INTERVIEW: IPaintMyMind Board Member Josh Hoekwater
This is the second installment of our interview series with the talented folks that make up our Board of Directors. If you missed the first, go back and read Roxy Piersanti’s. She’s a kickass CPS arts teacher and champion of IPaintMyMind’s mission.
Josh Hoekwater is another superb part of our core team, and our next featured interview. He is a Chicago transplant and digital agency leader, who contributes to our site design, as well as advising on our growth process. Josh is passionate about access to quality arts education for all.
Lillie Therieau: What about IPaintMyMind’s model resonates with you the most?
Josh Hoekwater: It truly is a model where everyone on the wheel of impact really benefits. Artists actually get paid for their work, businesses benefit from a great service and high-touch customer service, and teachers and students obviously benefit from the free exhibitions and curriculum support provided. The fact that our primary revenue source is self-sustaining, rather than going hat in hand to wealthy donors or relying on grassroots microdonations to stay afloat, I think makes us unique and really sets an example for other non-profits
Lillie Therieau: What is the most challenging part about working for a non-profit?
Josh Hoekwater: As a volunteer board member, it’s just hard to juggle with the rest of my family and career responsibilities. I see so much potential for where we can take this and for the impact we can have. But for all of us, time is the most limited resource, which means we all try to be really smart and focused on the things we’re best equipped to do to support the organization and move us forward
Lillie Therieau: What’s your relationship like with Chicago? Have you/do you currently live here? What do you love about the city?
Josh Hoekwater: I’ve always had a ton of love for Chicago, but cumulatively, I’ve only actually lived here for 7 years of my life, having spent most of my childhood in Grand Rapids, MI, and the first 12 years after college in Boston. Since moving back here in 2014, I’ve just developed such a deeper appreciation for the city and all its flavor. There’s so much to love about the city. I love eating all over the city — from taquerias in Rogers Park or Pilsen to Jimmy’s sausages to Parson’s or Mini Mott in Logan Square.
Before the pandemic, I also loved getting out for music, sports and theater. I share Cubs season tickets with a bunch of other folks and I try to get down to see a couple White Sox games when my Red Sox are in town and whenever there are soccer matches at Soldier Field, we try to go. We get out to see shows as often as we can — from Northerly Island to the Vic to Thalia Hall to Rosa’s Lounge. We also spend a lot of time exploring different parks and forest preserves around the city and spend lots of time at the beach in Rogers Park.
Lillie Therieau: What do you wish your art education had looked like as a child?
Josh Hoekwater: I was actually really fortunate to have grown up in a school where art education was part of the curriculum throughout. My art teachers — Mrs. Klaasen in elementary school and Mrs. Potts in high school — definitely cared about teaching us different techniques and mediums and were very encouraging. Especially in high school, I received a lot of encouragement to pursue art seriously and strongly considered art school before ultimately deciding to study music. That said, I went to private, religious schools for most of my childhood, and there was not much (if any) emphasis on diversity of perspectives and representation. So I think that was probably the biggest thing lacking in my art education.
Lillie Therieau: How did you come to be an IPMM board member?
Josh Hoekwater: Evan and I met when my folks owned a coffee shop around the corner from his house and my mom set us up on a blind date of sorts not long after I’d moved to Chicago. We hit it off and became friends and, over time, I found myself more and more drawn to the IPMM mission. I was also looking for a way to be more actively involved in something I cared about outside of my work.
I really decided to try and be more actively involved with IPMM soon after I went to one of our last gallery shows we had at the Green Exchange building. It featured work by Jay Ryan, alongside prints that kids had made when he’d done a workshop as well as the letters from the kids that said things like “it made me believe in my dream” or “I never knew art could be so cool”. That brought tears to my eyes because I realized how much arts access — something I’d taken for granted my whole life — can really impact the trajectory of a kid’s life. So I jumped in — Ev, Brian and I discussed whether it made sense for me to come onboard as a board member and I was officially added in January of 2018.
Lillie Therieau: What is your vision for expanding IPMM? What do you want it to look like in the future?
Josh Hoekwater: While I love how connected we are to Chicago and the communities here, and believe so much that our work here is far from finished, I really see us continuing to expand our mission geographically. The reality is arts funding has been and continues to be slashed in communities across the country and our model is so unique and so sustainable and self-perpetuating that I really want to see us expand into additional communities.
I also find myself wondering about whether we could create programs that bring in other art mediums. Right now, our focus is pretty much exclusively on 2D visual mediums like prints and murals, but as someone who plays music and appreciates theater and creative writing, I’d love to try and create programs that are just as innovative and just as sustainable to provide access to these artforms as well. I haven’t come up with anything yet, but my daydreaming time is often spent thinking about what a program that is equivalent to Shared Walls™ for music, or theater or writing could look like.
Lillie Therieau: How must the art world change during and after the COVID-19 pandemic? How must it change as the BLM protests sweep across the world?
Josh Hoekwater: Two themes bubble up for me — both of which are integral to our mission at IPMM.
The first is access. We often speak about how experiencing art is something that shouldn’t be constrained to the walls of the Art Institute or similar institutions. And in the current climate of social distancing, we have an opportunity to double down on that — whether that’s larger format works like murals in the communities we serve or creating virtual experiences or creating programming that encourages people to create their own art, we have an opportunity to really focus on what access really means and how we can improve it.
The second is representation. I truly believe that art is most impactful and unlocks the most possibilities when people are able to see themselves or can relate to the narratives in the art they experience. Our emphasis over the last year+ has been on building our collection with a focus on women and gender non-conforming artists — especially nonwhite artists — to help ensure that the art we exhibit in our communities represents broader perspectives and experiences than the largely cisgender, white [male] dominated traditional art world.
Lillie Therieau: How could arts education be systemically overhauled and reimagined throughout CPS?
Josh Hoekwater: First, we’ve got to find a more equitable budgeting system than the current student-based budgeting that is in place today. It is not a kid’s fault that their neighborhood school is not full, yet they’re the ones impacted most by the decisions principals are forced to make — decisions that usually result in cuts to arts programming.
Secondly, I think CPS needs to publicly acknowledge the [scientifically proven] role the arts play in the development of a child and adjust their 5-year vision and core values to more specifically address that reality. A system where some schools are forced to cut arts programming in order to pay the bills, while the busiest and, therefore, best funded schools can continue to build facilities and offer more diverse arts programming directly goes against CPS’ core values of “Whole Child” and “Equity”.
Lillie Therieau: Why is it so important for IPMM to uplift and support artists?
Josh Hoekwater: I think that what makes IPMM so compelling and really differentiates us is the sustainability of our model. The fact that we pay artists a fair market rate for their work, rather than asking them to work on spec or for the elusive promise of “exposure” means we’re practicing what we preach about the belief in the possibilities we know art can unlock for people. How cool would it be to, one day, buy a set of prints or commission a mural from a student who, years earlier, had gotten to experience art on the walls of their school or participated in a workshop with one of the artists?? Those are the kinds of connections we want to foster and that’s where our wheel of impact can lead us.
Lillie Therieau: How does your focus on tech and web development help you in your position at IPMM? How do the art world and the tech world overlap and intersect?
Josh Hoekwater: Tactically, I’ve been able to stay really close to the design and development of our new site and provide input and guidance along the way as its evolved. But I think where I help add the most value for IPMM is that I’ve been a part of my current organization since we were a small, scrappy startup to now where we’re operating in 3 cities and part of a large holding company. So that experience of being in on the ground floor and growing a company allows me to partner with Evan and the rest of the board to help tackle some of the larger strategic and operational challenges we expect to encounter as we continue to grow.
I do think that the art world and tech world are becoming increasingly intertwined. The best web designers I know, are ones who are also artists in some capacity. In fact, the woman largely responsible for my company’s recent rebrand also happens to be a working artist. But beyond that, artists and technologists are increasingly leveraging similar tool sets and similar vocabularies to tackle the work and, at least in my boutique agency and start-up world, a shared ethos as well.
If you believe in our mission and are wowed by Josh and Roxy’s dedication to the communities we serve, donate today! Your donations will serve schools all across the city, making Chicago a more equitable place.
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