Zoo, Arts & Parks Blog
Ticket Tuesday with Tracy Aviary
A winner has been chosen for this Ticket Tuesday giveaway courtesy Tracy Aviary.
Congrats to Robert M. in Taylorsville!
Justice-Seeking Super Robot Takes on Arts Education
Or, How I Switched From a Deficit Mindset to an Asset-based Approach
Editor's note: This blog originally appeared on Americans for the Arts' ArtsBlog.
Let’s get something out of the way at the beginning. For me, art is about connection.
Now, a story.
I remember it distinctly. I was dressed like a robot. It was Halloween, and I was at recess when I heard it. Name calling! As a machine, I was brave enough to stand up and say that wasn’t okay with me. Even as a preschooler, I was obsessed with inclusion. I found power in fighting the good fight. I wasn’t just a regular robot that day. I was a justice-seeking super robot.
I found the arts. I took piano lessons, went to Shakespeare camp, and sang poorly in high school musicals. Arts education was a big part of my childhood. It was so ingrained in my experience that I felt every child must have had these same opportunities.
But that isn’t the case.
Fast forward to my first jobs outside college.
As a teacher, and former justice-seeking super robot, I saw a need. Low-income children of color weren’t in my Shakespeare classes. If art is about connection, why wasn’t I seeing that reflected in my classes?
I went back to school. I was going to learn how to save the world by connecting art to low-income children of color.
Thankfully, I learned that I was fighting the wrong fight. Access to arts education wasn’t a bad goal, but simply having access to arts education wouldn’t bring real connection or equity. Simply put, traditional arts education often does not value low-income communities of color.
For example, I read about a public, arts-focused charter school. Students of color interviewed in the article explained that their dance class spent one “token” week on hip-hop as a break from “foundational” ballet.
Or there are the myriad stories about low-income students of color who weren’t deemed “talented” enough to be placed in the elite youth orchestra because they hadn’t had the opportunity to take lessons as a young child. These cases are real and common. And they demonstrate that communities of color are consistently undervalued by traditional arts education.
In these situations, arts education was not the road to connection. Structures like this perpetuate inequity. I had to learn that. I needed to recognize that by saying this community needed Shakespeare, I was saying I had the power to define what art is. This happens a lot. And it usually favors Eurocentric art.
I don’t have anything against Shakespeare, but I didn’t need to bring Shakespeare or Bach or Monet to low-income students of color that needed art. What I needed to do was recognize that art is already in every community, and that students have their own power to create art. I needed to shift my approach.
So instead of entering a community as a teacher and bringing a prescribed text or curriculum, I would enter as a learner. I needed to value the community and learn from them. I needed to connect with my students—to see their stories and experiences as equal to my own. To see my students for more than their perceived needs.
I needed a new approach to arts education. So, I scanned the literature, and I found an approach that works with, and values, oppressed groups. It’s called an asset-based arts education.
An asset-based arts education works in solidarity with the community. It is mutually beneficial and builds social capital. The programming must be multicultural and value a diversity of stories and voices. And, finally, the work and environment must be empowering and participant-led. (I wonder how this approach might work beyond the classroom.)
I got a chance to put this method to the test. I worked with a group of amazing students at an afterschool program, and the biggest thing I learned seemed simple. I learned hope. There is reason to hope for a better, more equitable, world.
And it isn’t going to be me that saves it.
It’s going to be my students.
In a world that oppresses my students and tells them no (loudly and often), they practiced a playful resistance and claimed their power. They even wrote this line for our play:
“I am equal. Life is equal. No life is higher than another.”
This line was more beautiful and meaningful to us than Shakespeare ever could have been.
A more connected world is possible. And I didn’t need to be a justice-fighting super robot. I just needed to be human. To shut my mouth. To connect. To listen. To learn. And, because I focused on the assets of my students, they (thankfully!) saw some good in me, too. That’s real connection.
And who doesn’t want to live in a world like that?
Megan Noyce Attermann is the Grant and Communication Program Manager for the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) Program. She has a Master of Arts in Community Leadership, with an emphasis in Arts and Cultural Leadership, from Westminster College, and a BA in Theatre Arts and English from the University of Puget Sound. She sits on the advisory committee for the Salt Lake Emerging Arts Professionals and loves to teach afterschool classes.
Cut Loose at Empress Theatre
Congratulations to the winners of this Ticket Tuesday giveaway from The Empress Theater:
Francisco in Draper and Christy S. in Salt Lake City!
Ciao: A Note from Vicki Bourns
Today, Friday, April 21, 2017, is bittersweet. My last day working for the ZAP Program. Salt Lake County has been very good to me, and
I am grateful for the opportunity to work with so many talented, dedicated and
passionate arts professionals and volunteers.
I am grateful for this journey.
I am grateful for every ZAP advisory board member – you have
taught me so much.
I am grateful to the ZAP grantees that use their best
efforts to provide thought-provoking, engaging and entertaining activities in architecture,
dance, arts education, theatre, folk arts, natural history, literature, visual
arts, media arts, botanical gardens, music, history, humanities,
interdisciplinary & multidisciplinary arts, and zoology.
I am grateful for the citizens of Salt Lake County for
recognizing and supporting these arts and cultural organizations and
activities. Their support of the 1/10th
of 1% sales tax initiative is concrete evidence that they value arts, culture,
our natural environment, and recreation opportunities for all. And most important they put their money where
their values are!
I am grateful to the Salt Lake County Mayor and Council. Our elected officials have supported ZAP in
many ways. They have personally endorsed
the ZAP Proposition on the ballot, they have approved funding, ordinance and
policies recommendations. They have
recognized and acknowledged ZAP volunteer advisory board members.
I am grateful to the many Salt Lake County employees that
have contributed to our work over the years. You know who you are – you clean
our offices, you help process our contracts, you help us follow all the rules,
you process our invoices, you take our calls and welcome our visitors, you
provide crucial support and leadership, you make us look good!
I am grateful that it will be difficult for me to not say
“we” when thinking and speaking of Zoo, Arts and Parks.
Ciao and love always,
Vicki Bourns is the outgoing Director of the Zoo, Arts & Parks Program. She is the new Director of the Utah Division of Arts & Museums.
A Broader Spectrum of Perspective: Recognizing Gabriella Huggins
Huggins is the after school digital media arts mentor for Spy Hop
Productions. Her main program is Sending
Messages—“a storytelling podcast created and entirely produced by incarcerated
youth. Gabriella’s nominator said of the
program, “Under Gabriella’s lead Sending Messages has expanded to a vehicle
that hopes to inform current policy reform, improve access to high quality
step-down resources, and progress toward a restorative justice framework.”
to the sending messages program, Gabriella also works with marginalized youth through the multimedia programs SpyHop offers. Gabriella has directed and co-direced two
award winning documentaries, was a featured speaker at TEDx Park City, and has
been heavily involved in Salt Lake County nonprofits. Gabriella is, in the words of her nominator,
“A skilled facilitator and forward thinking advocate, [who] strives to provide
her students with the tools to think critically and the esteem to express
Here is more about our Outstanding Emerging Arts Professional.
When did you fall in
love with the arts?
I’ve always been an avid reader, finger
painting and crafting are some of the most vivid memories I have of childhood,
and I have been dancing consistently since junior high. I am always walking
around with headphones in, listening to podcasts and music, and I spend most of
my weekends on the couch watching movies. I can’t pinpoint a specific moment
when I realized art was important to me, but Spy Hop and my time dancing at
West High School played a major role in shaping the creator within me. My Spy
Hop mentors and dance teacher were excellent examples of what was possible as a
working artist. They were always passionate and encouraging and taught me to
be a critical consumer and creator.
How have you seen the
positive effects of the arts in your life or in the Salt Lake County?
Personally, engaging with the arts has
equipped me to articulate my own perspectives. Every time I see or hear something
from another community, from a person unlike me or a place I am unfamiliar
with, I try to accept what I’m experiencing with an open mind. Art forces me to
think about why I loved a piece, what I learned from a piece, what I hated
about a piece, and what I can create in response. My curiosity, my willingness
to talk to people I disagree with and try to understand, my interest in walks
of life foreign to my own, comes from my exposure to diverse types of art from
What do you imagine
the arts community could look like in Salt Lake?
Salt Lake is a very interesting place
artistically. There are great venues like Diabolical Records, there are
dance performances on a regular basis, and zine and art pop-ups where newer or
freelance artists are creating space for themselves to share their work
locally. We have some great art institutions here as well that are bringing
international and national works to this place. Unfortunately, there seem to be
gaps that exist; who can see art, and whose art is being seen? Much of the
publicly accessible work here, even in smaller galleries, is safe, sanitized,
very palatable. Art should be accessible to many people and sometimes the
easiest way to make that happen is to create uncontroversially. However, I
would love to see art here exist on a broader spectrum of experience and
perspective, especially in our galleries and museums.
What are some steps
for getting there?
I go back to this idea of exchange. Art is
created for conversation and there is so much being created here that the
larger community doesn’t get to see, so much that is missing in our local
conversations. Our established institutions should be highlighting what’s
happening in those blind spots, especially since we live in a place centered
around a sense of community. Our community artists should shape our art
landscape, unapologetically and authentically. It would be great if art that
was commissioned around the city was a way to employ younger or up-and-coming
artists to contribute, from murals to public statues. It’d be incredible if
galleries were more intentional about reaching out to artists working
underground here and inviting them to share their work on a main stage.
How has your work
impacted the Salt Lake community?
The best and most tangible impact I am having
on my community is the quality time spent with these students to create pieces
they can share on a platform others in their community can engage with.
My job is the best because I work in a place where teens show up for a new
programming, skeptical and so aloof, and leave two hours later, smiling and
laughing and thankful and making plans for what they’ll do if they can come
back again. It’s exciting to work with young people who are stoked on a camera
they’ve never used before, or energized by the finished product of a radio play
they edited. I am proud to help some of these students escape the sharper edges
and darker corners of their lives through puppet-film-making and stop motion
animation. The environment Spy Hop provides is one that changes attitudes and
helps us connect person-to-person, mentor-to-student, in a way that builds
trust and encourages positivity, self-reflection, and excitement about the
arts. That’s important in its potential to foster bigger and better things in
young people, to encourage them to imagine what they can do and then attempt to
complete something original. That’s agency, and agency is something we need our
young people to have, to know they have power to do things that enhance and progress
the world they live in.
What energizes you in
your work? What is your purpose?
Working with young people is energizing. Young
people are often misunderstood and written off as uncaring, uninteresting, or
unknowing. I learn things from my students every day, and it gives me a lot of
hope as our global community grows, climate insecurity worsens, and economic
disparities continue to pose challenges. When I was young, I benefited
immensely from having many caring adults around me who set healthy boundaries,
taught me the power of personal responsibility, and encouraged me to pursue the
things I cared about through direct action. Mentorship is not something all
youth benefit from, and I’m lucky to have grown up around creatives who
inspired me to explore myself and the world around me through creative
exchange. Community organizing is a creative endeavor, critical thinking is a
creative endeavor, gaining self-esteem is a creative endeavor. My purpose in
this work is to help students understand their influence and place in the
context of this complicated world, whatever that means to them, to find
innovative solutions to the issues they face personally and the issues they
want to influence in the world.
We are honored to present Gabriella with our second Outstanding Salt Lake Emerging Arts Professional award.
Gabriella was interviewed by Rachel Cook.
Rachel Cook is a Masters Candidate with SUU Arts Administration and a member of the Salt Lake Emerging Arts Professionals advisory committee. She loves art, the mountains, and spends her spare time with her husband.
Learn more about the Salt Lake Emerging Arts Professionals Recognition Program.