Nora Gomez-Strauss is a public arts advocate and Queens Democratic County Committee member. Nora will be hosting Story Time at 11 am on Sunday. To get us ready for our festival, we asked Nora some questions about fostering civic engagement at home and in your community. Get to know her below!
What advice do you give to other caregivers who want to plant the seeds of civic engagement in their children?
It’s never too early! Books are a wonderful way to introduce little ones to civic duty. A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara has been read and reread in our home since our oldest was a baby. We’re currently reading a book about Sonia Sotomayor that we borrowed from the library. Beyond that, find ways to involve them in your own duties. The four of us love going to vote as a family. Activities like beach or park cleanups are a fun and easy way to get kids involved. And as long as you feel comfortable and safe, many marches and rallies are family friendly, and can feel very exciting to little ones while also prompting conversations. Then there are small everyday things, like making sure we’re sharing the sidewalk with other people, especially when riding the bike or scooter! I’ll tell my four year old, Santiago, “Let’s stay on our side so we can share the sidewalk with our community. What are other ways we show our community we care?”
What impact can the arts have of the wellbeing of a neighborhood?
The arts and freedom of expression are vital to any democratic society. On a local level, the arts provide everyone with new ways of communicating, new ways of thinking as well as an opportunity for pause, which in our fast paced age is a wonderful respite. I could point you to the endless studies proving that the arts positively affect children’s grades and human well-being in general. Beyond that, the arts can also be a vehicle for social change. Participating in the arts is another way of experiencing civil engagement.
What issues are important to Santi? How do you encourage him to care about that issue?
As a four and a half year old (he would be the first to point out he’s not “just four” anymore), he’s not fully aware of the vast issues facing us. That said, he does care very much about the environment, or as we say at home, “Mother Earth.” We discuss the importance of creating less waste, he is active in our composting system, he is always sure to drink with reusable straws (and keeps one in his backpack) and is always down for a beach cleanup. One day while walking home after school, I asked him what was the nicest thing he did that day. His reply was, “I told the wackos not to litter!” I’m not exactly sure how that played out, but I was proud of him. He will also occasionally point out that Hummers use too much gas and say “That car is not good for Mother Earth.”
Who is your favorite artist?
That is a very tough question to answer! I love so many artists for different reasons. However, I will say I’m terribly excited for Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving at the Brooklyn Museum.
What is your favorite children’s book?
Children’s books are one of my weaknesses and my husband and I both read with our kids every night. It’s almost impossible for me to go into a bookstore or museum shop without getting a book for the kids. Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal was one of our son’s favorites as a baby, and now we’re getting to experience it again with our baby girl, Marisol. For the pre-school (and, ok, parent) crowd, Where’s Warhol? by Andrew Rae and Catherine Ingram has been very entertaining, and a life saver on long drives. We all enjoy everything from the This Little Collection by Joan Holub and have recently been reading Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers. It’s also been wonderful to revisit my own childhood favorites, like Where the Wild Things Are and Madeline.
Do you have a favorite art-making memory from childhood?
I am extremely lucky to have so many art-making memories. Both of my parents love art and made sure it played a big part of my life. My mom would hand off her old magazines to me so I could make collages, and it was one of my favorite pastimes. My dad gave me his 35mm Nikon when I was in elementary school, and it’s in my bag today.
Follow Nora online @NoGoPhoto