Today we’d like to introduce you to Rae Weekes.
Hi Rae, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today.
My whole life, it has been important to me to live for something outside of myself–to make a difference. Cliche, I know, but it’s true. I knew I needed to find a specific focus and stick with it, but I struggled to find that one focus where I felt comfortable and genuinely wanted to give my all.
I have always had diverse interests and knew I wanted to be engaged in the creative realm. I went to the College of Charleston for Studio Art and began volunteering at a program for adults with disabilities where my friend worked. It immediately clicked and as I learned about the need for more engaging and quality programming for neurodiverse adults after high school, I knew this was where I wanted to spend my time, emotion, and talents.
After some time, I was hired there, and then a couple of years later hopped on board with another friend when she started an arts-based program for adults with disabilities in 2014. I found my place. HEART Inclusive Arts Community is now a bustling inclusive studio in downtown Charleston.
We have a scheduled day from 9 am-5 pm that includes performing arts, visual arts, and community engagement that build up to numerous events throughout the year. We produce two original stage shows a year, three gallery exhibitions, Open Mic Nights, a Disability Pride celebration, and even a HEART family vacation amongst other events.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
We have certainly had our struggles along the way; as is life. One major obstacle we had to weave through is the laws surrounding the disability community. There are a lot of old laws in place that we were not aware of and had to get legal permission to bypass due to our “niche” program.
We also applied to be state-certified in order to accept waivers (state allowances to folks with disabilities for services in the community) and got rejected several times due to minimal issues in paperwork. This ended up being the better outcome because the obligations once certified would crush our creativity, especially as a small program. So instead, we offer scholarships to those that need financial assistance.
Physical space has always been and still is a challenge for our program. Charleston is an expensive city! We would love to find a permanent home for our studio with ample space to grow — to add more members, creative disciplines, and even event space. We currently rent which also comes with its own challenges.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I have never identified as an artist in any one medium, so this job fits me perfectly. I wear a lot of hats at HEART. Right now, I run the Visual Arts program, manage the daily schedule/activities calendar and volunteers, as well some administrative work. I am able to do a little bit of everything.
In college, I concentrated most on printmaking, drawing, and photography. Now, I focus mostly on drawing and painting in my free time, but that can quickly switch to whatever new idea I have in something like wood burning or polymer clay. I’m a little all over the place.
I am most proud of the accomplishments of the artists at HEART, aka HEARTists, and being the vehicle that brings those accomplishments to the world. I am proud of us as a group for all that we accomplish together and for how strong and confident we have become.
We’re always looking for the lessons that can be learned in any situation, including tragic ones like the Covid-19 crisis. Are there any lessons you’ve learned that you can share?
Whew, what a time to be alive. We went to virtual-only programming for months and it was incredibly challenging. I learned how important it is for us to create together in a shared physical space and to be out and about in our community. We thrive on collaboration and being in a creative environment with a cacophony of voices and constant movement.
However, we knew it was much more important to keep everyone safe and healthy so we stayed positive. We realized the ability it gave us to gain a much further reach. We were no longer limited by physical location and could reach folks anywhere in the world. Through all of the changes, we learned how important creativity is to the survival of any program.
It forced us to think even further outside of the box, how to better communicate and we became more organized. We learned how dedicated we are, how strong we are together, and how important our HEART family is in our lives. We will never take our hugs or shared experiences for granted.
- Website: www.heartsc.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heartsc_org/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CharlestonHEART
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/HeartInclusiveArtsCommunity
- Other: https://www.tiktok.com/@heartgoestiktok