Staff Q&As Continue! Meet Educational Programs Manager, Britton Bertran

It’s July (already? Seriously?), the sun is shining and class is out, but, as always, our UG staff is hard at work developing inspirational and meaningful arts programs for schools all over Chicago. Amidst a busy schedule of coordinating residencies and being awesome in general, we found a moment to talk all things arts-ed with Educational Programs Manager, Britton Bertran. Check out his insightful interview right here!

UG: How would you describe the work you do at Urban Gateways?

Britton: I essentially am a mediator, organizer and bridge between the artists on our roster and the schools we work with. I coordinate, facilitate and manage in-school and after-school residencies.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your job?

Most challenging component to my work is keeping up with a roster of 55 teaching artists. These are professional teaching artists that have incredibly complex schedules with their own creative endeavors in addition to their work in Chicago schools.

You’ve been professionally involved in the arts for a while now, having worked as a gallerist, curator, instructor at SAIC, etc. Did you always know you wanted to be involved in the arts?

I didn’t always know I would be involved in the arts. For awhile I had a difficult time comprehending what art was – let alone that there was an entire industry that parallels the history of art, art making, art thinking and art consumption. What it all boils down to is art engagement, and once I had my Ah-Ha moment, I was hooked.

Based on your experiences teaching and your involvement with UG, what is the most rewarding aspect of working with kids?

My mantra that revolves around art is “process over product”. I am most rewarded when I see how the act of thinking and creating artwork reaches beyond the literal making. When kids tap into that non-linear part of their brain some incredible things happen. It may take time to manifest – from seconds to decades – but creativity is an inherent ability and needs to be celebrated.

What long-term benefits can be reaped from exposure to an arts education? Why is this exposure particularly crucial for young people?

One of the first questions I ask my undergraduate students at SAIC is, “What is your first memory of going to a museum?” The answers are enlightening. Somehow, between that trip and their sitting in my classroom at an Art School, they’ve made a conscious choice to dedicate themselves to the artworld. Many of them were privileged to have art education along the way and were taught by individuals who also made that lifelong commitment. It’s a beautiful cycle.

What are your professional goals for the future?

The traditional concept of art education is that it’s for kids. This is the essence of what Urban Gateways does. Spending so much time in schools I am constantly amazed and delighted in seeing the creative transformations that the teachers of those students are making alongside their charges. I would like to see Art Education become akin to something more along the lines of Art Engagement.

This would be engagement for society as a whole – not isolated to particular communities.

What is your favorite part of living in Chicago? What do you think makes the arts community in Chicago so unique?

Chicago Works. It really does. I’ve lived many places around the country and discovered Chicago essentially by accident (coming to grad school here). It has the urban sensibility with a neighborhood vibe that matches my personality in a perfect way. For the most part, the people who work in the artworld here have a similar relationship to the city.

What talent (artistic or not) do you wish you could possess?

I gave up art making a long time ago, but I really wish I could learn how to mold, pour and fire bronze!

If you could take a class with one of UG’s teaching artists, who would it be and why?

Oh wow, I don’t think I should answer this! I work with so many that I would get myself in trouble.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Before I gave up that art making mentioned above, I studied printmaking and absolutely loved it. Now I leave the art making up to the professionals!