“Teaching opens the door to the arts”—Interview with Teaching Artist Angela Arrey-Wastavino
Photo courtesy of Angela Arrey-Wastavino.
Last month, the Bartol Foundation awarded scholarships to nine local teaching artists to attend a symposium about teaching in alternative spaces. As part of our ongoing Q&A series, we spoke with one of the scholarship recipients, visual artist and writer Angela Arrey-Wastavino, about her work as a teaching artist and experience at the symposium.
Can you tell me a bit about your work as a teaching artist? What kinds of spaces have you taught in?
I’ve been working with a variety of organizations, but mostly with children—I would say 70% of my participants are all children. I’ve also taught in some more non-traditional settings. For example, years ago I taught at a rehabilitation center for young inmates and first offenders. We were working with what was called Paño Art in the Southwest. It consists of having white handkerchiefs that people draw all over with ink—and that’s it. That was practically the only medium that we could use with inmates because of all the security protocols that we had to go through. At that time, not even pencils were allowed. So, it was very difficult for artists to accommodate their requirements. But it was very interesting and creative. Many inmates were very happy to participate because they had a wonderful talent.
These types of experiences are incredibly satisfying for me. Maybe that’s the reason why I’m so happy to be a teaching artist, because with the people I encounter, I can see the transformation through the arts. It’s incredibly rewarding. People who have never had access to the arts before, and having a first experience that is really positive for them—it’s really transformative. Teaching opens the door to the arts.
You first participated in a Bartol teaching artist workshop when they presented their marketing series in NYC. How did you wind up coming to Philadelphia?
I was living in Syracuse, New York at the time, which is a small city relatively close to the border with Canada. I was very active over there, participating in a number of different organizations—I was president of Onondaga Art Guild, I was doing public relations for Associate Artists of Central New York, I was a member of a number of communities supporting youth. But when you are a big city person and you’re living in a place like Syracuse, it can be frustrating.
I went to Bartol’s marketing workshop in New York, and I decided at that time that I had to move from Syracuse. When I became aware of what the Bartol Foundation was doing, I was surprised that it was coming from Philadelphia to be in New York City. And I was very curious. So, I started doing my own personal research regarding what the Foundation was, what it was doing, and I thought that it was really great and I would like to be participating. Therefore, I decided to visit Philadelphia for several days. And after being here and talking to people and visiting places, I felt very much at home from day one. And I decided that this was the place to be. And that was practically because of being informed of the Bartol Foundation. So, I made my decision, and here I am.
Why were you interested in attending the symposium?
There were three main reasons why I really wanted to participate: making connections, sharing experiences, and learning from other people. There were also some topics that were of great interest to me—for example, working in alternative spaces. Being new to Philadelphia, I’m actively looking to associate with other artists and to continue learning. And I think I was really welcomed into the community at this program.
Can you share something you found particularly valuable and/or surprising about the symposium?
I was surprised with the figure cited by one of the panelists that 19% of the American population has been diagnosed with some type of disability. It made me think about the percentage who has NOT been diagnosed, adding to the official percentage. These figures preoccupy me. Are teaching artists prepared to effectively integrate special needs people in activities we offer in our communities?
Why it caught my attention is because when I work on projects sometimes, I have to explain that I’m not an occupational therapist—I’m a teaching artist. And being a teaching artist is still a term that the general population is not familiar with. You have to explain that you are not a teacher, you are not a therapist—you are a little bit something in between. I tremendously identified with what the speaker was saying at that point.
To learn more about Angela’s work as a teaching artist, visit http://aaartatelier.blogspot.com/.
Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.