Beluga Whale At Kitty Hawk: An Arts Education Moment in Rural Alaska – Ryan Conarro


Editor’s Note:  this article evolved from a shorter piece that Ryan Conarro wrote for the ALT/space section in issue 9(2).  One of the exciting things about the ALT/space section is the way it functions as an incubator for longer articles and offers the authors and TAJ readers the chance to revisit a subject or question in greater depth and perhaps with different insights.   We will be publishing more such “evolutions” both in the pages of the print Journal and as web-only features on In this way we hope that the ALT/space idea mirrors a similar dynamic that many of us find so appealing and educative in our work as teaching artists.  I’m grateful to Laura Reeder for conceiving of,  and editing the ALT/space section in this way, and to Ryan for giving us such a interesting model of how a short, powerful essay can be developed into a deeply reflective and engaging article; together the pieces form a compelling example of a new way of writing about our work and field. –Nick Jaffe


Early autumn sunshine is spilling into the classroom of this school in an Inupiaq village on Alaska’s northwest coast. I’m a Juneau-based drama teaching artist, working for the Department of Education as an “arts content coach,” visiting some of the state’s struggling rural schools. Today, I’m modeling a drama integration activity for a jaded high school history teacher who seems to lock horns regularly with her students. I’m guiding the youths in analyzing the visual elements of stage pictures so that later in the week they can create their own tableaux of important historical inventions.  But at the moment, the sun is calling them; and the glinting waters of the Chukchi Sea, which will freeze soon enough; and the open door of the classroom, through which I’ve seen a few students wander today, ejected by their exasperated teacher.
Daniel is one of the more engaged students in the group, and he readily volunteers to help me make a model tableau.  I’m relieved, grateful for his enthusiasm.  He sits again at his desk. Moments later, he sneaks a forbidden glance at his cell phone and then slides it back into his jeans. The teacher stands and pounces.  Daniel shouts, “No!” But the teacher won’t back down and hauls Daniel from the room.  My drama lesson is disrupted and deflated. Daniel, it turns out, will be suspended tomorrow.

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