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“As artists, you never stop learning”—Interview with Teaching Artist Gigi McGraw

As part of an ongoing Q&A series, we will be learning more about the Bartol Foundation’s artistic community. Gigi McGraw is an author, teaching artist, and creative entrepreneur. She holds an M.A. in Theatre from Villanova University, and has over 15 years of experience in community outreach and learning development, with particular focus on intergenerational programming.

 

Can you tell me a bit about your work as a teaching artist?

I see myself as putting myself out in the world as an author and social artist. I use multidisciplinary arts practices to address social issues, or even just universal themes like love, legacy, and family. With the social issues, the focus is more on Philadelphia and what’s going on in some of our marginalized communities, such as gun violence and mass incarceration. I see myself as using art to engage, entertain, and inform, but also to connect with the community.

With my intergenerational programming, a current area of interest is using my art to create Memory Cafes, which are creative experiences that help mature adults who are dealing with dementia and memory loss. The cafes are little sit-downs that might have different objects, music, or newspaper clippings from a certain time period. The purpose is to have the individuals interact with the objects, pick them up, talk about them—and the hope is that it will spark a memory. A lot of times with people who are dealing with memory issues or cognitive decline, something that makes them think of their childhood can initiate conversation and spark memories, even though they might not remember what they did a couple of hours ago. So, I’m really interested in seeing how I can use social art to address this issue in a creative way.


You attend a lot of professional development opportunities at Bartol and other organizations. What would you tell other teaching artists about how this supports your work as a teaching artist and entrepreneur?

The fact that Bartol is providing this free resource for artists is a wonderful thing! I also look at these workshops as a wonderful networking opportunity. Not only are you being connected to experts in the field, but you’re also meeting fellow peers in the arts from all kinds of disciplines—dancers, rappers, poets, authors. A beautiful thing is that after the workshop, the facilitator will send out a list of everyone’s contact information so you expand your base of contacts and people that you know. It’s an opportunity to create friendships with people who are like-minded.

As people, and especially as artists, you never stop learning. As teachers, educators, and artists, you should always be looking for ways to evolve. I think that the Bartol workshops give you that opportunity. They’re really interested in finding unique or clever workshops, or just giving people foundational tips and advice—all of it is really good.

 

What do you see in the future for your teaching artist work in the community? How do Bartol’s professional development workshops feed your growth as a teaching artist?

For my future, I really want to get serious with my social art and have that be my primary source of revenue. I want to be able to connect and engage not only with the community, but with movers and shakers around the world. What I see for my future is really establishing my brand, but also fine-tuning my model of creating an artistic project around a theme or issue.

I also want to make sure that I continue to engage with the community, whether it be over issues like gun violence and mass incarceration, or dealing with mature adults with Memory Cafes. I don’t think that my projects and activities will always be this large, grandiose thing. A lot of the work will be on the micro level, and I think that you can definitely make change even if you’re starting from a small place with a group of 20 or 30 people—that can grow and have a ripple effect.

Bartol’s professional development workshops will not only give me the support that I need, but it also encourages me. You’re around other people who understand the importance of the work that you’re doing. I also hope that with my background as a workshop and professional trainer, that in the future I may be able to offer Bartol some workshops for other teaching artists. I’ve received so many wonderful opportunities from Bartol, and I would like to be able to give that back in the form of presenting workshops and trainings.

 

To learn more about Gigi’s work, visit https://1cupofcoffeeblog.wordpress.com/.

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

 

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