From a young age, we are taught that dreams are limitless and with the right determination and perseverance they can be achieved. At age 13, area dancer Jackie Rotman had a dream to create a youth outreach dance program and did not let her tender years discourage her from doing so. Two years earlier, Rotman had met Julie McLeod, a former Broadway performer and the executive director of Dance Alliance, a program in which Rotman participated. After Rotman told McLeod about her goal, McLeod decided to become Rotman’s mentor and help nurture the young girl’s dream — a free after-school program in which high schoolers would teach dance to 9- to 12-year-olds. In 2005, Rotman’s vision came to fruition with the launch of Everybody Dance Now!
Meanwhile, McLeod, inspired by her advisory role to Rotman, started her own program, one that paired emerging artists with mentors to assist them with their craft. Hence, Art Without Limits was founded in 2009 and has expanded exponentially over the years to include monthly business workshops, peer-to-peer programs, and short-term mentoring sessions.
In an interview with the Santa Barbara Independent, McLeod discussed meeting Rotman and what makes Art Without Limits successful.
How did you and Jackie Rotman first meet? I first met Jackie when she was 12 years old. I was the executive director of Dance Alliance, and we had a dance program that focuses on teen choreography. We made her an exception, and I mentored her dance group. A couple of years later, I remember we were drinking a glass of lemonade, and she said, Julie, I want to start a nonprofit for kids that can’t afford dance class outside of school. I told her it was a fabulous idea and I would help her.
Tell me about the mentorship program. We have emerging artists that are super-talented, well trained, and ready to go pro. The mentors are living legacies themselves. When this mentorship starts, we don’t set goals for them. That is up to the mentor and the artist. They don’t have the same goal because eventually, they change.
Why do you think the program has been so successful? There’s no exchange, no charge; we get through with funding. Our motto is “Giving Begets Giving.” Being an artist is a lot of hard work; it’s not going to come easy. We need to instill that whatever they want they need to work for. Other than that, we want them to understand the concept of artists giving to other artists. As a program, we learn to give back to our communities.
What do you plan to achieve over the next eight years? My daughter [Jodi McLeod] will be taking over as executive director, which is amazing because I get to pass this down to her. Goals will shift, but we want to expand what we’re doing and maybe get this concept set up in different cities.
For more information about Art Without Limits, see awolsb.org.