Justice-Seeking Super Robot Takes on Arts Education; or, How I switched from a deficit mindset to an asset-based approach
May 02, 2017
Editor's note: This blog was originally posted 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 is the Grant & Communications Program Manager at Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks. 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 teaching afterschool classes.
May 02, 2017
Congratulations to the winners of this Ticket Tuesday giveaway from The Empress Theater: Francisco in Draper and Christy S. in Salt Lake City!
April 27, 2017
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.
Gabriella 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.”
In addition 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 themselves artistically.”
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 diverse places.
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.
April 25, 2017
Congrats to the winners of this giveaway from the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art: Vickie in SLC and Maria in Taylorsville!
Stay tuned for the next ZAP Ticket Tuesday opportunity.
April 25, 2017
The Queens of Persia at the Feet of Alexander the Great (The Tent of Darius), a seventeenth-century silk and wool French tapestry styled after a Charles LeBrun painting, will be new on view in the European galleries when the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) reopens August 26.
The usually picture-perfect galleries of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) look more like artists’ studios these days, with preparations in full swing for the Museum’s late August reopening.
On a recent morning, metal carts and gurneys sat piled with tools and gallon paint cans as the Museum’s preparator readied empty cases for new objects in the Pacific art exhibition. Nearby in the modern and contemporary gallery, collections staffers carefully mounted three Seer Bonnets by Angela Ellsworth, an artist with Salt Lake City ties. Downstairs in collections storage, a guest conservator assessed, cleaned and treated paintings, including Utah artist Alfred Lambourne's A Nook of the Desert (1875–1876), a new acquisition for the American and regional galleries.
UMFA conservator Robyn Haynie assesses Seer Bonnet (2010) by Angela Ellsworth before installing it in the Museum’s modern and contemporary gallery. The object, one of three such bonnets that will be on view, is made of 17,214 pearl corsage pins, fabric, and steel.
A guest conservator assesses a painting from the Museum’s collection to help staff develop a treatment plan.
The UMFA has been closed since mid-January 2016 for replacement of the building’s vapor barrier, essential for efficiently maintaining appropriate humidity levels. With that work successfully completed, staff are busy with the most comprehensive reinstallation of the permanent exhibitions since the Marcia and John Price Museum Building opened in 2001.
What will you see when UMFA galleries reopen the last weekend of August? Nearly half the artworks will be new on view, including not only recent contemporary and western art acquisitions but also a giant 17th-century French tapestry, works from the Museum’s African collection, Chinese ceramics and more. Most galleries will be reorganized along fresh storylines—thanks to months of curatorial research and re-envisioning—to give you new, more engaging ways to experience and interpret the objects.
The Pacific Island permanent exhibition, for instance, has been reconsidered under the guidance of a former curator from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who is also curating the Museum’s new gallery of African art. The modern and contemporary gallery will have a larger footprint and initially feature women artists from the collection exclusively. The American and regional galleries, reorganized around the theme of westward expansion, have been relocated from upstairs to a prominent first-floor gallery, so that visitors will see western art soon after they enter the building.
UMFA curator Whitney Tassie (foreground) and
collections staff install British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Periphery (2013) in the modern and
Conservator Robyn Haynie and guest curator Virginia-Lee Web evaluate objects for the Museum’s new African gallery.
Meanwhile, curators and educators are collaboratively rewriting every wall and label text in the permanent galleries, seeking to expose viewers to the most current art historical research while encouraging them to explore their own interpretations of these works.
Aside from the reimagined permanent exhibitions, two new temporary shows will also be on view. HERE, HERE by Las Hermanas Iglesias will debut in UMFA’s new ACME Lab, a flexible space for creative exploration and exhibitions housed in the Museum’s Emma Eccles Jones Education Center. Contemporary artist Spencer Finch’s site-specific installation in the Great Hall will also premiere.
So mark your calendar for the UMFA’s public reopening celebration, featuring talks, tours, films, a dance party and more on Saturday, August 26, and Sunday, August 27. (Donors, VIPs and members will enjoy a sneak preview Friday, August 25.)
In the meantime, join us for an artist talk, film, ACME Session, Third Saturday for Families, or other exciting program this summer. Visit umfa.utah.edu, sign up for our e-newsletter, or follow us on Facebook or Instagram to keep up with the latest.
See you soon!
Mindy Wilson is the UMFA’s marketing and communications director.
Have you ever wanted to soar in the sky with the greatest of ease? No, it’s not a flying trapeze, it’s the newest exhibit from Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum- the SkyCycle!
Opening April 22, kids and adults alike can explore principles of counterbalance and center of gravity while taking a thrilling ride on a 30-foot track. The SkyCycle exhibit has come out all the way from Orlando, Florida and was built by a company who produces rides for Disney World!
Members of Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum can get a special sneak preview of SkyCycle on April 21 from 2-5pm. They can enjoy free rides for the entire afternoon.
The public opening of the SkyCycle will be the following day on Saturday, April 22. Starting with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and special guest speakers at 10:30 am, there will be music, prizes, giveaways, food trucks, and educational activities.
Younger children and their families are encouraged to attend the opening event on April 22 and enjoy a Strider Bike Adventure Zone from 11 am – 2 pm inside the museum. Strider Adventure Zones are safe and friendly “Ride and Play” demo areas that encourage kids of all abilities from 18 months to 5 years to test ride a Strider Balance Bike and play with other kids, while improving and developing fundamental bike handling skills.
The SkyCycle is made possible through generous support from the museum’s community partners, Kid to Kid stores and The Gateway. “Kid to Kid is delighted to sponsor this new exhibit that will bring the love of physics to children and families across the Wasatch front and beyond,” says President of BaseCamp Inc. Brent Sloan. “The SkyCycle is a unique, playful and educational element,” said, Jenny Cushing, VP of Leasing for Vestar, “and we are proud to sponsor and have this attraction at The Gateway.”
Kristin Jahne is the Marketing Coordinator at Discovery Gateway Children's Museum. When she’s not fixing member issues or analyzing data, you can find her interacting with patrons around the museum or helping plan events for DG members.
The SkyCycle will be open during regular museum hours: 10am-6pm on Monday – Thursday, 10am-7pm on Friday – Saturday, and noon-6pm on Sunday. SkyCycle rides are $5 for regular walk-up or $3 with museum admission, and the first ride is always free for Discovery Gateway membership holders.
April 18, 2017
Winners have been chosen for this Ticket Tuesday giveaway from The Grand Theatre. Congrats to Mckenna and Douglas in Salt Lake City!
April 11, 2017
Winners have been chosen for this giveaway from Mountain West Ballet.Congrats to: Amy W. in SLC, Ingrid M. in Sandy, and Erin W. in West Jordan!
Stay tuned for more ZAP Ticket Tuesday opportunities.
You could say that this production has been nearly 40 years in the making. Since I was 10 years old, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos opened by eyes to the wonders of the universe and the endless beauty it holds, I’ve been hooked. Though science in general has always interested me, astronomy and physics have been the field I would always come back to when I had a hunger for more science in my diet. Books like A Brief History of Time, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, and The Elegant Universe always inspire me to new perspectives, though I’ll be the first to admit that I will sometimes get lost at times.
That getting lost, though, is part of the joy and wonder of it all for me: the knowledge that the universe is bigger and weirder than I can hold in my head is a great comfort. I find a true sense of awe is a lovely accompaniment to life's daily worries.
What a joy it was, then, to find Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky. Gunderson is a fantastic new voice in American theatre, and to find this gem of a play highlighting the unsung contributions of early female pioneers in astronomy was like finding the golden ticket. I fell in love immediately with her story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who worked at Harvard Observatory in the early 20th century and nothing less than led us to finding the size of the universe. Prevented by her sex from even peering through a telescope, she pored through photographs and numbers as a “human computer” and found a pattern no one had ever seen.
After finding this play and falling in love, what better home could there be for it than Pygmalion Productions? When Teresa Sanderson mentioned to me they were doing a season looking at women in history I knew Silent Sky would be a perfect fit. Pygmalion Productions creates performances that share the human experience through the eyes of women, and this seemed like a way to tell not only a story of women in history but to talk about the current work still to be done encouraging and enabling young women to enter STEM fields.
Heart-filling and inspiring, and with a deep sense of wonder, Silent Sky brilliantly marries science and the human heart. I am so excited to be part of the Pygmalion Productions team bringing it to Salt Lake audiences.
Mark Fossen (Director) is thrilled to return to PYG after appearing in 2008 production of Sordid Lives. Local directing credits include The Glass Menagerie, The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, Our Town, Skin of our Teeth, and A Streetcar Named Desire at The Grand Theatre, Bellwether and Don Juan Comes Back from the War at Westminster College, Stage Kiss and The Fables Project at Wasatch Theatre Company; The Children’s Hour at The University of Utah; August: Osage County for Utah Repertory & Silver Summit; Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and As You Like It at Davis Arts Council; and An Ideal Husband at Pinnacle Acting Company. He serves on the boards of The Grand Theatre and the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival, and is an adjunct instructor at Westminster College and the University of Utah. He is a graduate of the University of Utah and is currently completing his MFA at the University of Idaho. http://markfossen.info