“Innovation through Arts Partnerships” at CPAA Conference, in snapshots & quotes!

As promised: Highlights from our panel discussion at the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association Conference on Friday, February 8, “Innovation through Arts Partnerships.” Many thanks to our Horace Greeley Elementary School partners for participating – Teachers Lidia Zuberek and Chris D’Alessio, Principal Carlos Azcoitia, and UG teaching artist Sonja Henderson. UG Executive Director Eric Delli Bovi joined them to talk about the ins and outs of arts partnerships – what works, what doesn’t and why.

Projects that worked!

Visual artist Sonja Henderson, long-time UG artist-in-residence at Greeley, explained three examples of her in-depth projects with Greeley students:

The project: Printmaking self-portrait project with 8th graders [see photos below]. The impact: Sonja explained that 8th grade is a crucial moment because students are developing their identities and experiencing the teenage anguish that comes with. “Students this age are all about looking in mirrors, not feeling satisfied with themselves. Teaching perfectionism is [not effective] – teaching creativity and other avenues to reach a goal, that is crucial. We have to teach them that no one and nothing is perfect, teach them acceptance and patience. This can happen through printmaking, because once you make a mistake it’s just there [you can’t take it back] and that’s okay.”

The project: Narrative journals. Students created their own books (from binding to decorating) to hold a collection of their important memories, with a compartment for a precious item. The impact: As Sonja puts it, “Young people are often disconnected from their emotions and it comes out as aggression. In art, they have to address what they are feeling.”

The project: Nontraditional burkas. Students read “The Breadwinner” with their classroom teacher, a book about the Taliban’s takeover in Kuwait and the effects on a young girl and her family. Sonja provided military uniforms, sports gear, and other supplies, and she showed students how to sew. Students worked together to construct “nontraditional burkas” from the provided materials, and to explain why they chose particular styles and materials. The impact: Students were able to try on the burkas to experience how it feels to be covered in this way. Sonja said it was particularly impactful for boys to have this experience – and that many of them developed a strong affinity for sewing!

How to get these projects to happen, in quotes:

Francis Bacon: “Time is the greatest Innovator.” (Thanks Eric for bringing this one to the panel!)

Carlos: “How do we create a school culture that promotes the arts? It’s all about leadership, getting a few teachers involved, and then showcasing the art so that other teachers get more engaged. And during tours and initial meetings with parents [of potential students], I really emphasize our arts education. They know from the start.”

Sonja: “The public nature of art at Greeley is very important. You walk into the school and first thing, you see beautiful murals everywhere. Making art publicly appreciated like that makes an arts partnership work.”

Chris: “You’ve got to get the community involved and have demonstrations [performances, exhibits, etc]; this creates buy-in.”

Lidia, on discussing the merits of arts integration with teachers: “Without art, pieces are missing. It’s so natural, I couldn’t teach social studies without art! Teachers must remember that giving time to the arts is not a sacrifice of precious time, but an enhancement of other subjects.”

Lidia, on Greeley’s significant ESL population: “Students open up through the arts who may experience language barriers in other classes.”

Sonja, on why visual art blends well with history, social studies, etc: “Art helps students see the world as a whole, not in fractured pieces.”

Carlos, on how you know you’ve succeeded: “Teachers begin to act as art teachers, even independently as the teaching artists. They get invested.”

And photos, of course!