Tag: teaching artists nyc

Productivity

By Meghan Grover

Posted on Thursday, April 23, 2020

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. 

I put on my Teaching-Artist-Casual garb: yoga pants, a flowy shirt, and purple combat boots.

The Franklin Ave 4-5 train is 4 min away – huzzah!  

I finish writing a lesson plan in google docs, send my mom a ❤️ (I should call her, but I don’t have time!!), and I eat my breakfast burrito.

The train arrives. 

I get a seat! Yas!

I listen to Up First, The Daily, and the beginning of Pod Save the People on 1.5 speed.    

I feel furious at the news as I pop out of the 86th Street subway. 

To calm myself I listen to showtunes (Spongebob Squarepants the Musical’s “Best Day Ever” or Follies’ “Broadway Baby” usually does the trick).  

I carry three heavy bags of crafts, props, and Bluetooth speakers as I swarm through hundreds of people.  

I show my ID to the security guard of the first school, and make my way to my first class.

I take my first full breath of the day and finally relax as I make eye contact with twenty four-year-olds. We laugh as we go on an imaginary adventure in the forest where we help various puppet-animals in need. As we reflect at the end of class, the young people describe how much they loved “giving the mouse a magic blanket” or “showing the frog their Elsa freeze power.” I feel so happy.

After two classes of this forest-themed residency, I must move on to my next thing!

 I jog to the 4-5 train to go back to Brooklyn. I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I listen to the second half of Pod Save America, on 2.0 speed this time. I feel informed. And even angrier. 

I send more emails and try to get more teaching gigs on the subway because being still feels unproductive. 

After an hour on the train and walking, I show my ID to the security guard in the temporary housing facility, and I enter a classroom of twenty more young people.

I take that full breath and relax and smile! We read the book Dancing in the Wings and learn about Sassy, a young person who becomes a successful ballerina. After we read the book, we imagine that we are in a time machine, and we travel to the year 2080 where we draw pictures of the awards we will receive for all of our own life achievements. The young people giggle as they pretend to be old and share their successes on our pretend award show. I feel so happy.

But as I walk back to the subway station, I feel furious at the stark difference of opportunity between the morning private school and the afternoon temporary housing facility.

I try to push that anger away as I eat my second peanut butter and jelly sandwich while taking the B train to go back into Manhattan. I respond to more emails on the train and then on the subway platform of Herald Square.  

I take an improv class, or I rehearse a play, or I see a play… something like that…  

And then I take the 2-3 back to Franklin Ave. Still emailing, writing lesson plans, applying for jobs. 

I consider making plans with some friends but I feel too busy and exhausted.

I was productive, though, wasn’t I? I am ready to wake up at 6AM the next day and continue to be a part of the ever-moving machine. 

 

 

….

But then the machine stopped. 

On Sunday March 15, 2020, everything was cancelled, paused, sheltered-in-place.

I tried to keep my ever-moving machine “on” as I sheltered in Crown Heights. I was privileged to still have a few virtual jobs and endless zoom activities. So I facilitated synchronous and asynchronous zoom drama sessions, devised theater online, read the news and twitter, delivered people groceries, listened to podcasts…

But I didn’t feel the “productive” movement that I desperately wanted.

I just felt overwhelmed and flustered with each zoom meeting, news story, and email. 

What was I trying to produce!? What would make me feel USEFUL!!? I WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING MORE!!!! 

Then

                      After five weeks

                                                                 I walked to Prospect Park 

                                                                                                                            Without headphones. 

I walked up the steps to Lookout Hill where I could see 5-mile stretches of the city.

I took a breath through my masked face: that rare, long breath that I had not felt since entering a classroom to teach.

The ambulances, blossoms, and birds moved all around my very still body. 

I felt uncomfortable, but I kept breathing until I did not feel the fury and anxiety that made me want to move. 

I was still. 

I felt pain. 

Pain that I so often denied myself. 

I took out my journal that is usually filled with to-do lists, ideas for plays, and lesson plans. 

And I wrote. 

I wrote about teaching artistry: In this time of crisis as I teach virtually, emotional check-ins and just chatting with students are vital. It is not about “getting things done” but about connecting with one another. In addition to zooming with students, the most impactful zoom interactions have been with fellow educators. These interactions have not been about lesson plans and curriculum goals, but about how we are feeling: about Schitt’s Creek & Tiger King, Marie’s Crisis Cafe, and our favorite books, recipes, and scrabble words. Our conversations have been about who we are: not about what we are doing and accomplishing. 

I wrote about social change: Takiema Bunhe-Smith was a keynote speaker for the virtual Face to Face conference on April 15. She said that supporting individuals going through trauma is vital to work as a teaching artist, but we also have to think about the systems in place that affect trauma. The pandemic has laid bare the inequities of the social, political and economic machine that determine people’s worth through their “productivity” and profit. This machine perpetuates white supremacy and oppression that determines who gets to live and die: Black people in New York City are dying at twice the rate of white people. Latinx people are also dying from the virus at much higher rates than white people. The same can be seen through infection rates and hospitalization too.

Sometimes it feels like the ever-moving disparities of our society will never stop. Especially now.

But this machine is made up of people, and I truly have hope that people can change when they begin to see one another as human: when people can reflect on how the system actively dehumanizes some and humanizes others.

Change means our work with individuals: mutual aid, donations, the practice of teaching artistry (where we get to support people to develop their unique creativity in this world!). And change means work on the systemic level: phone calls to government officials, virtual and in-person protests, petitions. People demanding what they need and electing people to dismantle these inequitable systems.

Change means constantly learning and questioning what I think I know.

Instead of being angry, how can I use my agitation and energy to act and take responsibility?

So then I wrote about myself: How I sometimes live in contradiction to the practices of teaching artistry. Teaching artistry can open people to recognize that they do not need to act within the confines of this “productive” machine. With the exception of the joy I felt in a classroom, most of my days were “moving on to the next thing” and not really connecting with other people or myself. Self-care does not involve me only doing Yoga with Adriene, but taking myself into real stillness so that I can reflect on who I am. I spend all this time trying to be productive sometimes without thinking about what I am truly trying to produce. 

At this point in my writing, I closed my journal and my eyes.

And I wept.

I wept for the sick people, for the deaths, for the loneliness, for the hardship, and for our current system that perpetuates this harm. I wept for the cuts to social services, to education, to the arts, for our current leaders, and for a future that feels so bleak. 

But then I wept for resilience.

Because the very essence of teaching artistry is adapting so that we can continue to create, imagine and act on our current circumstance: to problem-solve and explore multiple solutions. 

We specialize in creating stories that we want to see enacted in this world! 

We can use our capacities to produce new machines of love, humanity, and freedom, not only in our classrooms and on zoom, but in our neighborhood, our country, and our world.

 

*****

Meghan Grover is a Brooklyn-based theater artist and educator originally from Cleveland, Ohio. She is passionate about creating original theater with people of all ages. Meghan works with New York City Children’s Theater, Park Avenue Youth Theater, DOROT, Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, CAT Youth Theatre, Bluelaces Theater Company, AMIOS and Hook & Eye Theater Company. Meghan is also a co-founding member and facilitator of the Defrost Project where she creates community-based art with residents of small towns in Minnesota. She is a Moth StorySLAM winner and GrandSLAM performer. Meghan graduated from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program and is currently getting her MA in Applied Theatre at CUNY. She is extremely grateful to be a part of the Roundtable family and the amazing arts education community!

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.

 

Ten Tips for a STABLE Teaching Artist

By Justin Daniel, Teaching Artist and member of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable Teaching Artists Affairs Committee.

Teaching Artists are the ultimate multi-taskers!  Not only do we bring our artistry into classrooms around the country, we are also our own advocates, agents, researchers, and administrative assistants.  While giving ourselves a well-earned pat on the back, let’s admit this often leads to an unbalanced, sometimes chaotic work-life.

We reached out to teaching artists currently in the field, and have compiled ten ways to bring more stability and sustainability to your teaching artist practice.  If you think something is missing from this list, we encourage you to respond in the comments and add to the dialogue!

1.  SYSTEMS

Finding an organized system that aggregates your various employers, keeps you on-task and on-time, and allows you to access your various pay-rates and income sources is essential for a stable work-life.  For those of you digitally minded, web apps such as Evernote (for staying organized), Invoice2Go (for payments), and Mint (for finances) are a fantastic start.

2.  THE ART OF SAYING “NO”

This may seem counterintuitive, since many of us equate stability with meeting financial goals.  However, it’s incredibly important to consider the value of your time.  If an organization is taking up too much of your time (and not properly compensating you for it), it may be time to reconsider your options.

3.  SET A TEACHING / ARTIST RATIO

Every Teaching Artist’s work/art balance is different, but be mindful of what you need to feel successful.  For some, the goal may be to devote 50% to their teaching and 50% to their art-making, for others it’s heavily weighted towards one or the other.  Whatever it is, check in with yourself periodically to assess whether you are meeting your ideal balance, or if it’s time to adjust.

4.  FIND THE JOY IN TEACHING

Is this one obvious?  Perhaps, but ask yourself if you are finding joy when you are trudging through a blizzard to get to a school three boroughs away (a common NYC predicament!).  Some suggest keeping a journal of funny/sweet classroom experiences to remind themselves of the magical moments.  Regardless, what we do should ultimately be a positive and joyful experience (at least most of the time!).

5.  FIND AND UTILIZE OUR COMMUNITY

Take advantage of the larger teaching artist community wherever you are based. From the Roundtable events, to educational conferences, to more informal get-togethers, find a way to share your experiences and gain insight from others.

6.  THINK AHEAD

Strive to book your teaching artist work as far ahead as possible.  While every organization is different, the more advance notice you get, the better chance you have at organizing the logistics and feeling wholly prepared.

7.  BE PASSIONATE FOR YOUR ARTS ORGANIZATIONS

Most organizations have distinct mission statements.  Make sure the mission statement aligns with your core values, and ensure that the mission is reflected in the operations of the organization.  If the mission doesn’t align with reality, perhaps this isn’t the organization for you.

8.  KEEP IT FRESH

Don’t get stagnant in your teaching practice.  Continue to mine for new methods, new points of view, and new activities to innovate your teaching artistry and to keep yourself inspired.

9.  BUT… DON’T CONSTANTLY REINVENT THE WHEEL

While we continue to expand as teaching artists, it’s also important to trust in the methods that have taken you this far.  Always keep your prior lesson plans saved (I use Evernote for this) so you can quickly pull activities for the future, yet be willing to set ones aside that no longer feel fresh or inspiring.

10.  ASK FOR HELP

Most arts organization have dedicated administrations who are passionate about enabling their teaching artist to fully succeed.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, or just need a fresh set of eyes, reach out to the organization for guidance and perspective.  They can help you see the forest from the trees.

Click here to find out more about Roundtable events.

Justin Daniel, Teaching Artist