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Aviva Kapust

Aviva Kapust

Aviva Kapust, Executive Director of the Village of Arts and Humanities

Executive Director, Village of Arts & Humanities

Philadelphia, PA

B.F.A., Graphic Design, 2000

In neighborhoods where beauty is unexpected, art invigorates communities where residents feel forgotten by their surrounding areas. The potency of civic art—the art of creative placemaking, as it’s come to be called—inspires Aviva Kapust ‘00, Hartford Art School alumna and executive director of the Village of Arts and Humanities in Philadelphia, to infuse creativity in one of the country’s most disinvested urban sites.

Aviva climbed the ranks of ad agencies in New York and San Francisco after she graduated from the graphic design program in 2000. When she learned about the Village, she recognized the opportunity to pursue art in a fresh, unexpected way. She decided to volunteer at the Village and started a city-wide magazine staffed solely by people aged 25 and younger. The project was so well received, she took over as executive director in 2013.

“Particularly as a designer, you’re constantly gathering and synthesizing new information from clients,” she says. “If you’re working on an ad design for a client whose product you have no experience with, for example, you have to learn it quickly and design under an incredibly strained timeline. You may have to coordinate your creative process with a team of people, too, so you learn to build as you go along. That, to me, has always felt really natural and I feel the most creative in that environment.”

At the Village, artists in residence work with people in the neighborhood to foster a more beautiful community. It was founded more than 40 years ago as an artist-facilitated building where residents could make art, make music, sing and dance to celebrate their culture—and its survival relies on grant procurement. Aviva found that her experience navigating deadlines and thinking critically about the civic function of art was useful in her leadership role.

At the end of 2017, the Village was chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants to receive $500,000 from ArtPlace America’s National Creative Placemaking Fund.

At this point in Aviva’s career as an artist, her artwork is the Village, itself. It’s become the lens through which she sees connections between ideas, resources, people and civic systems–but this isn’t rooted in a need to give back. She works with the Village because it feeds her curiosity, her thirst for new relationships, and her understanding of the world in the way that visual art did during her formative years. Her advice to other artists who wish to find a career in the community sector is to listen, never assume, and be open to abstract opportunities.

 

“Making art in this environment, you work with people’s trauma,” she says. “You work with their issues, their baggage, their dreams, their wishes, and their limitations. You work with their brilliance. You have to want that. We forget that the materials of art aren’t strictly film, clay, or paint—the tools are people and the structures that connect us. We have a responsibility to that, and it’s not easy.”