Collaboration. Creation. Celebration. Urban Gateways artists brought new meaning to these words through their innovative work at Cicero. “In ancient times, the arts brought us together as communities, which made us better teams and stronger hunters. We don’t need to bond together as hunter-gatherers and yet our need for connection is as strong as ever. The desire for art is as strong as ever,” stated John Knecht, Urban Gateways teaching artist. This quote was the guiding thought for a room of 28 Cicero District visual art and music teachers on a cold Friday morning.
In order to quickly engage the group, John and fellow teaching artist Diana Stezalski began with hands-on art making as well as historical and cultural contextualization. Prefaced by the Fine Arts Program Director, Dianna Aguado, artists, accustomed to working independently, were charged with the expectation to co-create and engage each other in more meaningful ways.
What happened when adults were called upon to be participants? Visual art teachers beat folders like Taiko drums and musicians gracefully experimented with Japanese inking. Participants quickly left their comfort zones and began to see the connection between visual and performing arts. A 25-year veteran teacher agreed, “We were able to feel a sense of commonality and camaraderie as we felt the energy of others. To switch modalities we became more open-mided.” Venturing into Indonesian music and Batik, the teachers came together, immersed themselves, and came alive through the collaborative art making process.
By the end of the day artists and teachers were chanting, and individually volunteered to dance in a drumming circle. Although they made beautiful products, the process was far more enriching and developing. “We were able to experience the spark that happens when students know they can create,” stated one teacher. It was through the motivation of the teaching artists and the humility of the participants, that the session became fruitful.
In a district leaning more towards interdisciplinary learning, this session compiled many aspects of their current goals and principles of making connections as well as giving students the oppotunity to perform, create, and understand. It was after reflecting on the experience that the participants understood that they were playing the role of students who might be intimidated by teamwork, painting, or instruments. Now they are able to apply their new techniques in their classrooms.