Saturday, June 20, 2009

ATIBA EDWARDS: LEADING THE WAY IN THE NONPROFIT ARTS WORLD

How does someone with a full-time job also manage to run a nonprofit arts organization? F.O.K.U.S Co-Founder Atiba Edward's laid back, almost shy demeanor belies a man with unending energy for leading a "multicultural arts organization whose missions are to use the arts as a tool of empowerment and to create a diverse community using the arts as the common medium."

Part of Atiba's success lies in his ability to harness the energies of his dozen or so staff members (also unpaid) as well as well as other volunteers to "produce art events such as art shows, concerts, and film screenings and hold discussions related to these events and general points of interests as a means to increase the participation in and appreciation of the arts."

Here's what I learned about Atiba in my interview with him:

He started F.O.K.U.S - Fighting Obstacles Knowing Ultimate Success - in the Summer of 2003 with one of his best friends, Alma, while they were both students at the University of Michigan. They had spoken about the self-defeating internal barriers which artists face and wanted to do something about those barriers before leaving college.

After graduating from college in 2006, Atiba brought F.O.K.U.S to New York and built their volunteer staff. They also brought their organization's magazine, INSIGHT, which features the art and writing of local artists.

F.O.K.U.S sponsors and organizes New York based events, including the annual "The Stoop" in Forte Green Park; the Family Day portion of the Hip Hop Festival; and a block party with City Year.

Atiba himself loves to write poetry, take photographs, play the piano, build computers, and ride his bike. He was Born in St. Vincent in the Caribbean and remembers hearing about his mother's participation in Carnival. Also, his dad was someone who loved making things with his hands. One year, he crafted a bar for the family's barbecue get together. The overall message Atiba got from his family was "Do what you can with what you have."

Atiba, who studied engineering, poetry, and musicology while at U of M, now works as a financial analyst. According to Edwards, the profession, combined with his studies, helps him see inefficiency with people, places, and things and to keep asking the questions that will get below the surface of a problem.

As the Co-Founder of F.O.K.U.S, Atiba's philosophy is to treat the organization as "one big learning pot" where staff and other volunteers have plenty of room to try things, and to make mistakes.

If you want to see Atiba and F.O.K.U.S in action come to The Stoop on August 8th at 1:00 in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park.

To make a donation to FOKUS, CLICK HERE.
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