In Perry, New York, where she serves as the executive director of the Arts Council for Wyoming County, Jackie Hoyt is one of the few non-white, immigrant faces. There, she makes an important contribution to the community of 41,000 by creating a diverse program that includes classes, art shows, and multicultural concerts. “We have 12 satellite galleries around the county and I do all of the curating for those,” she says. “This has been what I call our international year, as I’m striving to get artists to show their works from all over the world.”Hoyt has always been passionate about the arts. As a young woman in her native Jamaica, she performed in an all-girl rock band. And at a time when many Jamaicans were leaving for the United States, Hoyt assumed she would stay. She was happy, secure, and stable working as a teacher. “When I met my future husband, everything changed,” she says. He was an American on a church missionary trip to Kingston. “He swept me off my feet, and a few years later I was moving to South Carolina and we started our family.” They eventually settled in her husband’s hometown of Castile, in western New York.
You never know who is going to make the opportunity to help and affect our culture in a beautiful way.
Hoyt’s passion for the arts continued to grow and, in turn, fell upon her daughter, Ddendyl, who became a participant on the competition television show The Voice. “She always wanted to be a singer,” Hoyt says. Now, Ddendyl has a full-time residency singing in Las Vegas.
Back in New York, Hoyt is also an integral part of her community. Wyoming County, where she lives and works, is predominantly white, and Hoyt views her contributions as essential to promote diversity. “The youth bureau might ask me to teach a drumming workshop to children, and I’ve started an art camp through the YMCA,” she says. “At church, I have started to put together a program of traditional song and dance two or three times a year. At first, I could feel the tension because no one really understood my culture. Now, I show respect for the culture I am living in and gently find ways to introduce my culture and passions to the community. We’re all in it together.”
Admittedly, Hoyt has been fortunate. She easily gained her citizenship 26 years ago. But she says that was a different time. “You never know who is going to make the opportunity to help and affect our culture in a beautiful way. We don’t prevent those good things from happening,” she says. “Laws that impede immigration status could be stopping someone who is on the verge of making our world better.” Her plea is simple, but it stems from her core belief that enriching the culture in the United States is the key to a brighter and better future for everyone.