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Life & Work with Portia Dunkley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Portia Dunkley.

Hi Portia, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
My name is Portia Dunkley. I am a Miami native, raised in Overtown, and a proud Haitian-Bahamian American descendant that has come a long way on a journey to becoming the woman and business owner that I always desired to be. Growing up in Miami, playing in the streets of my neighborhood with my friends, I was always curious about social issues and opportunities facing people in poverty, especially children. I grew up in Overtown, aware of my surroundings but not immersed in the negativity. Overtown was good to us, the people, the neighborhood, damn, even the neighborhood dealers made sure we stayed out of trouble. Early on, with the encouragement of a great music teacher, I discovered a love for music and a desire to play the double bass that provided an opportunity for me to go to college on a full scholarship. Music was my gift and my ticket for a different life. Music was literally my answer for everything.

At Florida State University, I shared so many wonderful experiences with like-minded individuals. I matured in interesting ways and eventually discovered that my true passion was in arts advocacy and education as a social entrepreneur. I eventually graduated, receiving my bachelor’s degree in Double Bass Performance and Master of Arts Degree in Arts Administration. I worked in string education for over 16 years throughout the state of Florida and with the local Arts Agency in Tallahassee before moving back to Miami in 2015 to continue my career. After working in arts administration for two years for a well-known non-profit organization, in 2017, I launched my business, Teeny Violini, a mobile music education program for preschool centers that uses music as a tool to help students grow in key developmental areas.

With the help and support of my husband, I decided that it was time to follow my dreams and invest my heart and ambition into my own project. After over ten years of dreaming and fighting fear, I was able to realize my dream of bringing quality music education programming to preschoolers with my husband and a few close friends every step of the way. In 2019 I was selected to join the SpinxL.E.A.D. (Leaders in Excellence, Arts & Diversity) program apart of its first cohort. It was a professional development opportunity to grow in my ability to be an effective and strong leader in Arts Administration. In 2019 I was the recipient of a Knight Arts Challenge grant from the Knight Foundation for my concert series project, Music of Unsung America: Celebrating Black composers in the shadows of history. In 2021, I co-founded with Angel Refuse the New Canon Chamber Collective, a south Florida-based music ensemble that centers the voices of Black creatives in the classical music arts.

I believe that learning and growing every day is important and should never be taken for granted. Being intentional about making connections is vital and should not be left only to chance. When we miss opportunities to learn and connect, we shield certain parts of ourselves from growth. As a Black woman in a white male-dominated industry trying to navigate an ever-changing societal landscape, more now than ever, we need to support and affirm culturally diverse images of success and hold each other up. There is so much to glean from each other’s successes and challenges, connecting our shared experiences and celebrating cultural diversity in the arts.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Being and entrepreneur is no crystal staircase. I believe that it is one of the most challenging things you could ever decide to do. Some days are high, things are great, and everything is flowing. And then some days are so low that you question yourself and your intuition. You wonder if you “heard God.” But truthfully, if you’ve ever had a dream and a desire to do and be more, then it’s worth the emotional roller coaster. Eventually, with time, patience, practice and guidance, everything levels out and your vision over the horizon becomes clearer and you realize it was all worth it. I will always be grateful for the courage to step out on faith and the tenacity to hold on when I feel like curling into a ball and hiding in the corner. God is good. I share my life with my amazing musician husband, Waldron and my beautiful and precocious daughter, Auriel. They are my lighting rods.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am an educator, advocate and administrator in the arts. I have worked in education for over 17 years. In 2017, I started Teeny Violini, a mobile music education program for preschools and afterschool programs. Teeny Violini uses music as a tool to build socially and emotionally healthy kids. It’s a program that I developed in order to engage young learners in a creative way that helps build confidence in their creative ability. It is a great joy to watch the progression of every student as they come into their own musical person. I currently co-founded New Canon Chamber Collective with Angel Refuse in 2021.

New Canon Chamber Collective is an ensemble of South Florida-based musicians that programs repertoire that centers composers from the Afro diaspora and creates a space for Black professional musicians and other musicians of color to curate music in the classical arts and performs together. The New Canon Chamber Collective started out as an artist grant that I received from the Knight Foundation for my project, Music of Unsung America: Celebrating Black composers in the shadows of history. Music of Unsung America; has now become the flagship concert series presented by New Canon Chamber Collective, continuing the mission of bringing past and present Black composers into the canon of Western Classical music. I am very proud that even in a pandemic, God has allowed us to do this beautiful work with so many brilliantly talented musicians. We are an organization that truly values the artist, the art and the community. The foundation of our organization is built on love, mutual respect, courage, curiosity, artistic excellence, gratitude, and community.

What was your favorite childhood memory?
My favorite childhood memory was visiting my grandfather in Nassau, Bahamas, during the summers. He was such an amazing cook. It was the way he expressed his love for his family. Every detail was in the seasoning and the moments he spent patiently in the early mornings preparing the most delicious Bahamian dishes for his American-born grandchildren. My sister, cousins and I would run around the house and in the yard all day, chasing each other and laughing without a care in the world.

Pricing:

  • From Renaissance to Resistance: A music performance commemorating Juneteeth. Friday June 18, 2021 Limited Seating. The Historic Hampton House 4240 NW 27th Ave Ste 203, Miami, FL 33142. $10 for Advance Tickets. $15 At the Door.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Gregory Reed (Images taken in the Theatre) Romeo Davis (Images taken in the church) Personal images (classroom images)

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1 Comment

  1. Gerri Seay

    June 4, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    What a wonderful article! Portia is an inspiration to us all! Her contributions are game changers and have no doubt touched hundreds of folks who needed her presence in their lives! Kudos to you Portia!!!

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