Teaching with Contemporary Art

Shake It Up

Jessica Stockholder, "Photo Cut Up" 2005 Courtesy the artist and Dieu Donné Papermill

For about ten summers now I have enjoyed teaching and traveling in some capacity. It’s become increasingly important over the past decade to broaden my own experience as an artist-educator, whether it has involved working with colleagues at Massachusetts College as an artist-in-residence or participating in TICA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Summer, to me, has become a time to both relax and shake it up a bit.

Last summer Art21 launched Art21 Educators, a six-day summer institute where pairs of teachers from New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Chicago came to work with us here in NYC to explore ways of teaching with contemporary art, utilizing big ideas, thematic units and essential questions. The group included art educators at the very start of their careers as well as experienced teachers with many years in the classroom. During our week together we got the opportunity to work with Oliver Herring, Jessica Stockholder and Olivia Gude, and held sessions at New York University, Oliver Herring’s studio, and the Museum of Modern Art. It was an exciting and exhausting time.

What made last year’s institute special, among other things, was a shared vision that my colleagues Jessica Hamlin, Marc Mayer and myself had. We wanted to provide teachers with an experience that was not only meaningful, but one that also lasted into the school year. Let’s face it, there are many institutes out there that allow teachers, artists, teaching artists, etc., to attend workshops in the summertime. Once it’s over, it’s usually, well….. over. The relationship rarely extends between the institution and the participant. We wanted to provide teachers with an exciting week of workshops, discussions and direct experiences with works of art (as well as artists themselves) that kicked off a yearlong relationship- planning units of study, revising curriculum, and using contemporary art to teach students together. Our first year was plenty successful, but like anything brand new there were things we wanted to improve.

When I reflect on this past year, I think about our monthly online meetings with the 2009 participants, planning and visiting schools across the country, and lots and lots of communication through phone calls, e-mails and texts. So many things have developed and changed, not only with our original group of teachers but also with how the program is shaped, and here we are at the start of year 2 with a whole new group from Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina, Michigan, Oregon and New York. It’s exciting all over again. But now we have the insight and experience of working with a wonderful group that has helped improve the program for this summer. A few are even coming back to help facilitate some of this year’s workshops.

Even more than last year, I look forward to how this program will develop in the coming year- working with alumni as mentors, utilizing virtual classroom visits, working with new artists, museums, special exhibits, and even having an extra day in the institute itself.  I look forward to helping teachers create and implement units that are exciting for the students AND the teachers involved. And I have enjoyed, as crazy as this may seem, the hours and hours of planning that’s gone into this year’s summer institute. When I plan for things like this, I get the opportunity to examine and reexamine my own practice, and the work is so worth it because I get to share it with colleagues in my own school district as well as educators across the country.

Tune in next week when I will have a report on how things are shaping (shaking) up!