via poetica

mapping the world with stories

After my earlier article on Howlround sparked a bit of debate, I curated a series on political ideology and theatre-making. As a part of that, I wrote some further thoughts.

In previous writings I’ve hinted at something that I think is a pretty big deal for teaching artists, and it’s time that I come out and say it:

Teaching Artists have a HUGE role to play in revitalizing education.

I think for a while I’ve implicitly believed this, but the more I consider it the more I realize its edgy truth. Think about it. Schools are cutting arts and enrichment programs and focusing on testing. Parents and community members are less involved in schools. Struggling students give up and drop out, rather than being able to find their passions. Some of those same students end up in prisons and hospitals.

Now, enter teaching artists.

Schools are cutting full-time arts programs, and teaching artists seek grants to create something in their place. We form after-school programs, before-school programs, and community classes. Best of all, we aren’t “failed artists” who teach. We’re still active artists and performers, and we can show that life (with all of its own challenges) to our students.

Schools are focusing on testing, so teaching artists use arts integration. Who knew you could dance about the patterns of the golden ratio? Or create art out of graphed algebraic equations? Or use theatre and storytelling to immersively test literacy? Teaching artists know. And we’re sharing that with teachers and students.

Parents and community members are less involved in schools. Teaching artists are bringing people together to tell stories in a community space. It’s not just lamenting the issues anymore, it’s active engagement. It’s giving space for real struggles to be heard, given voice, acted out. (This is applied theatre at its most sublime, so far as I’m concerned). Archiving and using those stories means having a resource for ongoing dialogue, too.

Struggling students don’t find their passions, because their passion may not be offered. Research supports that a student who participates in arts programs of some kind is more likely to succeed in any subject, and feel motivated about school. That one area of real passion and interest may not turn into a career, but an avocation still inspires academic focus and success.

Youth end up in prisons and hospitals. Teaching artists are even needed here. My mentor from grad school (the incredible Nan Smithner), has made theatre with prisoners for something like 15 years. Programs like that have been shown to help prisoners cope with their challenges, and lower rates of reincarceration. In hospitals, creative play means more holistic healing and sustained health. Sickness is less scary when there is something to laugh about.

A lot of people give lip service to what the arts can do for our youth, or communities, and our world. Or, at least what they could do. Teaching artists are the ones actually getting out there and making it happen. If the arts are a revolution, then teaching artists are the grassroots organizers and mobilizers. That’s pretty cool. It makes me proud to be a teaching artist, and excited that I’m going to go on being one.

So the next time you hear, “The education system in this country isn’t working,” you can say, “Maybe, but I’m working to change that.”

A few months ago I read an article in Howlround about theatre not having conservatives. As a third-generation libertarian (albeit a very liberal one on social issues), I felt the urge to respond. Howlround published my response here.

I never said I wasn't opinionated.