Lincoln Center Education - Teaching Artist Development Lab 2016
July, 2016: I trained at Lincoln Center Education. I was part of a Teaching Artist Development Lab in New York City. A fantastic, intense and practical experience that consisted of different kinds of workshops, keynote speeches, carnival processions, performances, meeting people from all over the world who share similar aspirations, ideas and practices.
Lincoln Center Education do something really important - they attempt to synthesize the language and word choice that the field uses, to try to bring about a wee bit of consensus. The introduction to concepts such as Purpose Threads, Fundamentals, Inquiry Lenses, coupled with theories and ideas from Eric Booth to the late Maxine Greene really help clarify the reasons behind what we do.
From designing lanterns, making music and constructing a procession with youth and seniors in the Midtown community; to choreographing skills based pieces of movement; to creating music relating to the mining songs of the early 1900's; to painting our self portraits in many different guises; to design paper butterflies from our own words inside our notebooks; to working in cohorts to create a series of workshops to take back home. Placing the vocabulary in performance, planning and facilitation was key to really "getting" what Lincoln Center were on about!
New York City is vibrant, exhilarating, fast and furious. It is an addictive place with differences in abundance. Throughout July, I responded to the city through writing a series of things - it became a small daily practice of reflection if you like. You can find these writings on my Facebook page for now.
My Teaching Artistry: Lincoln Centre
Teaching Artistry Testimony
A role of immense curiosity, a Teaching Artist revels with the unpredictable. There’s no role like it. However, this unpredictability is not of the magic or fantasy kind necessarily, nor does it side with the pejorative roots of the word. Nope. “Naw” or “no quite” as we say in Glasgow. Nowhere near. It sides with the foray into somewhere new, where interesting discoveries about the self and the surrounding world are made with that familiar sort of “aaaah” sigh a young child might make when opening a present they’ve been anticipating for days.
There is little that matches the intensity or vigour that is embodied and employed by those who identify with this role. Teaching Artists can be found in contexts across the world, inspiring many different people with a pedagogy that disrupts the ideas of “normal,” “good,” “bad,” for example and encourages expression through a deep compassion and reflection – competencies one might argue are more vital than ever.
I quickly became addicted to these ways of thinking and functioning, as I introduced myself to the field and the role through the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s BA(Hons) Contemporary Performance Practice programme. Following a year’s worth of practice based research on socially engaged practice in different contexts, I began developing an urge to further my understanding into how one might go about embodying this role and looked for jobs titled “Teaching Artist” out of interest. Through copious googling, I discovered lots of literature and a far greater presence of a seemingly consolidated role in the USA and wanted to delve deeper. I wondered why in Scotland we didn’t really name the term as boldly as in the USA.
Once I graduated, I found myself consolidating my own Teaching Artistry with Paragon Music (a Glasgow based inclusive arts organisation) on a variety of different projects creating music and dance with people with additional support needs or disabilities. Further exposure to a pedagogy that values deep and meaningful learning through fun, creative experiences made me consider the terms “inclusion” and “access” in relation to my understanding of the role.
LCE’s Teaching Artist Development Labs couldn’t have landed at a better time at this early stage in my career. Their influence on my understanding of what one has to embody and employ as a Teaching Artist continues to be substantial. They posit a culture of optimism, not only in the ways that they nurture the different inquisitive and creative minds, but they also state loudly and clearly that a Teaching Artistry is not a cop-out. It is not something you just do on the side. It is not a role for someone who hasn’t made it – rather, it is a career of great rigour, responsibility and influence where those who support the politics of inclusion, diversity and transformation find themselves changing the spaces in front of them.
During my experience at LCE, I encountered vocabulary such as “Purpose Threads” and “Fundamentals” that seemed to capture clearly and concisely a lot of similar trains of thought. I find myself returning to these ideas regularly when devising a session. On that note, Teaching Artists can be so fully in their work that they can forget to reflect on their practice. LCE seem to adopt a guise that places personal reflection quite near the top of their key teaching artist competencies. One of the most important techniques I continually use that I learned from the lab is the practice of writing short philosophies for myself – to help clearly remind me what it is I am doing and why.
My educational philosophy was affirmed massively in New York. Allow me to digress. When I was in Primary Five, I continuously found myself getting in trouble. I didn’t create havoc or upset anyone’s feelings. I held my pencil incorrectly. My teacher at the time urged my classmates and I that there is only one correct way to hold a pencil. This strict finger choreography was manipulative, force-fed, dehumanising almost – a classroom culture of fear created from children holding their pencils wrong. This awfully arbitrary perspective is why I firmly advocate for any art experience to focus on a person’s own abilities, curiosities and interests – constantly challenging the status quo. I have been lucky to have continued to facilitate this way of working in contexts throughout Scotland – from criminal justice settings to hospitals, primary schools to adult nursing homes.
On a broad scale, I believe that creating art enhances the relationship you have with yourself and others, as well as helping to develop the competency of sensitivity – a human quality which at times, our overtly mediated world disguises and maybe even degrades. I wish for our art to break any inaccessible boundaries, to disrupt any elitist hierarchical preconceptions and to offer a common language that anybody can access, invest in and share with ease. Art is a sharing and there’s nothing more human than that.