Bartol/Small But Mighty Arts Micro-Grants: Teaching Artistry Meets Community

*Bartol’s 2019 micro-grant application is open online through Sunday, August 25. Learn more about how to apply: https://bartol.org/our-grantees/ta-microgrants/.

 

In early 2018, the Bartol Foundation partnered with Small But Mighty Arts (SBMA) to award micro-grants to teaching artists working on community-based projects. Although it may be called a “micro-grant,” the impact on teaching artists is anything but small! Keep reading to learn more about the TAs who have benefitted from this program.

Throughout 2018, Bartol/SBMA awarded 10 micro-grants totaling $5,000 to teaching artists in a range of artistic disciplines, including creative writing, dance, fabric and textile, film and video, music performance, interactive design, printmaking, and theater, among more. These teaching artists have been working in Philadelphia for an average of 18 years in communities ranging from West Philadelphia to Germantown to South Philadelphia.

Of our 2018 micro-grantees, 30% had never received a grant before. (In fact, this number is unusually low for SBMA’s grantees; typically, around 60% of their grantees are first-time grant recipients.) Around 80% were funding project expenses out of pocket—either with personal savings or money earned from a job—at an average of $483 spent per month for creative expenses. These micro-grants provide important support for teaching artists, making these projects financially feasible.

Micro-grantees have used their awards to fund various project expenses. The majority (70%) have used their grants to pay for supplies and materials, and half have been able to pay for staff support on projects. For artists who are in the middle of a project, the most important resources needed are equipment, space, and online support.

 

To learn more about this program, be sure to check out interviews with some of our past micro-grantees:

Chris Coyle

Alexandra Espinoza

Yinka Orafidiya

Ellen Reynolds

Rose Benson

Misty Sol

“Movement allows us to see ourselves in new and different ways” ­– Interview with Shavon Norris, Artist, Educator, Facilitator

Photo courtesy of Shavon Norris.

As part of our effort to create resources for trauma-informed practice, the Bartol Foundation will be hosting two workshops this month that explore artistic expression as a path towards healing. On March 26, teaching artist Shavon Norris will lead a participatory workshop about incorporating movement into lesson plans in ways that meet the needs and abilities of participants.

Read our Q&A with Shavon to learn more about her teaching artist practice and how she views movement as a tool for self-expression and healing.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your teaching artist practice?

The sharing and exchange of the art with other people informs how I make art. As a teaching artist, I am offering an opportunity for people to have a better understanding or a new experience with themselves, which in turn offers me a lot of information about the type of art I am making and what type of educator I want to be. That teaching moment is an amazing experience for me, and that exchange goes into my art as well. It’s a cyclical relationship, which I really love. I think that I learn just as much from whoever’s in the room with me as I’m trying to offer learning for them.

At the root of my practice, I am interested in creating moments and opportunities of pleasure. I’m always interested in people trying things in ways that feel good for them. A lot of people worry about wanting to please others or do things in the “right” way, and I always counter that by asking them if something feels pleasurable versus uncomfortable.

 

How do you see movement as a path towards healing?

I love that question, because I believe that there’s a way that our experiences and identities—our history, heritage, and culture—exist on and in our bodies. For me, movement offers an opportunity for us to explore those things and reinvent, rewrite, rearrange, or celebrate them. There are ways that trauma definitely has an impact on our bodies, and offering people an opportunity to move with that gives way to healing.

We have a habit of thinking about ourselves and our bodies in certain ways, and movement allows us to see ourselves in new and different ways, which can then offer healing to past hurt, harm, or trauma. Because then we create a new narrative, and we’re able to experience our bodies in ways we didn’t know was an option for us. I think that moving can help us reprogram, address, or redefine new ways for us to see ourselves, and giving ourselves these new options can offer potential for healing. More options means that I can move towards the pain and/or have a conversation with the pain, and offer myself a new way of moving through it or experiencing it.

 

So many people are self-conscious about their body and moving. As a teaching artist, how do you create spaces where everyone feels comfortable with movement?

I don’t know if I create spaces where everybody feels comfortable with movement. I think I create invitations for people to participate with permission and freedom to have some agency over their bodies. I try to use language along the lines of “I welcome you, I invite you, I encourage you” so that people feel like they are making a choice to participate and not being forced. I celebrate being goofy or making mistakes so people know that this is okay. When the person in charge is demonstrating the things that are going to be practiced, that really helps put people at ease. I often say things like “trust me when you trust me” so that people know that my expectation is not for them to immediately love or enjoy what we’re doing, but to go on an adventure.

If people are not into moving at that moment, I also give permission for them to sit down and take a moment. Having this option allows people to feel that they have the power to step into the room in ways that feel good for them and take risks in a healthy way. That takes time, and maybe the 45 minutes that I have with a person doesn’t allow for them to feel completely comfortable, but if they have been in the space and stay in the space, then that feels like a win for me. I don’t have a lot of expectations for everyone to do exactly what I’m offering them, and I try to make that clear so that when they do participate, I’m celebrating each step forward. I acknowledge when things might feel uncomfortable or strange, as opposed to having people feel immediate shame or guilt about not liking it or wanting to participate. I welcome all of the feelings, all of the discomfort, all of the joy, all of the humanity.

 

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

 

“Mapping the careers of teaching artists requires a very complex system” – Interview with WT McRae, New Victory Theater Teaching Artist

Photo courtesy of New Victory Theater.

Plan the next steps in your career with the Bartol Foundation! On Monday, February 11, our colleagues from the nationally recognized New Victory Theater will be traveling down from New York City to share their Teaching Artist Pathways Tool with us.

Read our Q&A with one of the workshop leaders, WT McRae, to learn more about how this tool can serve your TA practice. More info and registration details can be found on our workshops page.

 

Can you tell me a bit about your work with New Victory Theater?

I’ve been a teaching artist with The New Victory Theater since 2008. During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching ages 0-100, doing audience engagement in various public settings, and developing curriculums in collaborative ways for a number of programs. The New Vic is a remarkable organization! They have really embraced the talents of teaching artists and apply our work to programs at all levels. Some examples include administrative think tank (enrichment team), internal training and professional development design and facilitation, research strategy planners, and arts education field research. I feel lucky to be in a place where my artistry, expertise, and intellect are valued in such an exciting way.

 

Can you explain what the Teaching Artist Pathways Tool is and how it can benefit teaching artists?

A few years ago, I participated in a convening on the Sustainability of the Teaching Artist, led by Eric Booth and hosted by the National Guild for Community Arts Education. Working alongside people from all over the country engaged in this work, we took on the particular task of mapping career trajectories for teaching artists. We found that teaching artists come into the field from so many different backgrounds and entry points—and teaching artistry has always been housed in different institutional settings, funded for different purposes, and called so many different things—that mapping the careers of teaching artists requires a very complex system.

What we developed is the Teaching Artist Pathways Tool, which is somewhat like a professional development board game and coloring page. We imagined a tool that could function like a map of their careers—teaching artists could map out where they’ve been and plan where they were going next. This effort helps them understand their work as a career, instead of a series of discrete experiences. The tool has now been through several stages of iterative design, and we’ve had the opportunity to run many groups of artists through the process. What we’ve found is that early-career artists find that the tool illuminates where they can go, while more experienced artists really enjoy piecing their career path together, talking about common trajectories, and dreaming for their own future.

 

What is the most surprising or interesting thing that can happen when teaching artists consider their careers using the TAP Tool?

Immediately? They can start to see their work as a career. That alone can be a transformative experience for many people who have found themselves doing mission-driven work that is often not exactly what they’d planned to do in their careers. But it really develops a sense of community. It allows you to see how your colleagues and friends have moved through the field to arrive at this point of adjacency, and to hone strategies for dreaming, collaborative accountability, and advocating for ourselves and each other in the organizations we work with.

 

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

“The best thing you can do as a teacher is to encourage questioning”—Interview with Sarah Shaw, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Bartol workshop participants show off their free teaching resources from the PMA’s Wachovia Education Resource Center.

 

Earlier this fall, the Bartol Foundation kicked off its 2018–19 workshop season with a fieldtrip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Wachovia Education Resource Center. Here, we met with Sarah Shaw, Resource Center Coordinator, to learn all about the museum’s free resources for teaching artists and other educators—from lesson plans and activities to teaching posters and collection guides. We even had the chance to try out a few of the activities for ourselves and take home some free resources.

Sarah was so enthusiastic about connecting the museum’s resources with Philly’s teaching artists that we reached out to her for a follow-up conversation. Keep reading to learn more about how the visual arts can serve your TA practice in any artistic discipline.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your background in the arts? How did you wind up in your position at the PMA?

I had a bit of a circuitous path to my position, but I think part of why the job is such a great fit for me is that it requires a varied background in both the arts and education. I studied anthropology, archaeology, and art history in undergraduate and graduate school. Eventually, my path led me into elementary education, and I got a master’s degree from Penn’s Graduate School of Education. Once I became a classroom teacher, I found that the most meaningful way to activate all my background knowledge—history, art history, anthropology, literature—was in helping my students make connections across everything they were learning. I’ve found that the best thing you can do as a teacher is to encourage questioning. For instance, saying to a student, “That’s a really interesting question, why don’t we try to find out the answer together?”

My position at the PMA allows me to bring my experience as a classroom educator—and my knowledge of what teachers need to effectively engage students—to the job of making the museum’s collections and resources more accessible to audiences in Philadelphia and beyond.

 

What types of resources and opportunities does the Wachovia Education Resource Center have available for teaching artists?

First off, probably the most important thing for me to say is that I do not pretend to be an expert in art-making. The teaching artists who are Bartol’s audience and beneficiaries are the real experts. What I feel we have to offer is a wide range of teaching strategies to help teaching artists actively engage their audiences—whether youth or adult—in the kind of looking, thinking, discussion, attention to detail, questioning, and investigating that are so important to the creative process. Really looking closely at art that someone else has created and being inspired by the themes, materials, or the way the artist expresses themselves.

We create lesson plans and other free resources that make the artwork in our collection more accessible to educators who are teaching outside of the museum. We conduct free workshops at the Resource Center about these teaching strategies. We also provide one-on-one planning support for any teaching artist or educator who’s interested in brainstorming ideas for lessons.

 

What are some ways that artists from non-visual arts disciplines (e.g. music, dance) can incorporate the visual arts into their teaching practice?

I really love this question. I have a background in dance, and I think that so many of the same principles of composition apply to both disciplines. Musicians, dancers, and visual artists all think about things like rhythm, pattern, movement, and even color. There are so many visual artists whose work is inspired by those aspects of music and dance. The same principle can also apply to theatre. There’s so much narrative in the visual arts, and one of the ways that we take advantage of that is to think about really inhabiting a “character” in an artwork, and imagining what that character is thinking, feeling, how they’re interacting with other characters, and what the artist’s craft is in showing those thoughts, emotions, and interactions. There are so many connections outside of the visual arts, and we really hope that we can work with teaching artists broadly.

 

What has been the coolest or most unexpected use of the PMA’s resources for a curriculum?

For me, the coolest thing is every time I hear that a teacher has not only used one of our resources, but that they’ve adapted the content for their classroom. Every time I hear about the ways that our resources have been adapted for different circumstances, contexts, students of all ages and levels, or materials, it hits home for me that these strategies to teach through art really work. It’s a solid foundation because they can be so flexible for different educational contexts.

 

To schedule an appointment or workshop with the Wachovia Education Resource Center, please email resourcecenter@philamuseum.org or call 215-684-7140.

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

“It shouldn’t be this difficult for artists to thrive” – Interview with Erica Hawthorne-Manon, Founder and Managing Director of Small But Mighty Arts

Photo Credit: www.smallbutmightyarts.org.

 

This past spring, the Bartol Foundation announced a new partnership with Small But Mighty Arts (SBMA) to award ten $500 micro-grants to Philadelphia-based teaching artists. As part of our ongoing Q&A series, we spoke with Erica Hawthorne-Manon, Founder and Managing Director of SBMA, to learn more about her work with the Philadelphia arts community and SBMA’s new partnership with the Bartol Foundation.

SBMA is now accepting applications to award five more micro-grants to teaching artists working on community-based projects. The application will close Sunday, September 9. Access the online application here.

 

Can you tell me a bit about your background in the arts? How did you decide to found Small But Mighty Arts?

I came to Philadelphia as a creative myself. My background is in theatre, writing, and spoken word, which is kind of like a marriage between theatre and poetry. I also have a professional background in public relations and business. I did a lot of “starving artist” things and did my art on the side of my full-time job, even though I wanted to do more. I realized just how challenging it was to be an artist on many different levels, whether it was finding opportunities or being able to expand my skills beyond just performance. I didn’t understand why my peers and I were having such a difficult time—we had talent and skills, but we were always struggling to find the next opportunity. I felt that it shouldn’t be this difficult for artists to thrive, knowing how important the arts are to the community, education, and the creative economy.

Around this same time, a friend suggested I apply for a grant to fund ideas. I pitched three of my ideas, and one was selected—to provide artists with smaller funds during a critical time window. When I was working on my album, I had the experience of being short about $500-1,000 to finish the technical production of the project. I had done the bulk of the work and just needed a little bit of funding so that I wouldn’t have to stop. I pitched this idea to small firms and got awarded a challenge grant, and that’s what brought me to start Small But Mighty Arts.

 

What is most meaningful to you about SBMA’s work in the community?

The ability to make connections, especially connections that turn into real, tangible opportunities. For me, that’s the whole point of SBMA. Even though we started with micro-grant programs, the purpose is to shorten the distance between an artist and their next career-enhancing opportunity, whether that’s professional development, funding, or marketing and promotion.

Our partnerships with other organizations and programs have also been very valuable. We would not be able to thrive without our partnerships. Many of the artists that we fund through micro-grants we’ve also connected to our partner organizations and other paid opportunities. We always think about what it means to be able to share mission and goals when we partner with organizations in a way that’s powerful for both of us. I think the fact that people are willing to partner with us, even though we’re small, continues to help us expand what we’re able to give back to artists.

 

What’s been the most rewarding moment from your work with SBMA?

It changes, but right now it’s getting emails from artists that we’ve worked with or funded and hearing that our work with them led them to another opportunity or kept their momentum going. We got an email from one of our 2017 grantees, Irina Varina, who worked on a film that premiered at a film festival in New York, and part of the micro-grant funding that we gave her allowed her to finish that project. Another grantee from 2017 is Amy Schofield, who’s a flamenco dancer. We were able to book her for a performance at the Barnes Foundation, and then the Barnes reached out and wanted to book her again. It’s those types of moments that are really powerful for me. Sometimes we also hear that an SBMA grant is the first one an artist has received, and that grant gives them inspiration to apply for other opportunities. That’s the whole point—that they don’t give up and they’re able to persist, and we make it possible for artists to do that right here in Philadelphia.

 

SBMA recently partnered with the Bartol Foundation to award micro-grants to teaching artists and to share a staff Artist Engagement Fellow. What drew you to this collaboration with Bartol?

It started with us first supporting each other’s work and sharing information with our networks. We realized that we have very similar missions and goals. We also saw the value in being able to inform our artists, who are not teaching artists, of the opportunity to develop that skill. Bartol was reimagining their focus, and when they reached out to us it made a lot of sense to work together toward a shared mission goal. Through sharing an Artist Engagement Fellow, we’re able to highlight the artists that we’ve funded, and to make sure that there’s shared information between the two organizations about other opportunities for artists.

This partnership has been five years in the making. Not every partnership takes that long, but I will say that our best partnerships have been the ones that we’ve built over time. That’s encouragement to others who are thinking about building partnerships. You are probably already starting by the relationships you are creating. It’s worth building all levels of partnerships—they get very valuable work done for the communities that we serve.

 

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Program Assessment 101—Interview with Dr. Samantha Matlin, Scattergood Foundation

Photo courtesy of ArtWell.

 

This fall, the Bartol Foundation will be piloting a new series of trauma-informed training workshops for teaching artists. We’ve partnered with our co-working neighbors at the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation to plan assessment tools for this program. Read our Q&A with Dr. Samantha Matlin, Director of Evaluation and Community Impact at the Scattergood Foundation, to learn about the considerations involved in planning a program assessment.

In case you missed it, be sure to also check out this interview with Mindy A. Early, lead facilitator of our upcoming trauma training pilot series.

 

Tell us a little bit about the Scattergood Foundation. How did you come to work with the Bartol Foundation to plan assessment of the pilot on traumainformed practice for teaching artists?

The Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation has been a health conversion foundation since 2005. We’ve had a long-term commitment around behavioral health and the moral treatment of individuals. Really since the beginning of the Foundation, we’ve had a focus on trauma, and later specifically more on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Over the last few years, we’ve been doing more of this work as more people have become aware of the significant prevalence and impact of ACEs and trauma. We have also been part of the Philadelphia Adverse Childhood Experience Task Force and other community coalitions.

A few years ago, we worked with Bartol on some smaller trauma-informed training workshops for artists. Since that time, we have been an advisor and partner around these conversations. In terms of this specific pilot project, it’s really an extension of that history of working together in this area. With my role around evaluation and program planning, through conversations between the leaders of Bartol and Scattergood we talked about how we could support this pilot.

 

When thinking about how to assess a pilot program, what are the first questions you ask?

Pilot programs should be thought of as a learning opportunity, first and foremost. The focus should include the initial impact that you are hoping the program will achieve, but more about understanding what you are working to implement, and how that can be documented and understood so it can be improved upon in the future.

It’s also very important to consider who your participants are, especially when you’re implementing a program for the first time. You consider who are the participants, what is the contact going to look like, what methods will you be using to track any information—but more initially on the implementation side than on the outcomes. Some people talk about that as more of a formative evaluation, really asking questions and figuring out what kind of information you need to be able to understand how to improve the program and then track outcomes.

 

What are some ways to incorporate assessment into a pilot program that are not too cumbersome for a small organization?

I think assessment has to do with both the size of the organization and the size of the program. Sometimes pilots are smaller in scale even at large organizations, so it may not make sense to do something that’s too cumbersome then either.

Understanding who your program participants are is critical, but it doesn’t have to mean doing large-scale surveys. Assessment could take the form of asking questions in the beginning to understand participants’ baseline knowledge: How familiar are they with the topic? What kind of training have they experienced in the past? Or, in the case of teaching artists, how many students do they potentially reach through their teaching, or do they already have exposure to these kinds of concepts? This type of information can really shape what a program can look like and help you understand what kinds of changes to anticipate, that then can be measured.

In determining what type of data will be most useful, it’s important to consider how you plan to use the information. It’s often good to have some measurements and scales on quantitative surveys so that you can look at averages and even change over time, but I think that has to depend on the culture of the program participants and the organization. Qualitative data and narrative is really important, and this may be sufficient with a smaller group and even help inform learning with a larger program.

 

When can an organization do its own assessment of a pilot program, and when/for what purposes should they hire outside assistance?

That’s a great question, and I don’t think there is a black-and-white answer. A lot of it depends on why an organization is doing an assessment, and what kind of capacity they have to it themselves. If an organization has staff that are able to do an assessment, then that could make a lot of sense. It is important for an organization to be able to assess their programs as part of their work. But if the goal of the assessment of the program involves more rigorous evaluation research, that could be a reason to hire externally. There are still benefits of having someone do assessment that is part of that organization and closer to a program, because they can really understand that program in a different way.

 

Anything else youd like to add?

We’re really excited to be involved. It’s fantastic that Bartol is using the available information and training around trauma and ACEs to think about the benefit that can bring to teaching artists and students. Our role in helping to support learning around that is a pleasure to do.

 

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

“Becoming trauma-informed is a journey”—Interview with Teaching Artist Mindy A. Early

In the fall of 2018, the Bartol Foundation will be piloting a new series of trauma-informed training workshops for teaching artists. Mindy A. Early is the lead designer and facilitator for this series. She is also Director for Education and Program Services at Philadelphia Young Playwrights, where she manages in-class residences, out-of-school programs and special projects, and productions.

To learn more about Bartol’s upcoming trauma workshops, read our Q&A with Mindy.

 

How did you become aware of the impact of trauma on the students you were working with?

There’s a twofold answer to that question. The first, which may be the more obvious one, is that my teaching artists and myself would go into classrooms and use playwriting and monologue writing as a vehicle to encourage students to use and express their voices. As an organization, Young Playwrights never censors students, so they are allowed to write about whatever they would like, from completely fictional all the way through biographical. So, as you can imagine, many of our students take that opportunity to write about things that touch their lives directly, and some of those topics suggested that they had intersected with some trauma in their lives.

The secondary reason is that, for a long time, my teaching artists and I have believed that some of the behaviors encountered in classrooms that would be labeled as “unwanted” or “challenging” aren’t coming from a place of the students rebelling against the artist who’s in the classroom. A lot of these responses are coming from a different place. We were looking towards trying to find a model that could reframe our views of that behavior, and also equip us better to meet students where they were and to help them rather than discipline them.

 

What does it mean for teaching artists to be trauma-informed, and how were you trained in these practices?

The majority of my training comes through the Lakeside Global Institute. They have a three-part, 72-hour training for people who work with potentially trauma-impacted populations. I took those three courses in addition to some other readings and professional development sessions that I’ve attended.

Being a trauma-informed teaching artist is a process. The first step is realizing what trauma is, its causes, and its effect on the brain, body, and behavior. And then what its potential impact is on a person’s ability to forge positive relationships, to trust, or to be able to comfortably learn because of where they’re at in their brain state.

The second part is being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma based on exhibited behaviors. This involves looking at how they interact, how they forge relationships, and how they’re responding physically, emotionally, and socially.

The final part is responding by fully applying knowledge about trauma into workshop practices and student encounters and, by so doing, seeking to actively resist re-traumatization. In other words, choosing responses that, rather than discipline or punish the individual, actually help to calm them and give them tools to heal, to build resiliency, and to learn how to develop positive relationships and other things that can help them through the impact of their trauma.

 

As the lead facilitator for the Bartol Foundation’s new training in trauma-informed practice for teaching artists, can you tell us about this training and what you hope it will achieve?

This training is interdisciplinary—artists of any art form can take this training and find the information valuable and directly applicable to their work.

The training will start in trauma theory—looking at what causes trauma and how it affects the brain, behavior, and ability to learn. You can’t talk about trauma without talking about the theories and getting a little scientific, so you really understand what it’s doing to the brain and body.

The training will then segue into how we can shift our practices as teaching artists. So, looking at what the considerations are as we plan our lessons, give directions, facilitate the classroom and transitions, and give students assignments and guideposts. As we’re teaching this portion of the workshop, we’re also teaching class facilitation practices—how to deal with students one-on-one and as a group.

We’re hoping to close out the sessions by looking at vicarious trauma and how to integrate self-care even in your busiest moments. Teaching artists who are working with trauma-impacted students on a daily basis are having a lot of heavy conversations, which can be a lot to take on. This has been coming up frequently as I’m in trauma-informed spaces as a teaching artist.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

The act of becoming trauma-informed is definitely a journey and a process. In order to be truly trauma-informed, you have to be willing to dig into a lot of theory and reading. And then as you apply it to your practices, you have to be willing to dig into yourself—your biases, habits,strengths, and weaknesses—and really commit yourself to a bit of a paradigm shift and maybe letting some things go that have been part of your practice for many years. So, it is hard work and rigorous work, but it’s really important work. And it’s really rewarding when you have a workshop or a one-on-one interaction when you see that these principles make a huge difference and impact.

 

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

“Feedback that makes you want to go back to work, rather than go back to bed” – Interview with Elizabeth “EJ” Johnson

As part of an occasional series, we will be learning more about the Bartol Foundation’s board members and teaching artists. Elizabeth “EJ” Johnson is Associate Artistic Director/Partnerships at Dance Exchange. She is a choreographer, dancer, and educator with a focus in socially engaged dance practices.

On Sunday, March 25, 2018, EJ will be leading a Bartol workshop, Feedback that Nurtures: Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process. Register for this workshop here: http://bit.ly/2EabXw4.

 

Can you tell me a bit about your work at Dance Exchange?

I have been a part of the company since 1998, so going into my 20th anniversary season. I was the Associate Artistic Director when Liz Lerman, our founding Artistic Director, was here—I was with her for 12 years dancing in the company, directing the Teen Exchange program, and facilitating workshops. And then as she was departing, I left my full-time post to go work at Arizona State University to develop a new program for socially engaged practice and to get my Master of Fine Arts. And then I came back to work more fully with the organization in 2015. Basically, I’ve been at Dance Exchange for a long, long time, with a brief stint in the desert.

 

Why was Critical Response Process developed and what are its key elements?

The key elements of Critical Response is that it’s feedback that makes you want to go back to work, rather than go back to bed. When defensiveness starts, listening stops. And so, this is a structured way of being able to give and receive helpful feedback that is about the artist making their best work for their own vision, rather than us as outside responders imposing our vision on the artist’s work.

Critical Response Process was developed by Liz Lerman when a few key things were happening in her life and at the Dance Exchange. One, she was teaching university students, and she was wondering on what grounds she was evaluating their choreography. And she recognized that she could not do that without a dialogue being a key point of the process. She was also, as an artist, creating very political work and work that was with performers across generations that didn’t necessarily look like a lot of the work that was already out there. And she found that she really dreaded those post-show backstage conversations with people, and also the critics—she felt like she, as an artist, needed a voice in how her work was being critiqued.

She recognizes, too—and this is something that I completely relate to—that there’s a cultural narrative that artists should just toughen up and get a thicker skin to be able to “take brutally honest feedback.” Her question is, why does honesty have to be brutal? Is there a better way? Can you be honest, and can you give feedback, in a way that doesn’t make you just want to give up? So, this is a system that has helped her to maintain her own thin skin. Because as artists who work in communities, the capacity to have thin skin is an asset—to be able to feel, to be able to connect. We don’t want to get rid of our thin skin, we just want to be able to work in a way that we don’t have to “toughen up” to take it. That there is a more productive and humane way to be in a dialogue about work in progress.

 

How can Critical Response Process be used by teaching artists in their work in the community?

I think that there are multiple ways. There are certain values that underpin the Critical Response Process that can be used in the teaching practice. It’s about generosity, about curiosity, about being invested in somebody else’s success in the ways that the process can be used for peer-to-peer feedback—that the teacher doesn’t have to be the only person in the room with the knowledge and power. It provides a structure where many, many people can have the capacity to help grow each other’s work.

In the formal process, there are some elements that are really important. There are four key steps.

Step 1: Statements of Meaning. What was valuable, meaningful, evocative, surprising, curious, memorable, exciting, effective about the work that was created? Being able to have that spirit of working from what’s working is an incredible asset to bring to any learning environment.

Step 2: Artist as Questioner. In a learning environment for somebody who is creating, to have the opportunity to articulate what are their struggles and desires. It allows a person to really create their own vision and voice.

Step 3: Neutral Questions. These are questions that have no opinion embedded inside. So, instead of saying “Why is your lighting so dark?” we’d ask something like “What informed your lighting choices?” This allows people, without defensiveness, to be able to explore why they’re making the choices that they are.

Step 4: Opinion Time. These permissioned opinions. For instance, “I have an opinion about your lighting choices, would you like to hear it?” If somebody has gone through the process of creating, people usually want to know those opinions. But it just allows us to prepare for the opinions, to allow ourselves to receive it.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I think that the Critical Response Process has so much to offer people of different fields and domains. We’ve done it with people who do marketing, people who do grant proposals, people who do lesson plans. Although this grew out of a dance organization, it’s been used very widely in the visual arts, in theatre arts, and then also with business. So, I think it has a broad range of applicability.

I also think that you don’t need to be an expert to be able to have something of value to contribute. When I’ve done Critical Response with faculty and students, it kind of democratizes the playing field—that somebody’s response to somebody’s work can be about the chord progression, but it can also be a comment like “it reminds me of being outside in my grandmother’s yard.” And that those both have value in the room. So, I think that there’s a usefulness to it, but then there’s also a process about it that can help cultivate community as we invest in each other’s success.

 

To learn more about EJ’s work, visit http://danceexchange.org/.

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Arts Access for Everyone—Interview with Occupational Therapist Roger Ideishi

As part of an occasional series, we will be learning more about the Bartol Foundation’s board members and teaching artists. Roger Ideishi is Program Director of Occupational Therapy at Temple University. He specializes in working with arts and community-based organizations to develop programs for families and children.

On Thursday, February 15, Roger will be co-teaching a Bartol workshop with Charlie Miller, Deputy Director of Art-Reach. Register for this workshop here: http://bit.ly/2DzuiXd.

 

Can you tell me a bit about how your work as an occupational therapist led you to working with arts organizations?

Working out in the community or working in schools with other occupational therapists, one of the things that we felt was impactful was creative expression. Children seemed to attach themselves very naturally to the creative process. And so, we just started integrating that creative process into the classroom, working with the teachers, working with therapists.

Back in the early 2000s, we happened to come across a dancer from the Pennsylvania Ballet. She was interested in how movement impacted children with developmental disabilities, and she partnered with us to develop a program. When we started doing this program in schools, we began to notice strengths in kids with developmental disabilities that we never saw before. It was very surprising to the teachers and therapists that this experience—dancing, movement experience brought by a professional dancer—really seemed to capture the imagination and exploration of these kids. And we started to pursue that.

This connection between the classroom and the community we felt was really important. That’s a little different than what we often see in classroom experiences for kids who have developmental disabilities. You don’t really see much strong classroom–community connection. So, that’s what sparked this, and then once we started doing that it just snowballed across the country, and a lot of people were asking about the example that was going on in Philadelphia. The Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian reached out to us. Having that connection really brought a lot of validity to the work that we were doing.

 

Why do you believe that it’s important for teaching artists to learn how to adapt their practice to people with disabilities?

I think teaching artists naturally have the skills to do that adaptation. But it’s important that teaching artists have some training because it’s such a broad population. Even as a practicing therapist, I still encounter situations where I’m a little stumped and I need a team around me to help me problem-solve. I think that’s an important message for teaching artists—to recognize that there are lots of people out there who can support them when they’re in new situations and may need some collaborative problem solving. And then to also understand the broad scope of what they may encounter if they haven’t had a lot of experience working with diverse populations with disabilities. Giving teaching artists these resources is one of the most important parts; it helps bring a greater breadth and depth to the work they’re already doing.

 

What’s been the most rewarding moment from your time working with arts organizations?

I remember the first time we did a sensory-friendly Nutcracker ballet with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the feedback we were getting from the families was that this was a first-time experience for their entire family. What families often tell us is that they have split families, where one person stays home with the family member who has a disability, and that they rarely have these community experiences as a whole family.

At the Nutcracker, some of these families were walking out of the theatre just so emotional because they enjoyed the show together; they saw the joy in each other, being a part of the show and having that shared experience. To me, that’s just so touching and so moving to hear the impact that had on families. Parents even said that this was the first time that they didn’t feel like they were being judged, or that they had to be on alert like, “Is my child going to do something that’s going to upset other people?”

Being in an environment where everyone understands and adapts, welcomes, and accepts everybody for who they are, these parents felt validated. Having arts organizations be welcoming and supportive of individuals with diverse abilities and disabilities means a lot to these families. When I hear that feedback from families, it just gets to me that we’re actually meeting a need. I think that’s probably the most rewarding experience that I continue to have. With every initiative that I develop, I hear the same thing from families over and over again.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I think it’ll be good for society in general if more of these kinds of initiatives develop, as we have more teaching artists who reach out to these individuals and these families. We’re slowly, fundamentally changing society.

 

To learn more about Roger’s work, visit https://cph.temple.edu/rs/faculty/roger-i-ideishi.

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

“When we’re writing a letter to our father, we’re really writing a letter to ourselves.” An Interview with Teaching Artist Tina Smith-Brown

As part of an occasional series, we will be learning more about the Bartol Foundation’s board members and teaching artists. Tina Smith-Brown is a Philadelphia-based writer and teaching artist. For over a decade, she has presented her Letter to My Father workshop to audiences of all ages, which explores the impact of one’s relationship (or lack of a relationship) with their father.

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

Anytime I write, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it’s very important to me that I’m always trying to share something new or teach something to the reader that they might not have known.My purpose in doing that is to teach African-American history subjects that people have long forgotten about or kids may not have known about. For example, Atlantic City was segregated in the 1950s and 60s, and one section was nicknamed by Caucasians as “Chicken Bone Beach.” All the African-Americans would come to the beach, and since they couldn’t buy food they would all pack fried chicken in baskets, so at the end of the day there would be all these bones left on the beach. I think that’s a great piece of history that our kids don’t know anything about, so that’s one of these short stories. So, I always try to write to entertain, but also to teach.

I always say God lets you do some things, and some things you’re just meant to do—it’s your job. And Letter to My Father is my job. I consider it something that I was supposed to do, I was placed here to do. And that started simply with doing workshops for women, giving them opportunities to write a letter to their father and to express some stuff. I realized that we carry things around that we never got off our chest, whether it’s positive or negative. When we’re writing a letter to our father, we’re really writing a letter to ourselves about where we’re at, why we’re at this place in time. And then I realized by talking to so many women who were older—30, 40, 50, 60—that a lot of women were still living their life by situations that had occurred or didn’t occur in that relationship with their father. So, I considered what if we could start doing this earlier, if kids started addressing some of this stuff? And you find out that it’s okay to talk about this relationship. It’s okay to feel good about it, feel bad about it. It’s okay to express how you feel in your life, if you’re happy, if you’re sad. It’s okay to open that door. And so, then I developed Letter to My Father for kids, and I started doing workshops for kids,

What attracted you to becoming involved with the Bartol Foundation as a workshop leader?

Bartol is just a fabulous organization for teaching artists, especially teaching artists that are just starting out. When you’re just starting out, you don’t really know how do I go about this, or what should I charge, or who is my workshop really for? And they help you to narrow down those very important essentials. I take a lot of their courses that have taught me how to market my workshop, how you should set up for your workshop, how to figure out who your audience is, how much to charge for a workshop. I love having Bartol in my life personally, but I also love that they are opening the door to help so many other people. You can come in for advice if you need it, you can come in for conversation—they really lift up the teaching artists. And I am extremely grateful for that.

What’s been the most rewarding moment from your time working with the Bartol Foundation?

Learning how to make my marketing package [for Letter to My Father]. Because in order to do that, you have to narrow down who you’re advertising to, your audience. And once you’re able to do that, that’s half of the battle. Every workshop is not for everybody. I offer Letter to My Father to adults and kids, but I have a specific workshop for each one. So, when they helped me narrow it down, I realized that I needed two separate workshops, that I needed to look at it in two different ways. I think that was the most powerful workshop I ever attended with them.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I think that it’s important that teaching artists apply for grant money, not just for the monetary help, but for the shot in the arm that it gives you. Once I received those grants [from the Leeway Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts], I felt like I was truly recognized. I felt like I was legitimate—like somebody believes enough in me to put money behind me. That just made a huge difference in my life. So, I always like to encourage teaching artists not to give up. If there’s a grant and they think that they can qualify for it, apply for it.

To learn more about Tina’s work, visit https://tsmithbrown.com/.

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity