I am Josh Rosenstein and I am a second year UNC-Chapel Hill MPA student getting ready to graduate from the School of Government. I usually blog over at MPA Matters, but it is a real pleasure to get to write a guest post over here about I topic I love and care about: community engagement.
I get to tell you about puppets, Frederick Douglass and community fun and learning.
My experience in community engagement is what brought me to the MPA program in the first place. Outside of my time here, I moonlight as a stand-up comedian. I started hosting an Open Mic at a bar called Zog’s shortly after moving to the area in 2014.
The bar’s owner, community fixture Mandey Brown, kindly informed me that I would be applying to join her on the Chapel Hill Cultural Arts Commission because it seemed like I had some free time. Through that work, I grew deeply interested in how citizens can engage with local governments and nonprofits to collaborate on really cool public art. Specifically art that is not only is aesthetically pleasing, but also articulates civic and community values in interesting and thought-provoking ways.
There are so many great examples of this, but one work I keep coming back to is the puppetry of Tarrish Pipkinks aka Jeghetto. Tarrish also served as a citizen-member of the Orange County Arts Commision. Katie Murray, the director of the Orange County Arts Commision, is my good friend and professional mentor.
Last year, Jeghetto was commissioned to perform multi-media show in the Chapel Hill Public Library and a local church honoring the 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass. He created a masterfully crafted puppet, a reading from Douglass’ writing, and images from Douglass’ life.
I saw how local community members, especially children, responded to the performance with a mixture of awe and reverence. It was a fantastic display of art that made community members think about their values and what it means to be citizen of a nation and a region within the context of the history of slavery.
Serving on the commission while simultaneously pursuing an MPA degree has given me an interesting opportunity to apply lessons learned on a day to day basis. For example, learning about open meetings laws and thinking about my responsibilities to be transparent when talking about commission business and thinking about whether or not a social gathering constitutes a quorum if the conversation shifts toward public business.
I have also had the pleasure in 2018 to serve as an assessor in the Assessment Center process for the selection of our current Town Manager, Maurice Jones. I brought to the process my role as a community member, but also my MPA training. The experience gave me inspiration for a section of my portfolio (our thesis-substitute) and a deeper understanding what it means to search for public services executives.
Throughout my career in public service, I will equally rely on my MPA degree and the community service motivation that drove me to serve on the commission in the first place. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from the experienced and passionate professionals within the School of Government and hope to return often in a professional capacity.