These gatherings are pretty special. Thanks to my relation with Young Audiences I get to attend Teaching Artist seminars in CT, PA and NJ, but the Jersey ones are the best. Besides catching up with my fellow artists, the sessions have some quite knowledgeable guest speakers and rich panel discussions. Today was on a smaller scale but challenging.

They are held at Grounds for Sculpture, formerly the NJ State Fairgrounds, and it is a spectacular space for large outdoor sculptures, great landscaping as well as many indoor exhibition spaces. We are lucky to meet among such breathtaking artworks.

Today’s topic was Inclusive and Equitable Practices in Arts Education, focusing on justice and diversity in our work: gender, race, class, etc. issues, particularly important in today’s society.

Justice involves Empathy: as artists, we have a moral imperative to care, not look away, notice injustice and name it. It was suggested that should also make a public response, especially since we are privileged as artists to have an audience.

How do we respond? We have to decide what we teach (content) and how we teach (modeling).

The process:

  1. establish trust and rapport (be open and vulnerable)
  2.  introduce historical context
  3. bridge the past and the present
  4. relate to lived experiences of the students
  5. present the project to the public.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Colleen Sears, former band director (one of the first females to do so in NJ). She presented several projects that spanned Katrina, Earth Song and Civil Rights that involved professional and student musicians.

The panel discussion involved Colleen (gender bias), a woman artist from Venezuela (cultural bias), a white Bermudan rap artist (cultural bias), a black woman (race bias) and a gay choral professor (gender bias). Each had some great points to make and gave some pointed ways of bringing their skills to the table as teaching artists.

As artists entering new classroom situations, one’s with unique cultural differences from ours, we need to recognize and negotiate these differences without a ‘colonial’ attitude. Not always a skill that some folks have. (My way or the highway.) And we have to utilize and integrate the local community and teachers in our efforts. One panelist said, “Get on a bus” and experience the community.

We then had a working lunch as we discussed our own work in light of the day’s discussion among the folks at each table.

I brought up my particular problem. I am a white, straight male with an ocean of privilege. How do I bring justice into play when I’m not black, gay or ethnic? It still comes down to being able shape awareness (notice and name) and use language and my teaching skills to be inclusive. I think I am getting better at that.

Again, these TA sessions are incredibly mindful, energizing and challenging. And I get to reconnect with some wonderful people in my field and bring back some ideas to my own community of Teaching Artists.

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