Cross Discipline Collaboration and Education: “The Series!” – Tom Berich

Over the years I have had the wonderful opportunity to work in a number of vastly different artistic disciplines. Theatre, Film, Recording, Dance, Visual, etc., and, having had that opportunity, I have noticed a consistent lack of understanding, or, in some instances an actual refusal to accept how the different disciplines work, certainly independently, but this transfers rather quickly into collaborative stumbling blocks.

It’s fine if you are working on writing your script by your self, but how does a writer deal with the actor saying “My character wouldn’t say that, so I’m not going to.” Or when a lighting designer says, “What do you mean the dancers need to wear red? This won’t work with the design at all!”

Musicians approach the stage differently than actors do. A choreographer addresses a piece of music in a completely different way than a set designer

An opera singer could belt something out that melts your heart, but then you have to stuff her into a corset, throw a number of VERY hot stage lights on her and have her sing the exact same thing folded up into a ball.

In many cases a variety of disciplines need to find a way in which to communicate effectively with one another. This is much easier said than done and more often than not conflicts arise from an inability to communicate or even fundamentally understand how your collaborators work. The creative process from artistic discipline to discipline tends to be VASTLY different.

Over the next few articles we’ll look at how different disciplines can effectively communicate and collaborate on various projects. We’ll be providing examples of successful (and not so successful) collaborations and examining why they may or may not work and provide interviews with the artists involved.


Meet the Editors: Malke Rosenfeld

In coming weeks, TAJ editors will introduce and express themselves on the blog. This may be in the form of a short bio, picture, drawing, essay – or who knows! We’re going to start with an introduction to one of the newest TAJ editors, Malke Rosenfeld:

Engaging Diverse Learners with Diverse Art Forms by Richard Jenkins

Teaching Artists are finding themselves in classrooms with an ever-growing diversity of students; students with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, students with various learning styles, and students with varying degrees of cognitive, behavioral, or physical disabilities. Engaging such a broad range of students in art-making can be daunting.

Occasionally, teaching artists are challenged to develop new skills and understanding in order to meet the needs of these students. Here are some questions that I considered when I was recently invited to work with a diverse group of children.

Who am I teaching? What are the students’ strengths, preferences, and challenges? And how will that affect my teaching?

I worked in an ESL classroom with many children coming from dual-language households. Seven of the students were non-English speaking. Also, there were three students with learning disabilities that limited their abilities to write. All of the students were eager to make visual art and many loved acting. So, during this residency, the ESL teacher would translate my instructions into Portuguese, dictation would be provided for the students who had trouble writing, and all of the students would be allowed to express their stories in oral, written, dramatic, or visual form.

What is it about the creative process of my art form that is beneficial to a child’s cognitive, social, and/or emotional development?

In my studio I am creating stories that are much like stage plays on paper with actors, dialog, and settings. Drawing characters with specific attributes and qualities, to the service of the story, is one of the fundamental elements of my craft.

In the classroom, I taught these students how to identify and draw different lines, shapes, and patterns. Then I taught them how to synthesize theses elements into unique characters. Next they named their characters and assigned attributes to them. Soon their drawings became imbued with personal meaning, and they wanted to share their work. This provided a powerful motivation for them to master their skills and knowledge.

What is my own “growing edge” here?

Having earlier made the theater connection to my art-form and learning about the student’s fondness for acting, I decided this was a perfect opportunity for me to learn another art form. With the help of a friend (a teaching artist with a theater background) I developed two improvisation activities to assist the students in the creation of their narratives. All of the students had the chance to bring their characters and stories to life in dramatic skits.

During this residency, all of these varied students became highly engaged in their projects and learning. The students were given multiple options for engaging with the curriculum content and multiple means for expressing their ideas and stories. Finally, like a challenging art-making experience, this residency, with its diverse group of students, opened new avenues for me to explore in my art form and in my teaching practice.

Drawing Meaning by Shaqe Kalaj

He draws lines on his paper that chisels the wrinkles of the woman’s face. He doesn’t stop, because he can’t. He’s found something in drawing this woman that he hasn’t found in his life, including his traditional education. He’s found something that resonates with his inner person that’s meeting him as he carves out the rest of her existence with his defined pencil.

Could it be that the student found something real about what he was creating? His connection to the subject matter went beyond doing a drawing and into understanding the woman behind the lines. His connection to the subject matter brought an engagement that we hope to see with all students. The woman in his drawing became more than a drawing, it was as if she brought something real and tangible for the student. Could it be that the student found meaning in drawing the woman that met an unexpressed need?

Meaning, to paraphrase its dictionary definition, is the communication of something that is not directly expressed. Given its indirect nature, exploring meaning is a difficult pursuit, because there’s no right way as to how to create meaning — just like art, which has no prescribed answer.

This is what’s absolutely beautiful about the creation of meaning, because it differs for each person or what is familiar for a group of people. But if you start to uncover what might be meaningful for someone and make those connections to them personally, they’re going to engage in their work and life with purpose and drive in a whole new way.

We’re talking about a whole new education model when we start to play with the idea of meaning and the possibilities that it can stimulate. When a student finds an idea or information relevant and emotive, he or she takes the information through their whole body. By seeking meaning, as teaching artists we find that we open up ways of learning that the student knows is possible. The student may not be able to communicate what will aid them to engage in learning, but if we facilitate a kind of learning that expresses an unrealized need, the student knows and experiences the difference.

The student I described entered his work in a whole new way, because that kind of connection to his work was made apparent for him, and as a result this dormant talent emerged. The student didn’t understand why he became engaged; he became a part of the essence of the woman he was drawing, meeting an unexpected need. I believe meaning is a gold mine in education. We’ll find an engagement in students that will surprise us, and open doors of higher thinking for the

Shaqe Kalaj is a visual artist, VSA arts fellow, and teaching artist and artist-in- residence at Art & Ideas Contemporary Art Gallery & Studio, in Plymouth, Michigan

Setting the Table: The State of Teaching Artistry in Southern Arizona – By Michael B. Schwartz

The joy of being a Teaching Artist is that we get to work with so many amazing people. In Southern Arizona, perhaps out of necessity, students, parents, neighborhood leaders, businesses, schools, elders and long time residents collaborate with teaching artists and organizations to make arts education a reality. We are a tight knit community, helping one another find resources, promoting one anthers benefits and programs and developing new forms of collaboration.

This school year started with a chill in the hot desert air. Teachers and books have been banned launching federal investigations ( ) On December 31, HB 2281 will become law, and all ethnic studies programs will be pushed “out of compliance”. Despite the great success ethnic studies have in closing the achievement gap, school districts that don’t comply will face harsh fines. A group of teachers have formed and pledge to resist HB 2281.

It’s within this environment that teaching artists are bringing music, dance, theater, painting, murals, writing and photography into schools, community centers and neighborhoods. The Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) is our primary organizing hub. There are about 85 artists on their Teaching Artist Roster.

We serve Pima County, with an estimated population (as of 7/1/09) of 1,018,012 people and numerous species of flora and fauna. Many artists travel throughout Southern Arizona providing much needed community arts education services. These projects include rural arts education initiatives such as the Southeastern Arizona Arts in Education programs, and groups developing border and immigration related themes such as Borderlands Theater .

Teaching artists here, as throughout the world, work individually and in collaboration with organizations. Community based arts education is the goal of the Tucson Arts Brigade , providing out of school time programs in more than 7 neighborhoods, and community wide arts engagement projects such as the Water Project. The Drawing Studio, Arts for All, WomanKraft and New ARTiculations provide high quality arts education in a variety of media for people of all ages. Opening Minds through the Arts, OMA, is one our largest initiatives in arts education, providing services to 15 Tucson schools. TPAC, despite massive cut backs continues to bring the River of Words project into schools in collaboration with the Pima County Natural Resources.

Budget cutbacks have forced teaching artists and organizations to innovative and collaborate. While serious deep gaps remain we are joining together as a community to find solutions. What we do know is that thousands of youth are going without any form of arts education, being deprived of the emotional, intellectual and academic skills that will prepare them for success in the new globalized workforce of the 21st Century.

Teaching artists are expanding their work to include community based cultural development projects that address complex social problems ranging from isolation, urban blight, literacy and crime to global climate change and sustainable job training and creation.

Over the coming months I will be highlighting the work of dedicated local Teaching Artists and organizations including those mentioned.

Teaching Artist Journal Issue 9(1)

Here’s what to expect in the latest issue:

Wendy Strauch-Nelson on book making and book learning.

Eric Booth on bringing the heart and soul of El Sistema to the U.S.

Terry Ann Thaxton on creative writing with people with memory loss.

Katarzyna Kosmala and J.M. Imas on art, teaching artistry and green

Alt/space edited by Laura Reeder: Meet the TA reporters for TAJ’s new news bureau; a groundbreaking fellowship for TA’s; and much more.

Research Review edited by Dan Serig: An interview with Dr. Rob Horowitz on the art and science of evaluating arts ed partnerships.

Resource Exchange edited by Becca Barniskis: Reviews of Diane Ravitch’s new book on school reform, Creativity Matters: the Arts and Aging Toolkit, and much more.

The History of Teaching Artistry- Eric Booth

To know who you are, you must know where you come from. So too for the emergent profession of teaching artistry, which might be described as a fast-growing teenager—past puberty but still not moving with a twentysomething’s confident stride. This essay aspires to trace briefly the history of teaching artistry. It does not provide the academic rigor of a proper history, and I hope an ambitious historian will take up the challenge and provide an authoritative version for us all. Nor does the scope of this essay allow me to identify the dozens of specific organizations and individuals who have provided important flagstones on the path, or those who are currently doing exemplary work around the country—they deserve to be recognized and thanked.

This essay offers a distilled sense of the journey, its general contours, in order to ground our sense of the complex present and clarify its proliferation of opportunity. Even though the characterizations of decades and phases are oversimplified, given the jumble of activity that unfolded during each decade, I feel the following descriptions are accurate enough to propose as the truthful story. I also offer two organizational constructs at the end of this essay; I hope they provide useful distinctions to elucidate our ongoing evolution. I welcome others who wish to take this essay and expand it in additional foundation-building ways.

In setting our historical context, let’s openly acknowledge some of its “negatives.” The field of teaching artistry does not speak in a unified voice—never has and possibly never will. (This does not negate it as a field at all; does politics speak with a unified voice?) Our growing body of writing about teaching artistry enables the field to begin to know itself. There are increasing numbers of surveys that illuminate aspects of teaching artistry (the insights of which have not been gathered for handy dissemination), and a first national research study coming to fruition. However, there is no widely accepted definition of what a teaching artist is, no established set of work parameters to clarify what a teaching artist does, nor any set of basic practices that may be considered the key tools that teaching artists use. There is not even a sense of what teaching artists should teach; a strength of teaching artistry is responding inventively to specific goals, opportunities, and needs rather than delivering any established curriculum.

Teaching artistry has no national organization, no national certification processes (although local and regional processes are developing), no central location, no suggested sets of curricula, no designated advocates (although many advocate out of personal mission). This lack of key organizing elements may be viewed as a sign of the immaturity of the field, or as a healthy refusal to adopt structures that do not derive organically from the heart of the practice—there certainly is truth in the former view, but I incline toward the latter. In some ways I think this field is growing more wisely than it knows. Teaching artistry is indirectly choosing not to become what hasn’t worked particularly well for other arts and arts learning fields. Teaching artistry hasn’t found the embodiment as a professional field of the authentic tools that provide its power in practice. Yet.

Read the entire essay from Eric Booth.