Inspire – Marguerite Mitchell: Bettering lives through the arts

By Janelle Davis

One of the reasons I absolutely love working with this organization is creating opportunities for people, especially children, to engage in a process that makes them feel better about themselves. It’s pretty special,” said Marguerite Mitchell, director of education at the Redhouse Theatre. Redhouse Arts Center is a non for profit multicultural organization whose mission is to use arts for community impact. Redhouse has always ensured that everybody, no matter what population, whether from an underserved population or a marginalized community, has access to art, and Marguerite, is an integral contributor to that mission.

Marguerite started her career as an English teacher, which she did for five years. During this profession, Marguerite’s vision was to someday become a principal or superintendent. “I started toying around with the idea of being an administrator so I could make curriculum and programming decisions and have a greater impact on students using literature and arts,” she explained.

With additional background as a violinist, singer, and dancer, Marguerite was often integrating arts into her classroom. Despite being a successful educator, she was still trying to navigate where she wanted to be professionally. So when Laura Austin, founding artistic director of Redhouse Arts Center, offered her the opportunity to start an education department at Redhouse, Marguerite knew that was what she was supposed to be doing. “I thought this was the perfect fit, and I was really excited about it, so I left the classroom and joined Redhouse to start their education department,” she said.

Redhouse launched its inaugural education program, Rock Camp. It was the first program to let the community know that Redhouse was offering arts education and outreach opportunities through theater. “Rock Camp was about learning interdisciplinary, instrument appreciation, teamwork, and communication,” Marguerite explained. 

After Rock Camp’s success, Marguerite and her team convened to form additional opportunities for the community. They expanded the program to support diverse and underserved populations. They developed an Outreach Partnership Program with ARC of Onondaga, Upstate Golisano’s Children’s Hospital, the Syracuse City School District, and many more local organizations.  A variety of workshops have been added, a Theatre Experience Series to engage in theater and music, and additional opportunities to allow community members to engage in collaborative processes that promote an inclusive society.

As director of education, Marguerite has formed meaningful partnerships with the Girl Scouts of America to provide programming support that builds courage, confidence, and character. She has also helped merge Redhouse with The Positivity Project. The Positivity Project takes place in schools Pre-K-12. Educators spend 15 minutes a day teaching students valuable and positive character strengths that promote positive relationships in their lives. Redhouse works in collaboration with this initiative to equip its students with a deeper understanding of character.

We noticed in the first two years of expanding the education program, that there was a huge desire and need for kids and community members to engage in the artistic process and want to express themselves. The education department really blossomed in the first five years,” she said. 

Because of Marguerite’s contribution to Redhouse, thousands of children across the city have had meaningful artistic experiences. When asked why she thought that these artistic experiences are so important to the children, she said, “It’s about feeling heard. Children are so inherently creative and allowing them to express themselves and be who they are is so important, not only for their artistic expression but for their confidence. They learn to advocate for themselves, communicate with others, and interact with different perspectives. The arts provide that for them.” 

Marguerite also explained the importance that these programs are for mental health, for all people, but especially for developing children. The process of engaging in the artistic process helps their mental well-being. 

Marguerite has always gone above and beyond to ensure that the community impact Redhouse provides never falters. “Coming out of the pandemic, arts took a huge hit. The need that our community had during that time, especially for our students, was extremely high. So, it was important for me to make sure that those programs that people depend on for artistic growth, social/emotional growth, and mental wellbeing are always moving forward, no matter what’s going on in the world,” Marguerite said. 

She also stepped up during Redhouse’s transition to their new executive director. She ensured that logistics remained in place for the programs to be able to continue. Along with Artistic Director Temar Underwood, they kept things moving forward and the organization’s partnerships positive and intact.  

The education department and its outreach are huge components of Redhouse’s mission. While the education department has its own programs, Marguerite works to make sure that any of the programmings at Redhouse has some sort of community impact piece.

I always say to my staff that we’re in the business of making people feel special. We’re in the business of giving people permission to be who they are,” she said. “So, one of the reasons why I moved away from the teaching profession and stayed at Redhouse as long as I have is because our programs really do that. They allow people to see themselves and they allow people to feel and grow.”