We’re celebrating the work anniversary of Aisha Noel, our School and Community Relationships Coordinator who started at Arts for Learning three years ago. With the pandemic creating major changes over the past two years, her job has evolved and expanded with new duties, but she still has the same positive energy and enthusiasm as when she started.
When Aisha was first hired, she primarily coordinated after-school programs while a different staff member handled bookings and programs that took place during school hours. Now Aisha schedules programs of all types, while keeping in close touch with our community partners—schools, libraries, and community centers—something that plays to her strength of being able to relate to all sorts of different people.
“My job has evolved from what I originally did, and it’s always changing. It keeps me ‘unbored,’ because I like change, but I also feel more sure of myself now,” she says, noting that she’s been able to act as a resource for newer members of the A4L program team.
When schools shut down in March 2020, it allowed Arts for Learning to diversify its program offerings by developing multimedia options, something Aisha says she’s glad we’ve been able to incorporate.
“Even though COVID has been rough with trying to reschedule programs and all of the mitigation strategies we’ve come up with, I think we’ve done a great job.”
We did it with a smile and pride. And at the end of the day, this is for the kids.”
She says there’s been another positive change from the last couple of years.
“One good thing about the pandemic—you got time to slow down and think about what you want to do. Going back to school was one of them.” In September, Aisha started remote learning at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst to earn three certifications in arts management: Core, Professional, and Leadership. She hopes to finish within two years.
Giving back to her community is extremely important to Aisha. “I want to show people that you don’t have to be a statistic. I grew up with a single African American mother in downtown Newport News, and I’ve been able to travel and do different things because art has opened so many doors, and I want students to have the same doors open to them.”
I want them to be able to see themselves in the Picassos of the world. I also want them to know that the world is much bigger than 757. It’s much bigger than the 23607 zip code, and they can do anything. They say music is the universal language. I would say art in general is the universal language.”
Aisha is from a musical family where everyone sings, but she’s the only one involved in theater. When she was in middle school, she wrote and directed a play for her church, which was presented as an evening of dinner theater.
“For them to support me and cultivate my vision… I think every kid needs that support from an adult, to cultivate their love for something, to really sow a seed for a person’s future.”
A mentor for Aisha was Laura Gilbreath Lloyd, her drama teacher at Heritage High School in Newport News who now teaches at Christopher Newport University. Calling her a “second mom,” Aisha says Mrs. Lloyd advocated for respect for all the jobs in theater, not just for performers on stage. That approach helped spark Aisha’s interest in arts administration, which included an internship at the Signature Theatre in Arlington. She wrote the following in tribute to Mrs. Lloyd last May for Teacher Appreciation Week:
“I am forever grateful to Mrs. Laura Gilbreath Lloyd, my high school drama teacher. She nurtured my passion for performing arts and cultivated a respect for art administration. Mrs. Lloyd created a haven for her students that allowed us to express ourselves, learn valuable life lessons, and mature into healthy young adults. It was truly a pleasure to be your student then, but I count it an honor to be your friend now. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, Mrs. Lloyd!”
Among other credits, Aisha has performed with the Williamsburg Players and in a production at the historic Attucks Theatre in Norfolk. She also completed a two-year acting program at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Washington, D.C.
Aisha says that theater is her “happy place” and that being involved in drama at school helped her overcome a disability she was ashamed of as a child–she’s completely deaf in her right ear.
“Being in theater allowed me to not be ashamed of it,” she says. “But it also helped me pronounce words better. I can’t hear words phonetically like everybody else does because of my deafness so being in theater made me practice, practice, practice those scripts so that my speech was better.”
Here at Arts for Learning, working with Aisha is a joy, something that our community partners who interact with her have discovered for themselves.
We wish Aisha a very happy third work anniversary and a fulfilling and productive year ahead in both her career at A4L and her higher education!
Fun facts about Aisha:
- Favorite types of theater: Greek and commedia dell’arte.
- Favorite role played: L’il Bit in How I Learned to Drive.
- Favorite TV show: Criminal Minds.
- She loves reading and just finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming, calling it “phenomenal.” “I really like seeing what inspires people to do what they do.”
- She loves travel and adventure!
- She and her mother are very close. Aisha calls her “my heart.”