meet carrie: supporting sick kids in chicago through art

Carrie Spitler, Snow City Arts, People with Panache

Carrie with movie posters made for some of the kids’ films. In addition to executive director of Snow City Arts, Carrie is a community gardener, a beekeeper and a baker!

“Doctors find the illness, we find the artist.”

I’ve watched enough medical shows to feel those pangs in my heart, imagining just how strenuous and sad it must be to have a child—or be a child—experiencing an illness, especially a serious one. Snow City Arts takes an approach that I wouldn’t have expected to help sick kids stay on track with school while getting better: This nonprofit deploys a team of artists at hospitals in Chicago to work with kids on artistic, educational projects while they stay for extended treatment.

I first heard about this beautiful endeavor because of my boyfriend, Jim. Bringing his passion for music to a whole new dimension, he has served on the auxiliary board of Snow City Arts for about a year now. In support, we attended their annual Gallery Night last fall. Originally I partially agreed so I had an excuse to wear a fabulous dress, but once we got there, I was awestruck. Gallery Night showcased all of the artwork that the kids in the hospitals produce, from visual art including painting to 3D art to creative writing, video and music. All by artists under 18 years of age, the work was not only professional, it was impressive and smart, beautiful and funny and creative. I was completely blown away by the level of talent these kids have. We both were. These weren’t just kid “art projects.”

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago—Snow City Arts has partnered with the Chicago Loop Alliance for an event series called Activate. This year the theme is the five senses, so each event features a specific sense and is held in various locations throughout the Loop. There will be art and music and other interactive elements at each free event, and a portion of the beer proceeds goes to Snow City Arts. May 13 was the first Activate event—Touch. Dance music played and giant, gold air-filled pillows made for great hideouts from the rain in the alleyway. We’re looking forward to the next one: Hear!

Sometime between those two events, Jim and I realized that the executive director of Snow City Arts, Carrie Spitler, is such a Person with Panache! Jim connected me, and she and I got together to talk about her nonprofit career and her work with Snow City.

Carrie has been involved in the nonprofit world for a while, since she got her start at the Sive Group. The for-profit company consults for nonprofits and taught her a ton about fundraising and program development. Her first foray into working for the other side was at Access Living, a disability rights nonprofit. Then, right before Snow City Arts, she ran the Neighborhood Writing Alliance, a smaller organization that hosted workshops in under-resourced communities where adults could write about their personal experiences. They published the work in a journal called The Journal of Ordinary Thought, which sounds anything but ordinary.

Mia, Snow City Arts, People with Panache

Mia, a 6-year old student, was inspired by Andy Warhol to create this work of art. She first learned how to cut out the flower image in rubber blocks, and then created the final product through ink transfer and screen printing.

People with Panache: What brought you to Snow City Arts?

Carrie Spitler: Most of my work has a social justice or access component. For me, the arts tie-in was critical, and so was the idea that, although our work isn’t social justice-focused day to day, it comes down to access. We know that every year, children miss school because they’re in the hospital. They miss out on some sort of educational track. Snow City Arts really aims to fill that gap and ensure that they have access to education during treatment. We happen to use the arts. It’s a lot more engaging than having a math teacher stop by and say, “Do you want to do math?” Instead they hear, “I’m an artist. Do you want to make some art with me?” That’s really what drew me to Snow City.

PWP: What do you love about it?

CS: Every time I have an interaction with a student, there’s something awesome about them. A couple of years ago, we worked with a student who was in Chicago from Belize to get treatment, and she left in what we’d consider her senior year of high school—a really traumatic time to step away from your everyday. She was very focused on graduating on time with her class. Due to state law, there are Chicago Public School teachers in the hospital, and they see students if they’re expected to be in the hospital 10 consecutive days or more. In this case, we worked in partnership with CPS to ensure that she did graduate with her class. She was not well enough to leave the hospital, so with her nursing and clinical team, we put together a high school graduation for her in one of our idea labs. Her family came, and it was a really incredible, beautiful experience.

She worked with any and all of our artists. So we know her as a musician, a poet, a visual artist, a little bit of everything, a really curious young woman who said yes to pretty much anything we offered her. Those are the moments that I love about Snow City Arts.

One of our core best practices that is so critical is that we offer students a choice. When they’re in the hospital, if you think about it, they don’t have many opportunities to say yes or no. They may get to choose the flavor of their medicine that day, but they have to take it. And parents are rightfully so in high anxiety in those times so I think we play a critical role in giving kids space to be kids.

Carrie, SCA,

Carrie (middle) at Snow City’s annual Gallery Night event. “Thinking long term in many nonprofits like a homeless shelter or organizations who feed people, you would love to work yourself out of a job. That would mean we solved our housing problem and our food problem, but we think there will continue to be a gap in educational services so ensuring that our model adapts to the changing landscape in healthcare is a challenge.”

PWP: What is it like for your artists in the hospital, and what kind of art do they teach?

CS: We do filmmaking or media arts, visual art, theater, music and creative writing. Our team of artists is incredible; we’ve been very lucky. We have 10 right now, and about half have been with us 7 to 10 years. So they understand the atmosphere we’re working in. Flexibility is an understatement of our work—if we get set up and start painting or drawing or writing and somebody from the clinical team comes in, if it’s not a quick procedure, then we actually pack up and step out. So we can be interrupted all day long, every day, which is how it should be. Our role there is important, but it’s not clinical. That’s really why they’re in the hospital.

Our teaching artist team is so skilled at entering a room and saying, “What are you working on at school? What movies are you watching? What are you reading? What do you do in your free time?” and out of that casual, get-to-know-you conversation, pulling out a kernel of an idea that becomes an art project. That’s why I think the artwork is so good—because it comes from such an authentic space where the child is making the decisions. Along the way, the teaching artists are arming them with artistic skills, language, tools and, depending on what a student is working on, other learning standards. For example, creative writing is a huge vocabulary builder—you can learn about simile, you can learn how to deconstruct poetry. We have had a visual project on bridges that was all about geometry and culture—two completely different sections of learning standards. Our teaching artist team is what really makes our work stand out.

PWP: What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

CS: We are working diligently to expand to a new hospital partner. But the healthcare industry is rapidly changing, so we’re thinking about expansion in two ways: 1. Taking our current model to a brand new hospital system, and 2. Starting to think about how to adapt our model, which really serves young people who are inpatient in the hospital, to work with young people who are outpatient for treatment. Hospital stays are a lot shorter now than when Snow City Arts was founded 18 years ago. So, as healthcare continues to trend that way, we want to make sure our work is still viable and important and figure out what gap we can fill in those places.

PWP: What do you think got you to where you are today?

CS: I’m an interesting—not unique but interesting—executive director in that I didn’t come out of programming. That is a little more odd in the arts world—lots of arts organizations are still run by their founder, and they are often founded because they were an artist who wanted to make that kind of art or engage community. So I think one of the skills and bonuses that I have is that I started my career much earlier in fundraising, so I feel like when I look at some of my peers, some are more challenged by the grant writing, individual giving, those kinds of things, and I have a good foundation in that.

A lot of my approach to fundraising and managing is all about relationship building. It builds the kind of culture I want to foster, and because we’re this tiny non-profit working in these big hospital systems, the relationships that we have with our partners are critical. I prioritize those kinds of things.

I think being in management, you have to be comfortable with some level of ambiguity. Sometimes letting things sit in that space for a little while is the best thing you can do. And sometimes you have to let somebody on your team flounder around and figure something out. I can’t be THE problem solver, and I want to make sure I’m developing a team that is not just doing the work but developing their professional skills so by the time they leave Snow City Arts, they’re really ready for the next job. I had great people in my life do that, and I think it’s really important.

As someone who works in human resources consulting, I have to say I can’t agree more! Being a great boss really takes effort and thought, and it sounds like Carrie is doing a wonderful job.

We are so excited for Gallery Night 2016 on September 9—I went last year and it was an incredible night filled with amazing art (all done by the kids), tasty bites and a really cool silent auction! Sign up here. Also be on the lookout for Activate events with the Chicago Loop Alliance all summer. The events are free, but a portion of the beer proceeds goes to Snow City Arts! The next two are on June 9 and July 14.

[Photo by Kate and event photo, artwork and video provided by Carrie.]

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meet carolyn: trailblazer in chicago’s financial industry

“Some of the guys thought that because I’m blonde, I was dumb. So they would talk about their trading strategy in front of me. And I would just listen and absorb everything they were saying.”

Carolyn Leonard, DyMynd, People with Panache

Carolyn’s philosophy on investing: “Diversity does go to the bottom line: all diversity – racial, gender, sexuality. If you’re looking to invest in companies that will outperform their peers, look for diversity and depth of experience in the C-suite and the board of directors.”

Way to turn lemons into lemonade and jerks into teachers, Carolyn!

In some ways, Carolyn Leonard’s story isn’t uncommon. She entered a “man’s world” and was treated brazenly unequally—but that’s where any notion of Carolyn being average ends.

Carolyn, 73-year-old entrepreneur and founder of DyMynd, says in America there are 9.2 million women-led companies with an economic impact of $3 trillion. While discrimination like she experienced keeps lingering longer than seems acceptable or necessary, we women can change it—together. And we are.

As one of the oldest entrepreneurs in the country, Carolyn is a real-life testament to facing your fears, taking risks on yourself, and never giving up. From being one of the first women to trade on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange to starting her own business four years ago at age 69, Carolyn’s story tells itself. Continue reading

alysse’s trip to africa

When I think of the best trips of my life, moments from each come to my mind in specific snapshots. I do this on purpose; in special moments, I’ll do a little sensory check-in, feeling what my feet are touching, how my skin feels, what I taste, little details of what I see, what sounds are passing by my ears. That’s how I can still vividly recall lazily floating in the ocean, the warm sea holding me as I tasted the last drops of fresh coconut water on my yoga retreat in Costa Rica. I can smell the pine needles under our tent in central Wisconsin on my first camping trip with my boyfriend. I can still see a hummingbird breathing at the speed of a fast-beating heart in its cocoon-like nest in the Amazon.

Especially since it was just two weeks ago, I can also still hear the trumpet of a teenage male elephant as he ran toward my family in a “mock charge.” My parents and I were on a safari—definitely among the very coolest weeks-and-a-half of my life—and “mock peed our pants.”

Check out a few of my favorite snapshots from my family’s trip to southern Zimbabwe and northern Botswana. Which are your favorites? Please share in the comments—I might even enter some of these into a photo contest to win my way back to Botswana! (I thought that trip would be once-in-a-lifetime, but I really, really hope I’m wrong.)

PS: If you’d like any of my photos for your own use—hello desktop backgrounds—please ask first. Include your email, and I’ll do my best to send photos promptly.

Alysse in Africa 01[ellie on the move] Continue reading

money smart week 2016 and chicago’s first feminist film festival recaps

One of my favorite things to talk about is also one of life’s most taboo topics:


Sometimes, I just want to straight-up ask people: “Hey, how much money do you make, and how did you get to that point? Is it a competitive salary in your field?” or “How do you invest your money?” or “Is 1% too high of a fee to pay for a mutual fund? How do you know that your financial advisor is legit?” I don’t want to do this because I’m nosy—it’s because, currently, everything I know about money is based solely on my own LIMITED experience.

It's the Money, Honey! panel: Terry, Kristen, Joanne and Ginny

It’s the Money, Honey! panel: Terry, Kristen, Joanne and Ginny

Although society dictates that it’s not polite to ask people such questions, money is one of life’s necessary evils. And I feel like I can never learn enough about how to earn it, grow it, save it, invest it, give it or spend it. Someday I hope to buy a condo or go to grad school or save for a future child’s college fund or help my parents in their retirement—but I can’t do any of those things if I don’t HAVE money first. That is why I was so pumped that last week was Money Smart Week 2016 in Chicago—a whole week of events put on by our good friends at the YWCA Chicago and DyMynd for the sole purpose of talking about earning, investing, spending and giving money! Continue reading

meet sarah: using nutrition to change lives in milwaukee

Abundance is such an important theme for Sarah—she wanted it to be a constant reminder for her. So it became part of her business’ name!

Abundance is such an important theme for Sarah—she wanted it to be a constant reminder for her. So it became part of her business’ name!

A few weekends ago, one of my closest friends came up from Chicago for the day to share that she had broken up with her boyfriend. She was still settling into singleness (with the happiest smile, I must say) and evaluating her next steps while deciding to stay put for a bit—with her job, her apartment, herself. Time for a little bit of dedicated solo time. And friend time. And really simple, solid advice: “I realized that I was blaming my job for unhappiness and stress—but a lot of it had to do with my attitude.”

While I know I have a lot of blessings in my life—my faith, family and friends—she helped me remember that day-to-day happiness is a choice. It’s a choice to adjust my attitude to point toward the positive. It’s a choice to take a deep breath when I feel overwhelmed, make myself a piña colada, and just keep moving forward. (Real life. Last Monday.) And it’s a choice to stay out late singing Space Oddity on the karaoke stage rather than sleeping. (I’m in no way saying I always make good choices.)

Sarah Philipp, 32, was born with an entrepreneurial gene—check out her cousin!—and also reminds me how empowered I am to take charge of my own life and body. She is a Milwaukee nutritionist who created a beautiful little business, Abundelicious, where she uses food as a tool for wellness. She specializes in anxiety and digestive disorders, teaching her clients (and hopefully you now, too!) the power of nutrition as fuel for our lives, our minds and our happiness. Continue reading

meet sarah: using hip-hop to empower youth in milwaukee

TRUE Skool purchased all the pieces produced through the Art of Coping program.

TRUE Skool purchased all the pieces produced through the Art of Coping program. This piece is by Lasha Bradley.

“Your life becomes so enriched by being around differences,” says Sarah Dollhausen. “It doesn’t take anything away from you.”

Sarah, director, founder and trailblazer at TRUE Skool, is just the kind of woman you wish you had in your life when you were younger. She created TRUE Skool, a Milwaukee nonprofit and after-school program that uses hip-hop’s core elements—DJing, breakdance, emceeing, graffiti and knowledge—to empower youth, teach about social justice, encourage community service, and create a pipeline of opportunity for Milwaukee’s young people. Now 11 years old, much of TRUE Skool’s work comes to life via after-school programming including classes such as the Art of Emceeing, DJing, Video Production, Band (not the kind that was in my high school…) and more. (Seriously, how freaking cool is that?)

Besides the fact that she has shepherded the growth of this organization whose programs will now hopefully expand nation-wide, Sarah has one particularly beautiful gift that stood out to me: She has a clear, deep passion for bringing people together to work on co-creating the future. Competition doesn’t have much of a place. Jealousy? Nope. These students, the team of working artists, and every person involved has a safe space to share, learn, grow and collaborate to create the community they want to live within.
Continue reading

happy 10th anniversary, motion pr!

Things were a little different 10 years ago.

It was 2006, and…

George W. Bush was president.

The RAZR was still the world’s best-selling phone, and the iPhone was just a twinkle in Apple’s eye.

Pluto ruined childhood mnemonic devices everywhere and lost its status as a planet.

Twitter came chirping into our lives—and we had only just been invited to Facebook!

Crash won best motion picture—and if you haven’t seen it, Netflix has it on DVD.

Steve Irwin, the “Crocodile Hunter,” sadly died on the job from being stung in the chest by a stingray.

The Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews—a major win for Chicago.

The TSA banned liquids and gels from air travel—a major loss for just about everyone who flies. Not that we don’t appreciate the extra safety I suppose.

Alysse and I started our senior year in high school—a year before we met at Drake. We still loved Seventeen magazine, not even imagining that we’d someday have friends who worked there.

And Kimberly Eberl started her PR company, Motion PR, 10 years ago to this day. As one of the first to join our Panache family back in 2013, at the time I interviewed her, she had 6 employees; now, she has 19! And of course, a brand new office to accommodate everyone. In honor of her 10th year in business, we asked for Kimberly’s top 10 lessons learned.

People with Panache: Kimberly, what is your secret sauce for success? How did you make it 10 years and going strong? Continue reading

meet eva: creative event space curator in chicago

Eva N, Catalyst Ranch, People with Panache

Eva won Enterprising Women Magazine’s 2016 Enterprising Women of the Year Award! This award recognizes the world’s top women entrepreneurs who demonstrate they have fast growing businesses, mentor or actively support other women and girls in entrepreneurship, and stand out as leaders in their communities.

Many people hit major roadblocks before they succeed.

Famous wedding gown designer Vera Wang wanted to be an ice skater but failed to get into the Olympics. It was then that she decided to go into fashion.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, took a trip to Italy and came home with an idea about a chain of intimate cafes. He brought it to the coffee company he worked for at the time, they turned his idea down, and he did it anyway. Now there’s a Starbucks on every street corner.

J.K. Rowling was nearly penniless and raising a child on her own when she wrote the massively popular Harry Potter books. She was rejected by several publishers before finding success. I bet those people are kicking themselves.

Eva Niewiadomski, the mastermind behind Catalyst Ranch, can relate to these stories. Her business is a creative meeting space and event venue in Chicago—and it is extraordinary. Every square inch is covered in color and toys and art and crazy furniture. None of it goes together, yet somehow it all blends into a mass of swirling fun—and it launched because she lost her job. She wanted to create a space where companies, consultants, organizations or really whoever could come and have meetings, events or parties in a creative space, a space that really gets you thinking outside of the box. Catalyst Ranch is one of a kind in this city and, quite possibly, the world. Continue reading

meet molly: baker and pastry maker in milwaukee

Molly’s personal favorite is her lemon poppyseed cake with strawberry jam filling. She picks the strawberries in the summer and makes her own jam. “The flavors are just bursting,” Molly says.

Molly’s personal favorite is her lemon poppyseed cake with strawberry jam filling. She picks the strawberries in the summer and makes her own jam. “The flavors are just bursting,” Molly says.

How do you decide to make an idea into a real thing?
Where do you go for honest feedback?
What do you need to be able to move forward?

For me, all those things involve other people. Their opinions, experiences, skills, resources, expertise. Even just their presence, so I can speak something out loud and make sure it doesn’t sound too ridiculous. (A little ridiculous is okay with me.)

Lately I’ve been surrounded by a lot more targeted teamwork: The yoga studio I attend and absolutely love recently transitioned to two owners, no longer just the one amazing woman who has run it for years. My boyfriend, who owns a composting company, is working with aligned businesses and organizations to transform a Milwaukee warehouse into a hub of urban agriculture, bringing together innovative projects with positive momentum so they can grow together. Escuela Verde brought together a team of people to start a school they all believe in. Who else comes to mind for you?

Truly, no one ever starts a business venture solo—you have to count those supportive family members, colleagues, spouses and friends!—so this week we want to especially highlight the value of collaboration. Here’s one really special example:

Molly Sullivan, 29, is the PR manager and pastry chef at Braise. She’s also the owner of Miss Molly’s Pastries. As Molly has built her business, her local-food-system-strengthening employer, Braise, has fostered her growth and supported her along the way. As she’s paving her pastry-making path, Molly is not alone. [Help her on her Kickstarter here through June 2016!] Continue reading

meet coco: chicago beauty and technology entrepreneur


Coco Meers, PrettyQuick,

“Swing for the fences in terms of fundraising and goal setting—be very aggressive,” Coco says. “If your goal is to make money, you should not be raising venture capital unless you can see the path to being a billion dollar business.”

You are important.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of self-care. Not just that you should do it—re: every self help book and inspirational quote ever—but what it actually means. For me, it has two parts.

Part one is reflection. People spend a lot of time getting to know each other, and not enough time getting to know themselves. How can you care about what others need if your own needs aren’t being met? Answer: You can’t. It’s like the airplane mask thing; you have to put yours on first. Reflection helps you dial in to what’s going on with you right now, your wants and needs, what kinks need to be worked out, what path you’re on. Without this kind of knowledge, it actually becomes harder to form healthy relationships with other people.

The tough part? You guessed it: time. Spare me the saga; we’re all busy. So, I practice taking mini moments to self reflect many times throughout the day… on the bus, walking to the grocery store, in the shower, basically any time I’m in a bathroom. I savor those moments—that’s usually when the aha happens! I stop thinking about everyone else for just a few minutes of my day and, instead, think about how I’ve been feeling and behaving, what I’m doing and if it aligns with my beliefs and aspirations—then what can I do to change it if not. This daily practice keeps me focused and centered on my way forward. Continue reading