Rachel Storm doesn’t exactly consider herself an artist. “I think of myself of more aptly a strong appreciator of the arts,” she said.
Storm isn’t just an ordinary lover of the arts, though. She has such a passion for the arts that she was recently hired as Public Arts Coordinator of the city of Urbana, a position that allows Storm to bring her love for the arts to Urbana, where she organizes various events and programs that help foster creative expression.
“Urbana’s really a hub for the arts and it has been to me in my life for a long time,” she said.
Growing up, Storm did competitive dance and developed what she refers to as a deep love for performance. She also acquired a passion for poetry, which she has brought into her position as Public Arts Coordinator. She started poetry open mic nights to encourage aspiring poets and is involved with the Urbana Public Arts Program’s Poet Laureate Program, which recognizes a poet who is dedicated to using poetry to lift up Urbana and bring its residents together.
The program is 10 years old, and Storm is the fifth Public Arts Coordinator to hold the title. “I feel that a baton’s been passed to me, and I want to be careful, responsible and creative with how I carry it forward,” she said.
The Poet Laureate Program, as well as many other projects the Public Arts Program does, helps cultivate creativity in artists and non-artists alike, which Storm believes is vital for the benefit of the community.
“What we’re really talking about is expression,” she said. “You think about all of the things that pull us apart as humans and how the arts offer different little dialects and languages for us understanding each other.” She says the arts allow for discussions of heavy issues that may resonate with people more than talking about them out loud. The arts create a new path for understanding and connecting with each other.
Storm also emphasizes the prevalence of creativity in all aspects of life. “Creativity is at the core of every innovation, whether it’s in science or math or engineering or any type of thing. Creativity is its foundation, and there are a lot of ways in which rote memorization and the environments of standardized testing and standardization need to be balanced by things like creativity and wildness and the ability to play and experiment,” she said.
She adds that behind all knowledge is some form of imagination and creativity. “How can we possibly encourage intellect while not simultaneously nurturing creativity?” Her passion for the arts flows into all of her events and projects. She loves experimenting with projects the Public Arts Program currently has and taking them a step further. A couple events Storm has been heavily involved in include Art at the Market, Art Now and Young Artist Studio.
Before becoming Public Arts Coordinator, Storm was the assistant director of the University of Illinois Women’s Resources Center, where she started and coordinated many events and programs. The WRC “presented an opportunity for more special events [and] more programmatic things to be happening at the center, and I got to start a lot of those things,” Storm said. Much of the work Storm does as Public Arts Coordinator is similar to what she did at the WRC. She says both positions involve “thinking creatively about how to do outreach to underserved populations to make sure that we’re always producing dynamic programs and events that really speak to the needs of the community.”
Storm has also been able to further cultivate many of the relationships she made at the WRC since becoming Public Arts Coordinator, including international relationships. In 2008, during Storm’s undergrad at the University of Illinois, she studied abroad in Ecuador through the Minnesota Studies in International Development Program, where she did an internship and studied with local leaders in Ecuador. Storm returned to Ecuador in 2011 to continue her research and support for building domestic violence services in the area, which she did in partnership with the local communities in Ecuador.
“A lot of domestic violence services were able to start up through a lot of the different organizing we did together, and I learned a lot from the women I got to work within that environment,” she said. In 2012, Storm won the Illinois Graduate Achievement Award from the University for her volunteer work in Ecuador.
It’s not surprising Storm wanted to study abroad while at Illinois. She received her B.A. in international studies, which was a new major at the time and allowed her to choose her own route within the program. Storm focused her work on gender-based violence in Latin America, which eventually continued into her graduate studies. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in global educational policy studies.
Storm says she probably would have done her dissertation for her Ph.D. on gender-based violence in Latin America, but she was really interested in working on campus. “I just had such a focus on the campus of being a victim’s advocate and noticing the realities of the United States campus environments, that I shifted the focus there,” she said. She now focuses her work on restorative justice and sexual harm, which she says has been very timely since the emergence of the #MeToo movement.
“I still felt at the beginning that there was hardly anyone speaking of restorative justice, and now we have even more public discourse around restorative justice,” Storm said. She says the increase of public discourse surrounding issues of sexual assault and harassment has encouraged victims to seek support “and that is always ever a good thing,” she said.
But Storm believes the public now faces a new challenge surrounding issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment. “The challenge that may be newly reignited in the public discourse is thinking about what does redress for harm actually look like,” Storm said. “I’m not sure that we’ve collectively decided what that is.” That is where the focus will be in the next few years, she adds. “We’re in a lot of learning right now if we choose to be available to it.”