The Big Picture: Child trafficking TV project gives teens an opportunity to get real.

by Billy Miller

On a rainy Saturday in Caldera’s Teen Center, we’re talking with twelve high schoolers about child trafficking — a subject difficult for adults to discuss, let alone the young people whose iives this issue most affects. Joining us is filmmaker Libby Spears, whose documentary about the
subject Playground is showing to audiences around the world, having first gained the support of Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney.

Caldera, a youth arts and environmental education non-profit founded by Wieden + Kennedy’s Dan Wieden, uses all kinds of creativity to connect with Oregon’s young people. Both in the year-round program and at summer camp in Central Oregon, they respond to challenges in their lives with amazing art and resilience.

However, children enslaved in the sex trade is a horrific subject that’s in the news far too frequently. As Spears’ documentary points out, we might think these crimes are just overseas, but they are here in America, in communities where these kids come from.

The choice was clear when presenting Spears with a mini-residency. Her child trafficking work continues using Caldera’s digital filmmaking equipment to edit a segment of the FOX show, America’s Most Wanted.

Yet what was not at all clear, was how to gain youth perspective on such an intense subject.

What to do when it’s too dangerous for them to go on a shoot or hang up a ‘missing’ flyer? What of the emotions the content triggers? Is the subject just too severe? When watching the AMW rough cut at the Saturday event, one young lady who was all smiles earlier about getting straight-As for the first time in her life, leaves the room in tears.

But she does return. And facing this is the key to educating kids about the pimps and opportunists who use their ignorance to trap them. After hearing the filmmakers’ perspectives and viewing their work in progress, the assembled teens — diverse in race yet mostly challenged by socioeconomic status — are asked to thumb through stacks of donated stock photo books.

Where meaningful conversation proves daunting, they go right to work cutting out healthy and unhealthy images of sex and relationships. In pairs, they create collages of juxtaposing pictures, put in perspective with found words or ones they choose to add.

The resulting “mood boards,” work much like those that inspire an ad campaign. The girl who had to leave the room pits lurid images labeled “degrading one’s self,” against shots of a healthy woman, family and a smiling baby. “As women, we can be independent and we can love
ourselves,” she says on camera afterward. “And out of sex you can have kids and they can be one of the happiest things the world cherishes.”

What they make serves as their voice, staying on display where Spears and crew finish their important project. And after giving their free Saturday to staring down a difficult topic, these dozen extraordinary teens go home, hopefully, with a different perspective — and strength from their ability to fight fear with art.

For more: www.calderaarts.org and www.playgroundproject.org

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REFLECTIONS FROM A NEW SISTEMA: Learning to build community through music

by Paloma Udovic Ramos

On a street that acts as a border between gangs, in a neighborhood with a changing racial demographic, 200 low-income kids attend free group instrumental lessons and orchestra rehearsal 3-4 times a week. Our team of Teaching Artists struggles with establishing proper
technique, developing ear training, note reading, instrument care, and… racial tensions. It is easy to find training on pedagogy and classroom management, but where does a Music Teaching Artist learn about community organizing and social justice?

Our program takes place in a Los Angeles Community Center situated in a historically African-American neighborhood that in the past ten years has become home to a large number of Central American immigrants. It is not uncommon to discover the underlying feelings of resentment that exist within the community. Within our numbers, the divide is clear. Less than ten percent of our participants are African Americans, with almost all of the remainder Latino. It would be easy to say that many African American students come from single parent households and thus have more transportation issues, or that they look to be more involved in sports. Perhaps they would prefer to sing gospel in the church choir than learn classical music in an orchestra.

Regardless of stereotypes, and perhaps even because of the falsities they promote, our program needs to step up to the responsibility of representing the whole neighborhood. Due to an already long waiting list, we have done little recruitment. Most on the waiting list are Latino who know of the program through word of mouth. Many African-American parents have told me that they assumed the program was for Latinos, and had doubts about enrolling their children. All of these children have an ear for music somewhere, and it would be a missed opportunity for the program and its Teaching Artists to not find a way to attract a most diverse group of kids and develop a
musical community less divided than their own neighborhood.

As the face of our program, the Teaching Artists are the ones who must learn to accurately represent the intent of the program. However, in several instances, I have heard Teaching Artists ignorant to racial issues. “I just can’t talk to Ishmael’s mother, I feel like she’s always
busy and not present like the other parents. I don’t think she cares.” In this particular case, Ishmael’s mother, who is an African American, works 2 jobs as a single parent while the rest of the students in the class, all Latino, have stay-at-home Moms that hang out with each other right outside the classroom. In another case, an African-American student quit her class because she felt like her Teaching Artist spoke Spanish in class too much. Her mother told me, “She felt like the class wasn’t for her kind.”

Our Teaching Artist faculty is a loving group of professional musicians extremely proficient. What we lack is training is in Sociology and Cultural Sensitivity, practices that would be fully relevant in a program such as ours, where practicing music is the mode towards building community and fighting for Social Justice. While it’s not surprising that ‘Social Action through Music’ is not a common course in today’s top Conservatories, perhaps it is time to think about the benefits of such training to assure effectiveness in marginalized communities.

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.

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 ( http://ktar.com/?sid=1333974&nid=6 ) 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 SaveEthnicStudies.org 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.