Alexandria, VA – Jane Collins, founder and executive director of the local nonprofit Heard, and frequent host of The Zebra’s Z-TV LIVE, will speak at the Tom Tom Foundation’s virtual summit, “Cities Rising,” on October 8. The event, which had been slated for spring 2020, has been reinvented as a seven-week virtual summit.
Collins founded Heard in May 2016 to give “a voice to the voiceless.” Targeting marginalized adults, Collins contracted a team of professional writers to share their craft and inspire the downtrodden to find their voice. The program has grown over the years to include visual arts, dance, improvisation, etiquette, public speaking, singing, and poetry. Heard now partners with 12 government and nonprofit organizations. She raises money through donations and grants, using those funds to contract professional artists to teach their crafts to marginalized adults.
“It’s fundamental to Heard’s mission that artists are paid for their work with us,” Collins said. “Too often they are expected to share their skills for free. My mother is an artist and she would be so demoralized after working hard on a painting, pricing it fairly, then having a buyer offer only half the price.”
Tom Tom approached Collins to join the panel discussing the value of the arts as a vehicle for community integration, especially for those marginalized by incarceration. Collins was thrilled to be included, eager for the opportunity not only to share the success of Heard, but also to share the ease of incorporating a similar venture in any community where it is needed.
“My presentation offers an archetype of how to do this in your own community,” said Collins. “I’m not interested in seeing Heard chapters everywhere, because what works here may not fit in another area. But I’d like people to be inspired to look around, find a need, and then see how local artists can help fill that need. It’s easier to do than you think.”
Last year, Collins met with community leaders in her Ohio hometown and described Heard and its mission. Soon after, City leaders launched a similar but wholly different program, one that more closely addressed its own specific needs. And that’s exactly the point, she explained. “We’re not a franchise, but more an example of how to fulfill pressing needs in your own community through local artists.”
Part of Collins’s presentation is a downloadable guide that will be widely available after October 8. “I’m including a free consultation if anyone wants that,” she said. “In the simplest terms, the model is: local artists with local funds helping local needs.”
Heard’s classes are held virtually now, and otherwise at the program partner sites. If you’re wondering whether Heard is making a difference, look no farther than the Impact page on the nonprofit’s website. The feedback from students is remarkable. The recurring message is, “You changed my life.” Collins said, “I’ve always been an advocate for letting people know that what they have to say matters.”
*Started in spring 2012 as a festival in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Tom Tom Foundation and has grown to address the needs of “ambitious cities,” the small and medium-sized cities with populations fewer than one million who account for roughly 97 million Americans, or a third of the U.S., who lack adequate access to peer-scaled solutions.
The Tom Tom mission: We believe in building strong communities through collaboration and connection. By uniting civic leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, and engaged citizens around a shared vision for their cities, we strive to foster thriving and inclusive hometowns. Learn more at www.tomtomfoundation.org.