A&E Q&A - A few questions with WonderRoot’s Maggie Ginestra

The new creative director will spearhead a new, yearlong professional development program for artists

It’s no secret that local arts nonprofit WonderRoot has ambitious plans for Atlanta. Its mission to foster artists and social change in Atlanta took a big step forward last month when the organization hired a new creative director, Maggie Ginestra. CL caught up with her to talk about her background in St. Louis and the future of the organization.

What does it mean to be creative director for an organization like WonderRoot?

I’m tasked to oversee creative programming with WonderRoot, particularly in the realms of public art, professional development of artists, and exhibitions. It also means that I have the job of thinking about WonderRoot’s creative voice, which is something that I’m being slow to articulate. Right now, I feel my job is to listen to the needs of artists and the meaningful ways for artists to connect to social change opportunities. Then, hopefully, that voice will begin to cohere.

How did you get into arts administration?

This would be the first time that I’ve had the cohesion of a title, an arrangement with a particular organization, and a vision that already exists and is in dialogue with a place. So, entering that conversation is really cool and new. My work in St. Louis was very piecemeal. I co-founded Sloup, a monthly artist-granting soup dinner. Attendees would pay $10 to eat soup, the money would be pooled into a grant, and the attendees would vote on their favorite arts proposal. This is something that’s happening in different cities — there’s Feast in Brooklyn and Sunday Soup in Chicago — and our program became an emblem of the grassroots arts culture in St. Louis.

I was also involved with a collaboration between the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and Prison Performing Arts, a theatrical engagement with the arts that was actually a job readiness program. Former prisoners and veterans that were interested in this program would seek employment and be paid to spend time with the artwork in the Pulitzer and develop thoughts and language around it. That work would become a theatrical production in the space that would engage an audience for several weeks. So, I hope to create situations like that here.

Why did you decide to come to Atlanta to work with WonderRoot?

Atlanta has always been very much on my radar. My grandfather grew up here and his stories feel very precious to me. I went to Tallahassee for undergrad and several of my closest collaborators, Brett Thompson who ran ASIFA and the artist Cameron Stuart, moved here. Cameron would tell me about running the open mic at WonderRoot. I loved how he articulated the vision and the mission and the way he was invited to take ownership of it. It sounded really brave. If I was going to engage with an organization in Atlanta, this would be it. Then I saw the job posting.

What’s in the future for WonderRoot?

We’re about to announce, once we finalize a few details, the Walthall Artists Fellowship, a professional development program for 12 artists, visual and performing. It’ll be a yearlong program for artists at a critical stage in their career where they could use the opportunity to be in dialogue about the resources and tools that are available in Atlanta right now. It seeks to be a communication tool, connecting these artists to each other and also to a community of arts professionals who are there to support them. The program will culminate in a five-day retreat and a group exhibition. Programs of duration like that are new to WonderRoot.

It’s the kind of thing that could help anchor people to Atlanta.

Yes, I think by being a pathway and a nexus for collaboration, I think we can help people live more interconnected and inventive lives. That’s what I think marries you to a space long term: collaborations that feel like partnerships and like families. When you’re inventing a reality together and changing a city together, rather than just living it. I think we can foster that. I think the center makes people want to stay in Reynoldstown and we want to start thinking about that in terms of the city.