Clay Turner, a graduate of Arkansas State University, plans on connecting his interests in human rights and arts policy at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Turner graduated with a degree in political science and a minor in Spanish at ASU. In addition to internships with United States Congressman Rick Crawford and Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin, Turner has worked with the Foundation of Arts to bring attention to the arts in northeast Arkansas, specifically Jonesboro.
How did you develop your interest in the arts?
I got involved in the Foundation of Arts in Jonesboro in the third grade. I used it as an outlet at that point. I concentrated all of my energy on the arts when I was younger and kind of honed my abilities in that time, just because it was something to do and it was a good time. The older I got, I started performing. I was in shows pretty much every year. In high school, it was my way of getting away from academics and expressing myself artistically. Being able to get all of that energy out in another place that doesn’t involve school was helpful, because it gets overwhelming sometimes and you just want to scream.
I guess the arts were my way of expressing that, and it definitely provided a way for me to perform for the people and also hone my leadership skills. I was able to direct shows, and this past summer I was education director, so I was over all the education programs at the Foundation of Arts.
What is arts policy? It is listed as one of your areas of interest in public service.
Arts policy focuses mainly on arts awareness for different areas. For me, it would be like focusing on different nonprofit organizations that bring art to underserved communities. Jonesboro is doing well economically, but it’s not the artistic capital of the world. In that way, it’s serving an underserved community, because people don’t really think about the arts. We have the Bradbury Art Museum at Arkansas State, so that does bring some culture to the area, but still it’s not known for that. So, to me, it’s bringing arts awareness to underserved communities.
Is bringing arts awareness to underserved areas one of the reasons you are at the Clinton School?
That’s one of the things I’m interested in. I really want to revitalize the Foundation of Arts in Jonesboro. I’m also interested in human rights and LGBTQIA rights, because I am a part of that community, and for so long I had to deny that part of myself. I just came out this last year to my family, and they’re still trying to process it, trying to get around to it. But I’m definitely interested in human rights, and bringing those separate parts altogether.
What did you do in Jonesboro with the Foundation of Arts?
I was in a volunteer role mainly with my time at Arkansas State. So, I would just audition for shows, and I would have leads. I was the Nutcracker Prince in “The Nutcracker,” and Willy Wonka for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
I would also do fundraisers for the shows – just stuff that you don’t necessarily have to do, just a way to help the community. The last show that I assistant directed in the summer, we had a Strawberry’s BBQ fundraiser. The performers went around the community and sold pork steak, and we would actually sell it out front at The Forum. That was just a way to raise money for the organization. That’s essentially what it looked like.
What brought you to the Clinton School?
My friend Colby (Qualls), who was in UACS Class 12. He started here, at the Clinton School, last year after starting law school (at William H. Bowen School of Law) two years ago. He told me about it, and he told me all the different stuff that they do and speaker events and all the stuff like that. Having the political science background, I’m interested in politics and maybe public office one day, we’ll see. I thought that the Clinton School could play into that. We are tapping into an amazing network here. I’ve met more people in the past two weeks here than I’ve met in the past year. So, I wanted to come here to increase my network and expand my opportunities.
How does your political science major tie into your interest in the arts? Or are they completely separate areas for you?
They’re completely separate. The arts are a different world for me. I have to compartmentalize, because school is such a big part of my life. And I love school and everything, but I need a way to get away from it. I can still use my political science background to expand the opportunities for the organizations I have worked with, such as the Foundation of Arts, because I can use my network to hopefully someday help them.
Are you thinking of incorporating the arts into your IPSP this summer?
I was thinking about doing something with an arts organization and then for my capstone doing something with the Human Rights Campaign. So that to me would be the political side, sort of because it would be like human rights, LGBTQIA rights, and stuff like that. I don’t know, the State Department sounds interesting to me now. I’ve been saying all along that I didn’t want to do the State Department, and that I’m not interested in foreign affairs and foreign policy. But I think it would be kind of cool to work in an area. I also have a Spanish minor. So, if I could work at an embassy in Spain or Portugal, I could appease the foreign language side, foreign policy, political side, all of that in one sitting. It’s given me a lot to think about.
What is your Practicum team? Can you tell us a little about what you will be doing?
Hope Academy of Public Service. We recently went down to Hope for the first time. Last year’s Hope team developed a curriculum for the public service school and we’re basically going to assess the implementation of that curriculum on this year’s group.
We’re going to meet with community leaders. We met with the community on Tuesday and had a community breakfast, and a lot of people came. But we are going to continue to meet with community leaders and work toward making sure the teachers and faculty and administration are on the same page with the curriculum and that it gets unfolded in the way that promotes buy-in from the community, because that’s the most important part.