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Art21 Educators 2011-2012: Todd Elkin and Teri Hu

This week, we introduce the fifth pair of Art21 Educators, Todd Elkin and Teri Hu, hailing from the Bay Area in Northern California.  Last week, we featured Jeannine Bardo and Mary Curry from Brooklyn, NY. Please stay tuned for three more posts in the next three weeks. These will introduce the remaining pairs of educators who will complete this year’s cohort of Art21 Educators.

Todd Elkin and Teri Hu teach at Washington High School in Fremont, CA. Todd has been teaching there for nine years and currently teaches Art 1 & 2, AP Studio Art, and Narrative Art, a course that he designed and which was adopted by the Fremont Unified School District.  Teri teaches AP English Literature, College Preparatory English, and Creative Writing. She has also taught Journalism, Publications, and Yearbook prior to arriving at Washington High six years ago.

Todd describes his work as an educator over the past years as an endeavor “to mirror contemporary disciplinary artistic practice in the classroom.”  Todd elaborates, “I support students in developing self-motivated artistic inquiry based on their own passions, preoccupations, and concerns . . . my goal as an art teacher is to help students find in themselves the proactive, engaged disposition of contemporary artists and make work that matters to them.” 

Todd designed a unique curricular unit that reflects his ambition to engage his students with contemporary artistic practice and connect that practice to conditions impacting the larger world.  The unit, entitled the “Shelter Project,” is a set of interdisciplinary learning experiences, including the creation of site-specific installations and using recycled materials to create an artwork that doubles as a functioning shelter. Todd expressed his excitement over how his unit has evolved since its first implementation in 2007.  It will now become a collaborative project between two schools in the San Francisco Bay area and one school in Bangalore, India.  Through the Shelter Project, students from these three schools consider what it means to have shelter, the effect of context on art-making, and how artists/students can participate in global conversations about important issues.

In his video biography, Todd shares examples of student artwork and expresses excitement to work with his partner, Teri, on interdisciplinary projects:

As part of his application, Todd describes an exhibition that has inspired his practices as both an educator and an artist:

The exhibit was entitled Day Job and consisted of the work of serious visual artists who support themselves primarily with ‘non-artistic’ careers.  The ‘day jobs’ of the artists included in the show ranged widely . . . an attorney, a designer of orbiting telescopes, a museum guard, and a scenic designer for television soap operas. These artists, rather than seeing their non-artistic jobs as obstacles, something separate from their ‘real work’ at best and something to be ashamed of at worst, draw generative inspiration from the 40 plus hours per week they spend earning a living . . . Seeing Day Job encouraged me and reinforced the idea that my teaching practice and my artistic practice can inform each other in exciting, productive, and generative ways.

Todd also articulates his goals for teaching in the upcoming year, “I want to expand my foregrounding of the thinking that takes place when viewing, planning, and creating works of art . . . the Art21 Educators program will infuse my work with cutting edge relevance.”

Teri Hu has been a high school English teacher for thirteen years.  She holds a BA in English and an MA in Education in Language, Literacy, and Culture from UC Berkeley.  Teri lives in San Francisco, which she describes as “an anchor of [her] identity.”  She says, “My very sense of self grows from this bold, beautiful, free-spirited city.”  Her video biography provides a glimpse into her life as a San Franciscan:

In her classroom, Teri introduces students to a broad cultural context for literary works, authors, and characters.  She says, “I am interested in art as part of the cultural landscape, which I believe is important to note when studying literature, just as it is important to note the historical, political, and social background of a work.”

As part of her application, Teri told us about an experience integrating visual art into her curriculum.  She describes the examination of John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation in her AP Literature and College Preparatory English courses and says, “I find it a particularly powerful example of the integration of art and literature in that the playwright chose artists and artworks that reflect the events occurring onstage.” Teri also describes an interesting assignment that provided social context for the main character in the play:

David Hampton, the young man who inspired the character of Paul . . . was a teenager from Buffalo who had moved to New York City to break into acting.  Instead, he was distracted by his successful impersonation of Sidney Poitier’s non-existent son and wound up in prison for his fraud.  His life ended tragically of AIDS in 2003, at the age of 39.  It was important to me that the students understand the social context of both his crime and punishment.  We read a set of New York Times articles from 1983, 1990, and 2003 about his conviction, “rehabilitation,” and death, then discussed the reasons behind his successful con, his harsh sentence, and the aftermath of his youthful misadventure. The final product was [student] refection on justice and their own response to Hampton’s tragedy . . .

One of Teri’s goals for teaching is “to create a safe, welcoming space for students to express themselves, grow, and learn.”  Looking forward to her participation in Art21 Educators, she says, “I believe my learning new things, being open to new ideas myself, helps me create that space for them.”

Please join us in welcoming Todd and Teri to Art21 Educators!

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