|Janis Astor del
Valle, director of the Green Street Arts Center, says the center's people,
young and old, keep her job interesting. She relies on the help of Wesleyan
students to create a invigorating artsy environment at the center.
Green Street Director Loves to Engage the Community in the Arts
Q: When did you come to the Green Street Arts
A: I first came on board in February 2006 as assistant director; then, when
the director resigned in March, I became the interim director. I was
promoted to director in June.
Q: How did you find out about the GSAC initially? What drew you towards
A: About a year ago, my partner and I became engaged -- I lived in the Bronx
at that time and she was in Branford. Neither one of us wanted to make our
home in New York, so I started job searching in Connecticut. I came across
the Green Street job announcement on NY Times.com and immediately felt this
was the position and place for me! I was drawn to the fact that it’s a
project of Wesleyan and a community arts center designed to serve as an
anchor for the city’s revitalization efforts. While in grad school, 2001-04,
I had worked for the Point, a community arts center in the Bronx that
actually served as a type of model for Green Street. But once I graduated,
those looming student loans made me panic, and I took a job as a grants
manager for a local arts council. After a year and a half there, I
discovered I really missed working with children and the community in
general. Green Street seemed like the perfect fit.
Q: Where are you from? Where did you grow up and go to college?
A: I’m a Bronx-born Puerto Rican – I don’t like to say Nuyorican, because
I’m proud of my Bronx heritage! When I was 7, my family relocated to New
Milford, Connecticut, where I lived until age 22. I started out at Western
Connecticut State University, and then I took a year off and became a radio
announcer for a local “Lite Music” station. I almost got fired for playing
Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer and anything by Joni Mitchell. I was forced to
stick to the playlist, which included such “hits” as The Carpenters’, Close
to You, and Barry Manilow’s Tryin’ to Get the Feelin’ – needless to say, I
wasn’t feeling it. So, I fled to New York City, in an attempt to recapture
my Puerto Rican roots, and to finish college. I finally graduated from
Marymount Manhattan College in 1988 with my bachelor’s of arts in theater. I
received my MFA in film from Columbia University in 2004.
Q: What is your personal interest in the arts?
A: I am a writer/performer/filmmaker, but most of my experience has been in
theater, as a playwright and actor.
Q: What is most exciting to you about working at the GSAC?
A: The people – our students, younger and older, the staff, faculty,
Wesleyan student volunteers, the community itself. There’s a wealth of
talent here, and they all inspire me on a daily basis. They’re also so
Q: Green Street recently had a “growth spurt.” Can you elaborate?
A: We’ve more than doubled our enrollment in the After School Arts Program
since last spring. We now have 53 children, 41 of whom attend five days a
week. Adult classes like salsa and belly dancing are so popular that next
semester we’re offering intermediate levels of each. Our weekend events –
Open Mic, Coffeehouse, In the Limelight and Sunday Salons – have been
attracting people of all ages from all over Middletown and beyond. It’s an
incredibly exciting time for us.
Q: How do Wesleyan students get involved with Green Street?
A: Wesleyan students are so vital to us, especially to our After School
Program. The offer homework help, they serve as teaching assistants, they
facilitate free arts activities and are instrumental is helping us improve
the program. Wesleyan students are the backbone to our program. They create
an invigorating and fun-filled program.
Q: What are your personal goals for the arts center?
A: My penultimate goal is to have something happening in every room here
from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. But that’s within five
Q: Does Green Street have any upcoming events scheduled?
A: A lot of cool events are coming up in the very near future. On Dec. 8, we
are absolutely thrilled to present Wesleyan Vice president for Finance and
Admininstration John Meerts and his band, The Remainders, as well as the
Wesleyan student group, The High Lonesome. And on Dec. 15, Wesleyan alumna
Amy Crawford brings her jazz ensemble to Green Street. On Jan. 20 from noon
to 4 p.m. we’re hosting a Free Art Day, where people can check out our
facility and get a taste of the some of the classes we’re offering this
spring. The complete schedule will be on our Web site by Dec. 15, but in the
meantime, I encourage anyone who’s interested in learning more about us to
Q: As the director, do you get to mingle with the kids much or are you
mostly behind the scenes?
A: Unfortunately, I feel too much like a principal at times, making rounds.
I do get to see some of the children’s performances, like the break dancing
and tap classes. They’re amazing! I’d like to get involved in all the
classes a bit more, even teach a section of creative writing. I started
making a kaleidoscope with the art and science kids, but then I got called
away for something, I can’t even remember what, and I never got to finish my
kaleidoscope! I’m trying to arrange my schedule so that I can cut back on
outside meetings and make myself more available to the children. I have
started hosting the After School Program’s “Town Meeting” again, which occur
every Thursday. That’s a great opportunity for me to check in with the kids,
see what’s working for them or what areas of the program may need
improvement, maybe go over certain rules that have been forgotten.
It’s also a chance for us to showcase student performances, because, let me
tell you, we have quite a lot of little hams here! And rightly so, because
they happen to be incredibly talented. In fact, save this date, Thursday,
Dec. 21, our Winter Solstice, where we’ll highlight students from our After
School and evening/weekend programs.
Q: What goes on in a typical day for you over at GSAC?
A: Meetings, e-mail, phone calls. Meetings, e-mail, phone calls. Meetings,
e-mail, phone calls. In the After School Program, it’s a mix of intervention
Q: Who are the key people on your staff, and how many volunteers are there?
A: My indefatigable staff: Lex Leifheit, assistant director; Jessica Carso,
director of Development and Marketing; Cristina D’Alessandro, financial
coordinator/registrar; Shane Grant, facilities coordinator; Rachel
Roccoberton, administrative assistant; Cookie Quinones, After School
assistant; and, Claudia Foerstal, front desk assistant.
Q: In your opinion, is Green Street a successful endeavor for the North End
of Middletown? How is it making a difference for area youth?
A: I believe Green Street is indeed becoming the anchor for revitalization
that it was intended to be. Ninety-six units of mixed income rental
apartments are going up right next door. And it looks like affordable home
ownership is on the horizon, too, as Nehemiah and Broadpark get closer to
working out a deal to redevelop a number of properties on Green and Ferry
streets. I don’t think either of those projects would have happened if we
weren’t here. Not only do we have Wesleyan, and, in particular, President
Doug Bennet, to thank for that, but our partners as well: the North End
Action Team and the City of Middletown. Together, we are proving that we can
and do transform lives through the arts.
Q: What is the energy like there?
A: You can feel it, in the spirit of the neighborhood, the parents, children
and families who come through our doors. They’re excited to be here, and
engaged in art, whether they’re recording a CD in our sound studio, or
making a cross-cultural collage.
Q: What are your hobbies? When is your wedding?
A: I love to write, mostly plays and screenplays, and listen to music –
everything from Tito Puente to Joni Mitchell. My significant other, Amy, and
I are engaged and planning to wed in June. I have to have a June wedding,
I’m corny like that, yo! We live in Branford.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your role at GSAC?
A: I feel incredibly blessed each and every day I come to work. It’s been 11
months, and I’m still pinching myself, making sure this isn’t all a dream
because this truly is a dream job. And my staff, faculty and students make
the dream a beautiful reality.
Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection