Tag: nycaieroundtable

Grief of the Grounded Gig Artist

By Dianna Garten

Written: Monday, March 30, 2020 (quarantine day 10… or 17… or 63… I’m not sure anymore)

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. To view other blogs in the series, please click here.

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I was so excited for March and April. Twenty-nineteen had been a rough year for me; dealing with health issues had made many other things in my life take a back seat. It wasn’t all bad, but I was eager to start 2020 with a fresh outlook and attitude, and by late February, 2020 was going great! I was working on several student shows and had another contract lined up to start  soon, I was in the process of producing my first short film that was set to shoot at the end of March, I was training for my first half-marathon, I was prepping for a large gala, and I had just locked in a plan to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe! I was feeling immensely hopeful about 2020 and was ready to hustle as hard as I could going into the spring to see all these things to fruition. It felt like I was taking my life back. I was following the news and hearing the updates about Coronavirus, but it seemed far away and possibly many months down the road. By the end of February, it felt closer, but still not imminent.

Then, the week of March 9th, everything changed very quickly.

March 8th: I had finished my last long run, clocking 11 miles and feeling excited for the half- marathon the following Sunday. I joked on social media with another runner about the race getting cancelled, but still felt certain that it wouldn’t happen.
March 10th: Then on Tuesday it did. And the wave of cancellations began.
March 11th: On Wednesday the gala I was prepping for was cancelled.
March 12th: On Thursday the church I attend cancelled services through the end of April, and the bombshell announcement: Broadway closed.
March 13th: Friday. I was working in a school and could sense the uneasiness in the air; the adults were doing the best they could, but everyone was wearing gloves and recoiling from the five-year-olds when they coughed.
I received emails from every off-Broadway theater I had ever attended announcing early closures.
March 14th: Saturday. Many of my friends discussed leaving the city indefinitely.
March 15th: Sunday. Public school closed.

I had been saying all week “If schools are open I have work”, and then suddenly they weren’t and my financial footing became very uncertain.

I quickly began working for a family that reached out to me for help with the kids since private schools were closed and very frank about being unlikely to reopen. This lasted for just a week as the following Friday, March 20th , the limitations on movements of non-essential workers was announced. I had spent a week commuting in a ghost town, struggling to come to terms with being primarily a child care provider again and by the end of the week I didn’t even have that.

One of my many jobs, the one that I have loved the most and poured the most into, had announced early in that week that they wouldn’t be able to pay out contracts with the school closure, the company had lost too much revenue, so all Teaching Artists were out of work a month and half early. Another company promised to pay out accrued sick pay and sent us links and guides to file for unemployment. I was reeling. One of my best friends expressed gratitude for the chance to slow down. In contrast, I was not grateful for any of it. I felt like everything good I had planned and worked towards had been ripped from my hands in a matter of days (the Edinburgh cancellation didn’t come until later, but the end of March brought that too). I had been taking back my life, and it felt like my life had been taken from me instead.

Despite my immense feeling of loss, betrayal, and frustration, I was, and still am, taking this crisis very seriously. I do not doubt any of the measures being taken and after a few days for each cancellation respectively I knew the decision was right. However, I still was deeply disheartened; saddened by all that had changed in a matter of days and uncertain what the next months ahead would hold.

“I had a voice in my head saying that creative inspiration often comes out of trials, so why wasn’t I feeling inspired? Why did my creativity feel sapped?”

Every time I went to social media or my news app I would see a variety of amazing stories about people finding exciting and creative ways to deal with the closures next to analyses and reports that would completely terrify me. I had a voice in my head saying that creative inspiration often comes out of trials, so why wasn’t I feeling inspired? Why did my creativity feel sapped? I was seeing others seemingly using the time to sit down and write, or draw, or sing, or read, or in some other way create what could come to be their magnum opus. Why couldn’t I start?

Despite the feelings of internal and external pressure, I know I am not the only one who has lost something. Many people are facing much more serious losses than me right now. I count myself lucky to have a warm safe home, a family that doesn’t have to go to the front lines, and devices that can keep me connected while inside. Still, I feel the pain of my community around me; closed shows, cancelled residencies, delayed shoot dates, lost jobs. The impact on the arts community has been profound and the future remains uncertain. When your art form is all about bringing people together in a space, what does it mean when gatherings are prohibited? What is theater in the solitary? And what is community when we lack the space to commune? Now, after one full week of working from home, hustling to transform my side chess tutoring job into a more substantial one edging on my main source of income, engaging in zoom call after zoom call, watching the people who held by financial fate in their hands get defensive about questions, I am less inspired than when the crises started. Each day seems to bring new bad news, fears, and disappointments and the time stretches out before us for time unknown.

Yet, I have come to accept one thing which has helped immensely: I do not need to force productivity.

I will continue to work and try tp find ways to keep income coming in, but I needn’t immediately have creative inspiration or feel like a failure. Inspiration is different for everyone. For some these first two weeks may have been the perfect opportunity to get your creativity going. For others like me, it is ok to take time and grieve the things that have been lost whether they were opportunities, plans, shows, or anything else.

It’s ok to be sad and feel the hurt of the dreams that were becoming tangible and now cannot.
You can feel this and still be fully committed to #flattenthecurve.
It is ok to rest and breathe and be wherever you are.
As an artist, I trust that as I adapt to the new temporary normal the creativity will come back.
The theater community and the arts-ed community are adaptive, it’s what we do.
We are only human and our hurt is part of our humanity; we don’t have to worship at the idol of productivity.
This stop has been forced upon us, creativity will not inherently come back when exerted on with that same force.
Be gentle with yourself, give yourself what you need, feel the pain and fear and grief; you are still an artist and your spark will come back. (And if you know any young children who might be interested in chess, put me in touch with their parents, it’s my main gig now.)

*****

Dianna Garten is an NYC based theater director and teaching artist. Her directing credits include The Divorcee ShowerBossa Nova and BeesA FatimaSpinoza’s Ethics, Who am I? and I am Cecil, among many additional staged readings. She has assistant directed Not A GiftPainting His WingsAbortion: A Race Redux, and Skin Deep. Dianna specializes in devising with students and she has partnered with students to create over twenty original plays. She is deeply committed to lifting students’ voices through the vehicle of theater. Her theatrical experience also includes performing and stage-managing. She has worked with youth throughout New York City and internationally in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Kigali, Rwanda. She earned her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and my MA in Applied Theatre from CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. diannagarten.com

My Full Experience at the International Teaching Artist Conference

By Heleya de Barros

It’s been two weeks since I walked out of Carnegie Hall, after three jam-packed days at the 4th International Teaching Artist Conference (ITAC). I walked out a bit dazed, very tired, invigorated, and incredibly—amazingly—full. I ambled towards the subway with a colleague I’d met, but couldn’t quite bring myself to get on the train and just “go home.” It seemed crazy to follow my typical pattern after an experience like ITAC.

Instead, I walked passed the 59th Street subway and into Central Park. I needed to digest. Two weeks later, after more time contemplating, sorting through notes, listening to recordings, and many conversations with colleagues both at the conference and not, it is still hard to put this experience into words. I keep coming back to that fullness I felt as I walked into the park.

Over the 3 day conference I attended 9 break-out sessions representing 7 countries on 5 continents (Australia, Cambodia, Columbia, Guatemala, UK, USA), 3 keynote addresses (by a dancer, photographer, and theatre artist), 1 site-visit, 1 live performance, and 1 live podcast recording. And I met a lot of teaching artists. Sure, the name of the conference might suggest this, but my past conference experiences have taught me to expect to be one of few TAs in a sea of administrators. There was something very special about walking into a room of 300 people who do what you do. These were my people. I immediately felt seen and understood at ITAC. The conference’s final report quoted nearly 300 attendees (whom they call delegates) representing 28 countries.

I spoke with many others who expressed the same feeling of belonging, and the power that can come from that. One visual artist teaching artist (TA) from Vermont, Alexandra Turner, told me it had been empowering for her to claim the title of Teaching Artist, “I’ve been putting together part-time jobs for so many years and I didn’t know there was a name for it, or a community of people doing it. When I owned this title of Teaching Artist it changed my whole perception of myself and my work to someone who belongs to a community of amazing and impactful people.” Others wondered if they were missing out on finding a larger community in their field at home because different titles were used across the field. Is a teaching artist the same as a community artist or a participatory artist? Many were impressed with New York for having a very clear community around the single title of TA.

It isn’t surprising to me that the feeling of belonging was so desired and celebrated. Much of what we do as TAs can be solitary and we can often lose sight of the fact that we do belong to a community of artists who—do what we do. One conference organizer Eric Booth (who jovially refers to himself as the oldest living TA) kept referring to the delegates as leaves on a tree. This analogy was referenced frequently throughout the conference. We leaves sometimes forget (or lose sight) that we are rooted on a branch with other leaves, which is rooted on the trunk of a tree with many other branches. To that end, one of the collaborative projects launched at the conference was the Global History Timeline an online record of the history of teaching artistry. There is power in naming your history as well as your title. This is a living document. You can submit entries here.

I wondered before the conference if my experience as a TA in New York City was comparable to others in the US or around the world; or did we live in our own microcosm here? I almost feel silly for questioning this now. Of course there were similarities, particularly in the approaches to, and the challenges of, the work. The specifics of the settings or social, cultural, and institutional challenges in the 28 countries represented may be different, but our strategies were not. Active listening. How to enter a community as an outsider? How to leave a community? Recognition of the links of systemic oppression and working towards dismantling them through our art. How to fund the work? How to sustain the work? How to tell another’s story? Should you tell another’s story? How to communicate what we do?

In his keynote address photojournalist Aaron Huey spoke of his many years working in the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota, “When you leave a community like Pine Ridge they are left wondering not IF, but HOW you will misrepresent them.” Dancer and choreographer Liz Lerman posed, “I’m curious how we listen. I’m wondering how we listen with our whole artist self,” in her keynote. James Miles, Executive Director of ArtsCorps in Seattle, WA seemed to answer during the live-recorded podcast of Teaching Artistry with Courtney J. Boddie when he said, “Artists must listen to other people’s stories with love.”

Edie Demas, Sobha Kavanakudiyil, Penelope McCourty, James Miles and Courtney Boddie at the live podcast recording of Teaching Artistry with Courtney J. Boddie. Photo credit Christopher Totten.

In my last session, facilitated by Santiago Gonzalez from Corporacion Otra Escuela in Colombia, we were handed a handful of coffee beans. After each exercise exploring conflict Santiago had us take out the coffee beans, smell them, and bring ourselves back into the room and into our own bodies through the smell. He ended the session by saying, “You don’t HAVE a body, you ARE a body.”

I am a body. I am an artist. And we are a body of teaching artists in NYC, in the Northeast, in the US, and around the world. Although, I was left wondering if the question was not that we forget we are leaves that make up a tree, but that many of us don’t know we are part of a tree to begin with. While we seem to have the nomenclature of teaching artist settled in NYC (if you disagree, let me know), we still struggle to see, and actively engage, the entire tree of our teaching artist community.

While at the conference a NYC TA colleague mentioned she’d just come from a training for an arts education organization and was surprised when very few TAs in the room were aware of the Roundtable or the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee. TAs were discussing the complications of signing up for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act as a freelancer and my colleague mentioned our bi-annual workshop on this very topic. No one knew what she was talking about. (Open enrollment starts Nov. 1st you can watch the video of our tutorial with The Actor’s Fund from last year here, or go to an in person workshop here).

I had a similar conversation on this struggle with the staff from the National Arts Council Singapore. They are looking at creating a Teaching Artist Handbook for their artists with opportunities for professional development, healthcare and legal aid, resources for artists, and work and funding opportunities. I thought that was an interesting idea, so I brought it back to TA Affairs.

If you come to our “Sip & Create” TA Meet-Up on November 2nd 5pm-7pm we’ll have a plethora of TA resources. Our committee is compiling them now. Do you have an idea of something that should be on the list? Do you have an idea of how to reach more NYC TAs? Hit us up.

I also had questions about how to sustain global connectivity after this conference and between the next one in 2020. ITAC answered this for me on the first day when they launched the ITAC Collaborative. I’ve already submitted the Roundtable’s TA Affairs Committee as an ITAC Collaborative Catalyst to help disseminate global information to our NYC TA community. ITAC Collaborative will also have small funding opportunities for projects between nations. Do you have an idea for a project? Hit me up.  

So, what was ITAC like? It felt like home. It felt like recognition. It felt like being full. The theme of the conference was “Artist as Instigator.” I’m instigated to create this feeling for the NYC TA community. Wanna help me?

 

Heleya de Barros is an actor and teaching artist in New York City. She is a Board Member of the Roundtable and Co-Chair of the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee. @Heleya_deBarros

*(TopPhoto credit DreamYard Media Interns.