Monday, May 24, 2010

Week 28: Exploring Issues Facing Teaching-Artist Training

The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Scotland

As part of my internship here at Big Noise, I was invited to present for the Scottish Arts Council and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) on current issues facing teaching artist training in the United States, my Abreu Fellowship and recent travels in Venezuela.

My presentation focused on the national projects and ideas that have inspired the work we do in Alaska, including the Minneapolis School District Arts for Academic Achievement program. This successful program has developed an Artful Teaching and Learning Handbook through the Perpich Center for Arts Education (downloadable for free) which provides resources to help build respectful communication and collaboration between teachers and artists. 

At Glacier Valley Elementary School in Juneau, Alaska, this handbook has bridged community artist with classroom teacher to help create more successful arts-integrated experiences for our students. Artists come away with more classroom management skills and developmentally appropriate practices, while classroom teachers learn arts techniques and creative approaches to integrating the arts into other disciplines. We've documented our work on our Art is Elementary website.

The following questions emerged from the discussions after each presentation: 
  1. What existing models are out there that support pedagogical/social skills for artists wishing to engage in community projects?
  2. What are the views of arts educators concerning training?  Do you think there is a need for this kind of training?
  3. What are the major issues that need to be addressed and how should such training be best delivered?
Also from these discussions, I learned that a challenge facing teaching artists in both the US and UK is having to combat the old adage, "Those who can, do and those who can't, teach." Are you less of an artist if you choose to share your art form with youth and the community?

In Venezuela, nothing could be further from the truth. Being a musician means being a teacher, which is encouraged from day one in the nucleo. If a student knows how to play four notes, then he or she can teach someone who only knows three notes. When asked, these teaching artists will tell you that teaching better informs their playing and performing better informs their teaching. It's a win-win situation that betters the individual and community. By the time they are teenagers, these skilled musicians are not only playing at a high level of musicianship, but also running sectionals, providing individual lessons and conducting younger orchestras. They are passionately committed to their art AND their community, which does not go unnoticed by the public.  For example, after performances at the nucleos, teachers are often called to the stage and recognized by the students and audience members who applaud like a sports team coming onto the field. It's amazing to watch.

Perhaps by taking on the Venezuelan approach, we can usher in a new adage: "Those who can, contribute to their community."

I would love to hear comments from others on the questions and thoughts posed above.  Please feel free to post a comment to continue the conversation.

Thank you, Joan Parr, Head of Education for the Scottish Arts Council, and Mary Troup, Community Music Co-ordinator of RSAMD, for organizing these presentations. The work that both of you are doing for community arts education in Scotland are forward-thinking and inspirational.

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