Staff Spotlight: Eris Eaton

Eris, you’ve been part of the Arts Corps community for a while in various ways! Tell us about your journey with the organization and what it was that made you come back?

Finding Arts Corps was a bit of a journey in and of itself. At the time, I was getting my degree in Positive Youth Development at Highline College. I wasn’t in the degree with the goal of starting non-profit work. The larger goal was to get my Master’s in library science, but I felt the degree was relevant and interesting, so I went for it. I was also 19 at the time, which was wild, being a youth and studying about… well, myself. The more I learned, the more I became invested and passionate about community work. 

In the second half of the program, you have to find a place to intern. They just kind of unleash you and say, “Reach out!! Do your best!!” I was so nervous and lost, I just started looking for places that focused on art and music, since those are things I personally enjoy. When I reached out to Arts Corps, they immediately responded with such interest and enthusiasm. I tend to believe I’m imposing on people a lot, but from the beginning, the folks at Arts Corps saw things in me that I had never thought of as valuable and that continues to be a big reason I keep coming back.

I learned one of my biggest life lessons during my time as an Arts Corps intern. When you’re young, there’s a lot of mystique around working, especially around being a “professional.” It’s like being an “adult,” you don’t really know what to expect, but there’s a lot of grandeur spun around it while growing up. What coming into Arts Corps taught me is that the world is just made up of a bunch of people trying their best to get stuff done. Whether you’re a CEO or in customer service, it’s not really any different. There’s no secret code or revelation; we’re all just people doing our best. 

When it came to staying on as a classroom assistant and teaching artist, or coming back to be a program manager, my reasons were always the same. Regardless of what I was learning about myself, what I wanted, or who I wanted to be, Arts Corps had my back. The folks here have always been there for me, cheering me on, and believing in me more than I believe in myself. And hey, they do awesome work. They’re giving something to the world that it really needs: A place to do art and feel loved. Not just to the youth, but to the staff, too. Every day when I come home, I find myself thinking “Wow, I’m so very blessed that my life led me to Arts Corps.”

How did your experiences at Arts Corps prepare you professionally? How did they connect to your journey outside the organization?

Being at Arts Corps taught me a lot about what work is involved in running a non-profit. But, honestly, I think the best thing it did was give me standards! Standards on how to treat each other, on how to uplift those we work with and for, and what it really means to be an “equitable” and “anti-racist” organization. The short time I was gone, I started to see very quickly that not everyone sees the world like Arts Corps does. I was taught here that honesty, bravery, accountability, love, and the desire to grow are the true pillars to being a “professional.” Outside of Arts Corps, I ran into a lot of places that seemed to believe being professional means keeping your head down and your heart closed. People think those systems exist for safety and comfort, but all it’s keeping safe is the system of power itself. Arts Corps taught me that being an “artist” (which is really just being “human”) is all about challenging those systems of power. 

What is something you are looking forward to in your new role as Program Manager?

I just really enjoy the logistics of it all. Someone reminded me we needed to figure out food for a class, and I immediately got excited to plan it. Making connections, providing folks with information, keeping everything together with duct tape and staples if you have to it’s all so satisfying when you know what you’re doing. I’m looking forward to learning more and more so I can confidently claim I know what I’m doing! Then I’ll be able to reach that most satisfying place, where even if I have 10 different projects to juggle, I know exactly what’s happening in each one, and can leap right into whatever needs to happen next.

Everyday though, I’m just excited to help people. As a kid, whenever I came up with a new answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my parent’s follow-up was always “How does that help people?” It was drilled into me that what you do to make money should always help people somehow. So, unless I’m being of service to someone, I don’t really feel that I’m working at all. In that way, I’m looking forward to becoming more capable, so that everyone around me can think: “Whenever I need help, I know I can rely on Eris to be there for me.”

What are some of your personal creative practices? What do you like about them?

I like to enjoy a lot of different art forms! I draw, write, dance, video edit, and I recently began my journey in cosplay, which involves a lot of types of sewing and fabricating. I’ll be learning to craft armor with foam this year, for example. There’s little I feel I’ve mastered, but that’s alright, since art is about expression and enjoyment rather than perfection. I can be satisfied with things like sewing and video editing as long as I get to see my artistic vision become tangible. Then I can say I’ve learned something new.

The one thing I try to “perfect” is singing! Music has been in my life as early as I can remember, whether played by friends and family or just on the radio in the car, and singing has always been a part of that. You don’t need any special tools to do it, you just need to raise your voice and go for it! It’s something that’s incorporated throughout the day for me. It could be singing in the car, or while cleaning, or in the grocery store, or anywhere really. Breathing, being loud, and letting the world hear you, there’s nothing else really like it. Singing with others is also a really special experience, which I do mostly in the Level Up! Vocal Ensemble (LU!VE) which I help run in Seattle. These days I’m simply grabbing any performance opportunity I can find and have time for, so I can keep sharing that love for music with other people.

What opportunities and challenges do you see ahead for those of us who care deeply about art, young people, and community?

The main opportunity I’m thinking about these days is the potential to integrate nonprofits in with our local library systems more. Local libraries are nuclei of community, but I haven’t heard of any non-profit so far consistently partnering with them. I’d really like to see organizations turn to librarians to discuss how we can connect and deliver what our community members need. If more of us can walk hand-in-hand when it comes to programming, our net of supporters will become tighter-knit, and more and more people will be served and uplifted.

I find I can’t really speak on challenges, though. A challenge is just another thing to get done, right? I mean, sure, I could write a paragraph here about the fact arts education still isn’t properly funded, the need to restructure the education system to improve the lives of both teachers and students, the effect on youth of growing up in a world where privacy doesn’t exist, or the rise of puritan politics, but what would be changed by that? 

I simply choose to believe in my heart that there is a world where everyone has the opportunity and time to enjoy art. One where everyone loves each other and grows closer because of it. Where everyone values each other and what we have to say. If I work a little harder, and talk to more people, and spread the word, that world is going to exist, it’ll get a little closer. Will there be challenges? Probably. When those eventual challenges appear, we’ll just roll up our sleeves and climb over it. And then one day, on the other side of those walls, that world will become real.

It’s a new year! As we move into 2023, what are some things that you are holding onto or reaching toward?

Last year, my goal was to do everything!! I wanted to push myself to try things I’d never done before, take risks, and never say no. I grew a lot and found a lot of awesome opportunities. I definitely don’t want to let go of that mindset. At the same time, trying to manage everything is exhausting. So I’m learning, now that I’ve piled on so much, how to carefully set some things aside. In 2023, I want to keep up on pushing myself, but also to focus on learning how to pace myself for the many more years of exploration to come.