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Session #3: Equity in Practice

Saturday, March 6, 2021 3-4 pm

Featuring Oluyinka Akinjiloa, Kristen Brayson, Thomas Bruner, Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner

Workshop Description: ODEO hosts a panel discussion with dance makers and educators from across Oregon who are addressing equity and social justice in their programs, performances, choreography, and teaching. Dive into the successes, challenges, and ongoing work being done in Oregon’s dance community to address racism, equity, and inclusion. How can a major school district address social justice in the classroom and how does that apply to the dance classroom? How can dance studios and dance companies implement more equitable practices and policies?  What changes are college and universities making to their curriculums and programs to dismantle systematic racism? What can artists and companies do to elevate the voices for social justice within performance?  ODEO is very honored and excited to have the following panelists contribute to the discussion: 

- Oluyinka Akinjiola, Artistic Director of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater and Dance Teacher with Portland Public Schools

- Kristen Brayson, Program Administrator for Visual and Performing Arts at Portland Public Schools

- Thomas Bruner, Oregon Ballet Theatre Executive Director

- Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner, Assistant Professor of Dance at Western Oregon University (WOU)

Oluyinka A. Akinjiola, founded Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater in 2014. Oluyinka is a recipient of the 2017 Oregon Arts Commission Artist Fellowship, Monserrat Award for Dance Research, Regional Arts and Culture Council Project grant awards, Multnomah County Cultural Coalitions grants, was a Fulbright Finalist and is in the Regional Arts and Culture Council's Cultural Leadership Program. Oluyinka received a MFA in Dance Choreography and Performance, and was Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance at Reed College and SUNY The College at Brockport, and now building dance programs at Harriet Tubman Middle School and Faubion K 8. She creates a unique blend between dances of Africa, the African Diaspora, Modern dance and social justice issues. Her work was featured in the International Association of Blacks in Dance conference (Washington D.C. and Los Angeles),  Carnaval 2014 (Salvador, BA, Brazil), TEDxMtHood, and Newmark Theater among others. 

Kristen Brayson is the Program Administrator for Visual & Performing Arts for Portland Public Schools (PPS). Kristen works closely with 200+ dance, music, theatre, and visual arts educators in over 78 schools and oversees the mission and vision of Visual & Performing Arts in PPS. Prior to her current role, she served as Arts Teacher On Special Assignment (TOSA) in the PPS central office for four years. Before working at the district level, Kristen spent 22 years delivering dance education to students across PPS.  

As a young child, Kristen discovered dance and embraced it as a soul-satisfying avenue to provoke internal and personal expression. After numerous years of classical, modern/contemporary, jazz, and tap dance study and performance, Kristen joined the dance staff at Jefferson High school in their noteworthy pre-professional training program. After her tenure at Jefferson, Kristen became a founding teacher of da Vinci Arts Middle School as the director of its dance department. Over the next 17 years, Kristen taught five comprehensive levels of dance, choreographed over 300 pieces of work, directed numerous productions, and oversaw the growth of the da Vinci dance program from 33 students to 350. 

As a fervent equity-focused educator, Kristen believes that arts education provides unique tools to unlock a student’s personal voice, physical expressions, and abstract, critical and creative thinking — all crucial cornerstones to healthy human development. She is a tireless advocate for arts education as a vehicle that supports and drives student purpose and fosters deep learning around concepts of culture, identity, and place. Kristen believes that the artifacts of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts occupy space and time and cause engagement, pause, reflection and celebration, the fruits of which make students feel seen, heard, and valued for their unique contributions. 

Kristen holds a Bachelor of Performing Arts degree with a dance focus from St. Mary’s College of California, a Master’s of Education degree from Marylhurst University, and a professional Administrator License degree from Portland State University. 

Thomas Bruner, Oregon Ballet Theatre

From CEO of a scrappy start up in Texas, to Vice President with the nation’s largest humanitarian organization in Washington, D.C., to volunteer at a Buddhist temple in Portland, Oregon, Thomas Bruner has been helping businesses and organizations do great work for decades. Across the country, Bruner has successfully built and repaired complex organizations and foundations, mobilized communities to effectively respond to urgent issues and needs, and marshaled the resources of the public, private and social sectors. A nationally-recognized leader, Bruner brings a wealth of experience to his work, including 25 years of executive-level organizational leadership, numerous awards and recognition, an impressive portfolio of civic volunteer engagement, a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, and a diversity management certificate from Cornell University.

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Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner is a choreographer and dance educator committed to inclusion, representation and social consciousness in both pedagogy and creative practice.  She received her B.F.A. at the University of Minnesota, and her M.F.A. as an Advanced Opportunity Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts. She has served as the Choreographer in Residence for the Minnesota Dance Theater and is a four- time winner of the Arizona Choreography Competition’s Professional Division.  Original works by Gutierrez-Garner have been commissioned by numerous colleges and universities across the U.S. including Kent State University, University of Minnesota, Arizona State University, Gustavus Adolphus College, University of Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Texas Rio Grande, Muhlenberg College and the American University in Washington D.C.   Additionally she has enjoyed commissions by professional companies including the Minnesota Dance Theater, Dulce Dance Company, Eclectic Edge Ensemble, Zenon Dance Company and Los Angeles based JazzAntiqua.  Gutierrez-Garner’s work has seen support from organizations such as the Jerome Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Walker Art Center, and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She has taught on the dance faculties of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and Gustavus Adolphus College, as well as the prestigious Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine and as a guest faculty at Xuchang University in China.  She is an Assistant Professor of Dance at Western Oregon University and is the Artistic Director of Company Movimiento, based in Eugene, OR.

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