Article by Cheryl Harris Forbes
Photos by Shana Sureck
Sometimes the best time to make a change is when things are at their worst. If that statement is true, then performing artist Anne Marie Williams has made it her theme song.
To look at Anne Marie now, in her ArtSpace Hartford dance studio, you’d never know the trials and tribulations she went through to get there. Her youthful exuberance and radiant skin belie her journey to ascending artistic satisfaction.
As a single mother of two girls, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, along with minors in Theatre Arts and Psychology, at the University of Hartford, worked as a classroom assistant, and held children’s performing arts workshops as often as possible. Eventually, her passion for teaching young children through the arts became formally organized into a side business named K La Rue Educational Arts in Motion. However, with a family to feed, Anne Marie did the responsible thing and kept her full-time job while developing K La Rue during evenings and weekends through Hartford’s summer arts programs.
That all changed about three years ago when a new wave of challenges hit. “When I was laid-off, it was a bad time.” Anne Marie recalls. “The economy was at its worst, but I decided to take a chance on myself and to invest in me. I knew this was my opportunity to finally make my living doing what I love most, full-time. I guess you could say I had a talk with myself, saying either you do it and give it your all or you don’t. I made the decision to go into business for myself and to look for help in getting started, no matter where that would take me. That same week, my car was totaled."
After the initial shock wore off, Anne Marie, in her trademark resilient style, hit the pavement looking for resources to jumpstart her business. She enrolled in community college classes to get some background in business, but quickly realized it wasn’t quite right for what she wanted to do. She kept looking. Her search led to City Hall. That’s when Jose Rodriguez of Hartford's Economic Development Department suggested she contact the Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Hartford. Shortly after speaking to the Center's staff and learning about the Hartford Small Business Technical Assistance Program, Anne Marie knew she'd found the perfect fit.
“I learned the basics of running a business and put it into use on a practical basis right away. Whenever I had questions, I could go to a business advisor and tap into their wisdom. What I liked best was that they never forced any of their suggestions on me. Their motto is your business, your vision, our expertise. They help you to develop your expertise in business, then surround you with people and resources to help. I love that!” she exclaims with a wide-eyed smile.
Anne Marie jumped in feet first. She continued to book dance workshops and performances while attending the Entrepreneurial Center’s business planning and operations, QuickBooks and social media trainings. During that time she began to finalize a branded curriculum designed to engage and expand young children's knowledge of numbers, rhyming, sequencing, and social behavior, further supporting established grade K- 3 curriculum standards and benchmarks.
"What I've discovered is that my uniqueness lies in my ability to provide an enriched learning experience for young children and customized programming for schools and community organizations using music, theatre, and performance" she says.
Buoyed with new perspective, technical assistance, and a business plan, Anne Marie , known as Jedda by her pint-sized entourage of fans, conducted performances and classes for children in three City of Hartford arts programs, secured additional clients, and new studio space for her dance classes.
In working with children, Anne Marie incorporates her original songs, animated portrayals and knowledge of the benefits of kinesthetic, auditory, visual, and tactile learning experiences. “I love to see their faces light up with laughter and joy. To know they’ve grasped the concepts and they’re happy doing it is amazing.
"I’m an artist at heart, but I knew I needed the business smarts to take my dream to the place that would allow me to be taken seriously as a professional. Before coming to the Entrepreneurial Center, I hadn’t formalized all the processes of my business. They showed me how, and that it was possible to make a living doing what I love. "