This year, on the blog, we have heard from each individual collaborator and both of our international liaisons. We have come to understand their journeys, why they are passionate about dance, and why they are working for JUNTOS.
Before ending this series of interviews, we wanted to revisit the very core of this organization by interviewing the Founder and Director Joanna Poz-Molesky. In this interview, Joanna shares the very beginnings of JUNTOS, the challenges and rewards of running a non-profit, and her hopes for the future.
JUNTOS: Tell us a little bit about how JUNTOS Collective started. What inspired you?
Joanna Poz-Molesky: JUNTOS was an answer to many questions. You could say it is an expression of who I am: it weaves together cultural exchange, community, and service… all through dance.
As a mixed child I always felt pulled towards my various roots and recognized the importance of respecting different ways of being. In each of those (very different) cultures, my families placed values around community and giving back. I was taught that we’ve been given so much in life, and that it is our responsibility to give back. Thus began my journey of wanting to bring communities together to learn and grow. I began doing that through the language I knew best – dance.
In a way, studying to receive my BFA in dance restricted me to focus on the necessary tools I felt I needed in my life. College was trying, and through it I began working on what I believed to be a one-time project to Mexico. I had no idea it would become what it is today.
J: Why did you continue after Mexico?
JPM: The interest behind it. The students and the communities that want the experience of JUNTOS to be a part of their lives really pushed it to go forward and evolve into what it is today.
J: Why was your first trip to Mexico?
JPM: When I was seventeen, I brought the youth dance company I directed to Mexico as an intercultural exchange program. It was a safer place than my originally intended idea of Guatemala. During one of the last days there, we visited a boy’s orphanage. I kept thinking about how many times people must go visit that orphanage and come and go.
It stuck with me, but I didn’t think anything of it until a few years later when I once again visited that town and I thought: it would be really cool to bring a group of students, a group of my college peers to a place like this. Instead of visiting and doing the same intercultural exchange program that I had done in the past, I would instead do something that invited a way to connect, to leave something behind that’s, in a way, intangible. By dancing, we would be leaving a piece of our spirit with them.
With the connections I’d made in high school, I began envisioning (what I thought would be) a one-time trip.
J: What are the biggest challenges of running a non-profit arts organization?
JPM: There are a lot of times when you want to do something with your heart, because you have so much passion behind it, but you realize how much more effective it is to lead with your head.
When I first started JUNTOS, it was a labor of love, and that’s what I always hoped it would be. When it started transitioning more into an organization, I had to start thinking about it more as a business.
I had to learn a lot, sometimes about things that I didn’t necessarily want to do. Things like fundraising, managing a budget, learning what it means to run a business. There are a lot of things that I don’t have much formal training in but you just kind of learn as you go, either by asking, reading, or trial and error.
J: And the rewards?
Jo: Stepping back and realizing how many lives we’ve touched– whether that’s hearing other people’s feedback (from the dancers and communities), testimonials, or seeing how people’s lives have changed because of it.
Another huge reward for me is seeing how many people are interested in staying involved and staying active within the work. It’s really motivating.
J: Fav place to travel?
JPM: I can’t answer that. All of them are so different. SO different. And I have special memories from every place.
Though I can tell you one of my most impactful moments on a JUNTOS trip.
It was in Guatemala, the first time we traveled there: I was onstage, staring out into the audience at 900 faces. I was in the exact same place where I had dreamt of bringing dancers one day.
But let’s back up for a second. When I was 12, I saw a dance performance in Guatemala and thought it would be really cool to bring dancers there. At the time, I thought it would be too dangerous. That’s what led me to bringing dancers to Mexico when I was seventeen.
A few years later, when I was 20, I finally made it happen in Guatemala. Looking out into the sea of people after the performance was a very special moment—I realized that I had accomplished a huge dream. Thinking about how many people we had worked with that week was just really special.
J: What are your hopes for the future of JUNTOS?
JPM: I hope that JUNTOS is able to provide the services that people want, and that it never feels forced. I want us to expand by necessity.
I’m curious to see what role art plays in the next 50 or so years, especially as we move into a world where technology is so prevalent. We need things to connect us, to remind us of our shared humanity, so I am really curious to see how art can shape, heal, and help that. And of course, I hope that JUNTOS can be a part of it all.
For more information about the founding of JUNTOS, take a look at the Director’s Note.