Mary Todd Lincoln — and much more
“So, what do you do?”
That is a loaded question to ask of Angela Bartley. The answer might confound you.
In short, she teaches, dances, portrays historical figures, flies planes, plays the bugle and acts. But if you call her a “Renaissance Woman,” she laughs.
“The first time someone called me that, I got real quiet and was very offended,” she says. “He asked what was wrong, and I said, ‘Are you talking about my figure?’”
Catchall terms aside, her most recent projects include teaching a salsa dancing class on Wednesday nights and portraying Mary Todd Lincoln for the Kentucky Chautauqua series.
In September Bartley will debut the former First Lady for the St. Matthews Historical Society. She plans to focus on Lincoln’s history as “Kentucky’s girl,” not just her time in Washington. Bartley also will address the bad rap Lincoln carried from her redecoration of the White House and her perceived lunacy.
“I think it was a depression. She lost three children and her husband,” Bartley said. “Her response was not inappropriate.”
With the upcoming celebrations for the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, Bartley has already received bookings for her portrayal of his wife. It follows her popular portrayal of Rose Will Monroe (WWII icon Rosie the Riveter), which she has performed since 2005.
“It’s a very important story because the real Rosies are dying,” says Virginia Smith, Kentucky Humanities Council president.
Besides being important, the story has been popular. According to the Kentucky Humanities Council, which organizes the Chautauqua series, Bartley performed Rosie 50 times in her first year, a record for a Chautauqua portrayal.
Smith anticipates a “tremendous call” for the Lincoln Chautauqua.
Meanwhile, Bartley has gotten a host of other projects off the ground. She works as a flight instructor at Bowman Field and used to teach pilots about flight regulations for UPS.
But flying and acting aren’t enough for her. Soon after moving to Louisville from Ashland to attend the University of Louisville on a full trumpet scholarship, Bartley, at 18 years old, became the youngest bugler for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum, a position she still holds. She also has recorded a CD that includes “Call to the Post” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
These days Bartley spends much of her time teaching and promoting her salsa dancing classes. She set up a Web site, salsadancelouisville.com, and says classes at Big Dave’s Outpost have been filled to capacity.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to exercise and socialize and learn how to transform their lives a little,” she says.
Finding time for these different jobs and interests takes a lot of self-motivation, but she says she hopes that people see her as a role model of someone who follows her dreams.
She adds that her life has given her some remarkable intangible benefits: “Every day is different. When people ask me how it’s going, I never say ‘same old, same old.’”
BY RYAN REAL
THE PAUL W. OGLE CULTURAL AND COMMUNITY CENTER
You know. For Kids
In October 2005, Magdalena Herdoiza-Estevez decided she wanted to arrange a visit by the Ecuadorean children’s dance troupe Quitumbe Andean Ballet. She wanted the troupe to perform in the Chase Children’s Series at the Paul W. Ogle Cultural and Community Center at Indiana University Southeast. The series has been a venue mainstay since the center opened in 1996.
While Herdoiza-Estevez, an associate professor of education at IUS, had raised funds, including $8,000 from Sister Cities of Louisville, she needed more to pay for the troupe’s flight. She consulted the center’s manager, Kyle Ridout, about her dilemma. He suggested that she find $8,000 in matching grants.
A week later, Herdoiza-Estevez had the money. In September 2006, after she had raised about $22,000 in total, the children’s ballet performed four shows to crowded houses. They were among the center’s best-attended performances, and in those crowds were many children who don’t have regular access, if any, to the arts.
Ridout created the children’s series to expose underprivileged children to the arts, and considers it one of the center’s proudest achievements. Almost half of the center’s annual $245,000 budget goes toward children’s programs.
“It’s the gem of what we do,” he says.
“And it’s probably the most fun,” adds Michaeleen Ogden, ticket office
manager. “We reach so many kids that might not ever get the opportunity to experience the theater. We are so fortunate that we are able to reach so many.”
In the center’s opening year, 2,000 children attended the series performances. During the 2005-06 season, more than 10,000 students from all backgrounds attended. This year, Ridout hopes to reach 15,000 children.
Part of the success comes from the affordability of performances. When Ridout started, student tickets were $5, but today they are free, thanks to continued substantial funding from Chase and to contributions from several other community and corporate organizations.
Ridout tries to books performers who interact with the audience.
“Some of the shows just stay on stage and they’re highly entertaining, but the ones who go out into the audience get the kids so excited,” he says. “So any teacher who thinks they’re going to keep their kids quiet find that’s often not the case.”
The series also educates. The Ogle Center provides each student with a study guide specific to each show that can be downloaded from the center’s Web site. The guides contain information about the performances and questions for educators to ask students.
And when performers don’t have a ready guidebook? Ogden has been known to compile one herself.
BY MARY Q. BURTON
NANA YAA ASANTEWAA
Arts Council founder is a patient warrior
Art is a field full of unsung heroes and under-appreciated work. Which means, of course, that one is likely to stumble onto hidden treasures.
One such treasure would clearly be the Arts Council of Louisville, its office tucked into a small corner on the 10th floor of downtown’s historic Heyburn building on Broadway. There, Nana Yaa Asantewaa, affectionately known as “Mama Yaa” to many friends and colleagues, perseveres in realizing her vision: “Arts for Everyone. Arts Every day. Arts Everywhere.”
That’s been her mantra since she started the nine-year-old organization, which is funded only by the Kentucky Arts Council and a small grant from Louisville Metro government. The goal is straightforward: to impart the arts and a sense of history — and an appreciation for both — to youth, particularly those who are disadvantaged and may otherwise get no exposure to the arts.
Asantewaa, 65, is driven to build bridges between residents in the Metro and its arts community. “This is my dream,” she says. “
the council is to generate excitement for life, to be enthusiastic about it.”
In April, that vision was on display during the Arts Council’s second annual Festival of the Arts, a two-day event featuring visual art, dance, music and storytelling. This summer the council hosted storytelling and drumming workshops for youth. All programs were free.
“I think that everyone who meets Mama Yaa is quite swayed by her vision,” says Gregory Acker, the council’s current artist in residence. “And it’s a really pure vision, that everyone has art in them, a drive to create.”
Asantewaa’s path didn’t start out with a focus on youth, but on playwriting; during the early 1990s she wrote many plays. “I wanted them to be mostly female and be able to show history from the stage,” she says. “To bring these plays to the youth and get them thinking, get them in an environment where they can ask questions was important.”
She then performed her plays — most of which recounted stories about the African-American struggle for civil rights — at Actors Theatre. She began to hear interesting questions from the children, such as whether Rosa Parks was Martin Luther King’s sister. That opened lines of communication on issues and gave her the chance to provide accurate information.
Still, Asantewaa is primarily known as a storyteller of magical tales. She can enrapture an audience and transport them to a time and place far from any theater.
“She is a storyteller extraordinaire who can make you believe she is a lion, or a little girl, or the indomitable civil rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer,” says Judi Jennings, executive director of the Kentucky Foundation for Women and vice chair of the Arts Council board.
Acker says Asantewaa is an exceptional community organizer and arts promoter. “She knows how to encourage and nurture artists of all ages and backgrounds,” he says. “She is a patient warrior for the rights of all people to abundant community arts.”
BY ERIN CLEPHAS