Tyler Cessor knew he wanted to be part of Art 321 once he came across the Casper arts nonprofit’s toolkit on how to start a program for suicide survivors.
“And for me, that was the moment,” he said.
This month he became the executive director of Art 321. He replaces Susie Grant, who departed in November.
Cessor was working on a presentation for the Wyoming Department of Health’s Office of Health Equity on “arts as therapeutic and clinical music therapy” when he came across the Healing Through Art Toolkit, a collaboration that grew from Art 321’s Healing Through Art sessions for people affected by suicide or other mental health issues and an Arizona program.
Cessor’s experience includes his previous job at the Wyoming Arts Council in Cheyenne working with organizations around the state, roles on various state boards and councils and a creative background as a saxophonist and artist.
Art 321’s toolkit showed an organization committed to something significant, Cessor said, and he discovered more reasons to become part of the organization.
“It was the first thing that was most impactful for me, was seeing an active investment in arts for health and wellness,” he said. “The second thing I would say is an active investment or a significant investment in inclusive arts learning, right? How do we create more arts learning opportunities for more of our community members? That as a core principle of Art 321 and seeing that as a foundation was huge. The third one, I would say, is that they were willing to expand past their comfort zone.”
Art and community
Cessor grew up in Cheyenne and graduated from the University of Wyoming. He moved back to his hometown to be closer to family after about eight years in Minnesota. He attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota School of Music, and his career included work as a freelance artist and musician and an instructor at Concordia College.
During his doctoral study, he was elected to the executive committee of a neighborhood organization that built raised bed gardens in communities. They’d do pop-up galleries and arts events in some of them, he said.
“And that through that work, I really started to get more invested in community advocacy and the administrative side of arts,” he said, “just trying to support more spaces that do work like that.”
In his recent role as Wyoming Arts Council’s community development & diversity, equity, inclusion specialist, he traveled the state working with arts organizations and community leaders to develop arts programming for their communities, as well as to increase diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, he said. He managed the large Community Support Grant program for community-based arts programs and organizations, according to his resume.
While at the Wyoming Arts Council, he collaborated with the Sankofa African Heritage Awareness Inc., Hispanos Unidos, the Wyoming Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Wyoming Business Council, including with its Mainstreet program.
He’s a member of the Wyoming Department of Health’s steering committee for the State Health Improvement Plan, and he recently was asked to continue on their strategy development team, he said. He’s served on several boards and councils, including his current post as chief of strategy for the ENGAGE (Empowering the Next Generations to Advance and Grow the Economy) Council.
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His own projects have included a concert series he started called “Shifting Perspectives,” which through music and other arts explored ideas and issues from seasonal affective disorder and sex trafficking to the challenges faced by Hmong refugees with spoken word artist Tou SaiKo Lee and his grandmother, he said.
During his graduate research on higher education and learning and in his teaching, he’s been asked what most often occupies his thoughts.
“I still do my own work. And I still have kind of projects on the side, but I still find myself really thinking about how to create space,” he said. ”How do we support emerging artists and learning artists?”
He grew increasingly fascinated with how arts impact communities and how to support that work. He has a passion for collaborating and connecting with people and learning from them.
The beauty of art is the number of perspectives one can learn from, he said. Art can immediately expand perception of one’s surroundings, the community and what people are involved in.
“That’s what I think what art has done for me, is broaden that perspective,” he said.
Energy and impact
Cessor plans to move to Casper in the near future with his wife and their 3-year-old.
“And I’m looking forward to setting some roots, and, like I said earlier, so much of this is exciting for my daughter,” he said. “I’m really glad that there are as many opportunities for her here.”
He plans to get to know the community, find out what they value and what’s exciting to them and to learn about the needs and interests in the community as he builds relationships.
Some of Art 321’s long-term goals include expanding its reach through Wyoming and renovations to make use of the building’s basement. Another upcoming opportunity is the 100th anniversary of the Casper Artists’ Guild in 2024, he said.
Art 321 board president Vicki Primrose said several good candidates applied for the job.
“But Tyler just kind of rose to the top with his art background, his community service background, his involvement in so many of the things that mean so much to us. And I think we basically knew he was the right guy, and we’ve felt very fortunate that he would accept our offer.”
He was drawn to the organization because it didn’t stop at the gallery and workshops but continued with the Healing Through Art program and keeps looking for ways to expand and serve people and communities, he said.
“There’s all this energy on the (Healing Through Art) program, there’s a lot of energy of, ‘Great, we’re doing some good things here; how do we extend that work, and extend that access beyond Casper, but also how do we deepen that work within Casper?”
Follow arts & culture reporter Elysia Conner on twitter @erconner