Art Works Blog

Postcard from California, Part 2

March 22, 2010
San Francisco & Oakland, CA

On the road in San Francisco. Photo by Ellen Shershow

One of the things I was really looking at during my California trip was arts and education, which is a big learning curve for me, though I feel that I?m starting to get the hang of it. The stage I?m in right now is listening to the experts. A lot of people have been doing this for many years, and what I need to do is learn from them out in the field. They all seem to have a great deal of appreciation and respect for what the NEA?s doing in their field. We seem to be up on what?s going on, and I think in arts education we are a significant funder. It was nice just to get out there among the people who are there every day and know what they?re doing.

At the end of the week, I was in San Francisco and then, across the bridge, in Oakland. In San Francisco, one of the things I did was meet with about nine arts educators, from foundations, local arts organizations, the city arts council. Well these are people who have been very committed to arts education for years, and it was very instructive for me to listen to them. One of the current issues is, of course, if the artists who come in to teach in the schools should be professionals, in terms of being trained teaching professionals, or is it enough for them to be working artists. And the consensus seems to be that the teachers, when they?re trained, are a lot more effective, which is something these folks have learned through long experience. We had a great roundtable around that issue.

I wrapped up this trip in Oakland at the Envision Academy of Arts and Technology. We saw some performances by the students, and we also visited some of their classrooms. It?s very inspiring to see what they?re doing there. The arts are integrated into the entire curriculum, and you really see points of intersection between the arts and other subjects. For instance, in one of the classrooms they?re studying the Holocaust. You saw an intersection of history and their own personal imagination and creativity. These students are  reading Night by Elie Weisel and drawing their own parallels and talking about instances in their own lives when they?d been a victim or a perpetrator, and writing a kind of memoir. It was really neat to see this kind of intersection. It became very personal for them. And it?s clear that in this school, and in so many of the arts charter schools, it?s not really about art, it?s really about the intersection of art and everything else. Art becomes a very useful portal to almost any subject, and it?s neat to see.

As you?re reading this, I?m already on my next Art Works visit to Chelsea and Detroit in Michigan. I look forward to telling you about that visit later this week.

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