Intern "Spotlight Interview" with Elizabeth Bezark

What inspires you about WACAI and why did you feel called to intern with WACAI?WACAI inspires me because it brings more diversity to Eugene. Guinea, West Africa doesn’t come up in everyday conversations in most places in the States, and WACAI starts that conversation. Hearing an upbeat drum rhythm down the street or dancing with Alseny on a Saturday drives people’s curiosity about where these rhythms come from and what the dances symbolize for the cultures they come from. WACAI educates about all of this and more, and in this way, WACAI brings a unique taste of Guinean culture right to Eugene. The way this organization helps people expand their horizons inspires me. I also greatly appreciate the way Alseny and Andrea Yansane make this incredible art form accessible to so many people while providing opportunities for growth to more experienced students.

I felt called to intern with WACAI because I wanted to help strengthen its mission. African dance and music have been important to me since childhood, and it’s rare to find a community in which authentic, source artists offer drum and dance workshops on a regular basis. WACAI facilitates this! So, as an intern, I wanted to support its programs and bring more people in to participate in them.

How have you used your unique skills to serve WACAI and support its mission?
As an intern with WACAI, part of my role was to photograph dance classes for marketing and publicity. Through my passion for African dance and music, I've developed skills in this art form that I can use while photographing Alseny Yansane's Saturday All-Levels African Dance Class. My familiarity with Alseny's choreography and my familiarity with the drum rhythms allow me to capture the perfect moment in each dance, and if I miss it, I know exactly when the arms will fly up again with that beat in the rhythm. I've used my skills in this area to develop creative collateral that advertises WACAI's incredible programming as well as guest artists' classes. My skills in marketing helped draw people in WACAI's guest artist workshops this summer, which further WACAI's mission to advocate for authentic, source artists from Guinea, West Africa.

My familiarity with West African culture through drum and dance classes as well as my skills in research allowed me to write informative and thought-provoking blogs that engaged WACAI’s community of followers. I used my strategic skills to develop a Facebook content strategy that expanded WACAI’s educational reach and impact.  

In what ways has your internship with WACAI helped you professionally?
Through creating marketing collateral with Andrea, I've sharpened my eye for detail. I've learned that there is value in every pixel of space on a poster and in every adjustment on a captioned photo. From the tiny details to the bigger picture on a poster, I have learned how to create engaging marketing materials that draw people in. I've also learned how to tailor social media posts to key audiences with phrasing and demographic selection and how to tailor email marketing to key audiences.

Also, I recently applied for a job with an arts education organization and my work with WACAI fed directly into my application materials. If it wasn't for my experience with WACAI, I wouldn't have gotten called in for two rounds of interviews!

Elizabeth's journey with African dance began when her aunt took her to a week long Congolese Drum and Dance workshop in Nevada City, California. Elizabeth fell in love with the beat of the drum rhythms and the passion in the dance moves. She loved learning about the meaning behind each rhythm and dance, as this information added even more intentionality to the movements she was learning. This camp even inspired her to learn French so that she could communicate with the workshop's teachers each year.

During her undergraduate education at the University of Oregon (UO), Elizabeth participated in DEMA, UO's West African Performance Ensemble for two years, and she also drummed for UO's African dance classes during that time. She learned about WACAI through her experience in this community and started taking Alseny Yansane's Saturday classes from time to time. After graduating from UO, Elizabeth wanted to build marketable professional experience while working with an organization committed to a cause she's passionate about. WACAI's internship absolutely fit that bill! Elizabeth was thrilled to combine her love for African dance and music with a professional opportunity. 

As an intern with WACAI, Elizabeth learned Photoshop and used her creativity and familiarity with African dance and music to create marketing materials. She enjoyed interviewing students in WACAI's After School Program at Prairie Mountain School as well as interviewing community students and board members to learn about what they enjoy most about WACAI's programs in Eugene. Elizabeth also enjoyed working with Andrea DiPalma Yansane, WACAI's Executive Director, to expand the organization's educational impact in the community both online and offline.

Elizabeth completed her internship at the end of October. However, she plans to stay involved with WACAI. She was voted on as a board member last month and she plans to provide support in any way she can in this new role.