show, producing the segments ‘Word on the Street’ and ‘Murray Has a Little Lamb’ featuring Murray the Monster”, said Adina. Comedy has also been a focus of much of Adina’s work.  Last year, Adina directed a four episode web series for Amazon profiling four young female comedians to accompany the series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  She also produced and directed six shorts for Harper Collins starring Abigail Breslin.

In 2010, Adina met Mike Lawrence.  The two bonded over their love for bad zombie movies, and by the third date, they knew that they were meant to be together.  They were married in 2014. During the summer of 2017, the couple relocated from New York City to L.A.

Adina feels the recent publicity around the near-daily reports of sexual abuse scandals perpetrated by powerful men, is helping to call attention to the plight of women, especially in male dominated industries like film.  “The industry is very misogynistic. There are not many women behind the camera.  It’s hard to get respect and I’ve found I have to prove myself over and over”, said Adina.

Adina wholeheartedly agrees with the observations of writer Lindy West who said, “The solution is putting people into positions of power who are not male, not straight, not cisgender, not white.  This is not taking something away unfairly—it is restoring opportunities that have been historically withheld.”

These days, as a seasoned producer and director, Adina is most interested in telling stories with strong, fully developed female characters.  According to Adina, “Things are finally changing.  Female driven stories are selling tickets”.  Woman like Adina Pliskin are blazing a trail for the next generation of female directors. We can’t wait to see her next act.

Nikki Woods, Class of 2008, Director of the Cleveland Institute of Art Reinberger Gallery, on the value of arts education.

Nwoods_headshotI am a proud product of the SEL school system, from elementary school through high school. Upon graduation from Brush High School in 2008, I was accepted into The Cleveland Institute of Art on a scholarship, and studied painting. Some people would say that pursuing a career in the fine arts after the economic crash was a foolish one—that there are no real career prospects given a painting degree (real being the pejorative term to mean financially viable). I strongly disagree. The creative economy is responsible for over 704 billion dollars of yearly economic growth nationally, and employs over 4.7 million wage and salary workers. These industries range widely from independent artists and galleries, to advertising agencies, design firms, publishing houses, the theater and film industries, etc… the list goes on and on. Beyond strictly arts industry careers, studies have proven that an education in the arts promotes a level of creative problem solving that is useful in the business field. After all, aren’t successful CEOs often-labeled visionaries?

I participated in a number of influential arts programs in SEL schools that helped to foster a future passion for a career in the arts. At Greenview Upper Elementary, I started in band, which then lead to playing drum set in the school jazz ensemble at Memorial Jr. High, which lead to playing center snare in the high school marching band drum line. During this time I also developed a deep love for reading and making from the classes I took in painting, darkroom photography, ceramics, art history, AP Studio, and AP British and American Literature. All of these classes and activities created a ripple that began to expand its reach deeper, and deeper into my life. The effects of which were both nuanced and life changing.

I found role models in my art teachers and their seemingly never-ending passion for their craft, and dedication to their students.  What other public high school had the privilege of working with art teachers who were also professional artists? I saw fellow students engaged in ways that no other subject had previously interested them. The communities that resulted, were built on understanding, thoughtfulness, and non-judgment– and become a refuge for many who felt they had no other source of acceptance. Most importantly, these practices created outlets for self-expression, and in turn, helped to develop self-esteem and self worth for my peers as well as myself.

I am currently a practicing artist and the Acting Director of the Reinberger Gallery of the Cleveland Institute of Art. My job is to curate programming that connects with our students and neighboring communities, and to create artwork that I believe contributes to the culture at large. I attribute my career, successes, problem solving skills, and leadership confidence to the strong foundations set by the outstanding arts and liberal arts education programs at SEL schools. I can say with certainty that I would not be the person I am today without these direct influences. You don’t have to look far to find hundreds of research based articles, online and elsewhere, lauding the importance of the arts in an education curriculum. I’m sure you would agree, that given our current climate, one of our best defenses towards hate filled rhetoric, is a robust education in critical thinking and thoughtful questioning. We want to create future citizens who care about their community, have the courage to question authority, generate hope in others, and the vision to build a better future. There are no better role models than the art teachers at SEL schools to help shape this future, and it would be a thoughtless shame to ever lose them.

To find out more about Nikki’s work, check out her blog:  www.nikkiwoods.com

 

Reflections on the Brush Art Program from the South Pacific by Jamie Bloss, Class of 2007

Jamie Bloss

Experiencing photography and painting classes with Ms. Hadley Conner and Ms. Sarah Curry was probably one of the biggest highlights of my high school experience for many reasons. I was a quiet person in high school and struggled to find a place where I fit in. I didn’t want much attention, and the dark room of Ms. Conner’s photography lab was a place I could feel safe and be creative and find a way to express myself. I feel that’s important for high schoolers now more than ever before. It’s really hard to navigate that time. It’s only been ten years since I was in high school but things have moved really fast and changed a lot. Not only were both teachers mentors and friends to me, but their art classes made me a more well-rounded person. It helped with my admission to college. It furthered my understanding of art and why it is so important.

Skills I learned in photography class help me to this day. Learning how to set up a scene in a photo is something that needs to be taught in design classes as well. Now when I am designing promotional materials at my job, doing the social media for it, taking photos at events- I can remember the basic tenets of photography that were taught to me then. My painting class was also a safe haven for me 1st period with Ms. Curry. I was always into doing watercolors and things like that but she taught me how to properly paint. This gave me a creative outlet that lasted through my college years and beyond. Now I have to design attractive displays at my library job and the drawing and painting skills I learned and honed in high school allow me to do that. No one ever told me when I was getting my master’s in library science at Kent State that you’d need that creative spark for marketing and museum displays, but it has helped me immensely. It’s those extra skills that help you stand out from the crowd when you’re interviewing for jobs.

After high school I completed my bachelor’s degree with honors from Kent State University in 2011. I obtained a graduate assistantship from the Kent State Honors College which paid for my master’s degree which I received in 2013. Since then I have held a library assistant job at the Kent State Geauga campus, then worked for a year as a librarian at Hudson Library & Historical Society. From there I applied for and received a 3 year contract to work abroad at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji which I am currently completing.

I know one of the most important things you need in high school are teachers who believe in you and foster skills in you that you did not know you had. I don’t know if later on I would’ve done as well in school and at university without kind teachers who gave us a way to express ourselves and believed in us. I know many people think the arts are unnecessary or don’t give relevant job skills. But the design and artistic skills I learned aid me every day in my work managing the social media for the library at the University of the South Pacific. I have to create museum displays and being able to put together a cohesive display with images and text is something that is taught through art programs. But- make no mistake- the fine arts stand on their own as well! I may be a librarian but I also know many people from Brush High School who went on to pursue degrees in fine arts and are very successful. My art skills helped me when I applied for the Kent State honors college and then they funded me through my master’s degree. When admissions workers look at college applications they look at you being a well-rounded individual- not just what job skills you may have learned in high school.

I often bragged to people after I left Brush that we had better darkrooms and materials than some universities even had. I appreciated so much the chance to learn those skills and find part of myself through art. I needed that as a high school student when I was having trouble at home. There are skills and benefits to be learned in the arts that other subjects don’t touch on. As a violinist I hope that students today have the chance to learn more about the arts- music, film, photography, painting, and more because what kind of a society would we have without the fine arts? Those are the things worth living for, not the mundane everyday jobs we hold. It’s possible to find a job with a way to earn money to live on and still appreciate the arts and grow up learning about them. They should not be defunded, abolished, or replaced with facsimiles of “art classes.” I hope Brush High School would continue their legacy of having stellar art classes for students. It will only help them as they develop into young adults and inspire them to reach further than their everyday expectations.

Introducing SEL Art Advocates

If you ask around, one of the most positive things you’ll hear about Brush High School is the quality of the art instruction.  The reputation of the art department was one of the main reasons we allowed our son to transfer into Brush from private school.  In our family’s experience, the art department at Brush is run much like a college of art and design.  The instructors focus on their primary discipline and all are working and award-winning artists.  Instead of having generic art classes taught by instructors who teach all general aspects of art, if one takes a photography class at Brush, there’s reasonable assurance that it will be taught by Hadley Conner—an award-winning photographer.  She gave our son a lasting passion for film photography—something he is putting to good use in his senior year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sarah Curry has given many Brush graduates a passion for painting and drawing.  This is obvious by the number of Brush students and Brush graduates who attend the openings of her art shows around town, and cite Ms. Curry’s influence as inspiration for pursuing their own art careers.

It would be impossible to overstate that the dedication of the Brush art teachers has led to positive, sometimes life-changing outcomes for many of their students. Many students who may never have considered a career in art, found their passion at Brush and have gone on to pursue impressive careers in art.

Brush students consistently rank among the top in local and regional art competitions.  Entering these competitions requires the teachers to go above and beyond to help the students prepare and submit their work.  Each year our students receive scholarships, and sometimes full scholarships to art school.

Art education is under threat.  Funding for art programs is being cut at the federal level and we have an administration in Washington that clearly does not value public education.  There is always a temptation when funding becomes scarce, to reduce or eliminate classes, like art and music, that are considered to be electives.  What can we do?  It’s time to be engaged as families and start standing up for the value of art education.  We can’t take it for granted.  We need to work together to ensure that our children and those to come, have access to the best quality art education in South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools.  It’s something that truly sets our district apart, yet it can be so easily lost.

Brush bridge paintingTo further this goal, I am proposing that we gather together to discuss what’s happening and brainstorm ways we can work together to address the challenges we’re facing.  Please join us on Sunday, July 23rd from 3-5 pm for our inaugural meeting of SEL Art Advocates! We’ll be meeting at 1515 South Belvoir Blvd. in South Euclid.   I promise it will be time well spent.  Look for a calendar invitation posted on SEL Experience’s Facebook page!  –Sally Martin