Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thoughts from the 2013 Conference for Community Arts Education: WT McRae

Earlier this month, the 2013 Conference for Community Arts Education took place in Chicago, IL. This annual gathering brought together over 650 arts education leaders from 350+ organizations nationwide to help shape the future of arts education in America, while developing new skills and building relationships with top practitioners and experts. Attending with me on behalf of the New Victory were Lindsey Buller Maliekel, Director of Education/Public Engagement and WT McRae, a Clown, Actor, Director, Designer and New Vic Teaching Artist.
The conference was a chance for us to learn from our colleagues across the nation about their successes, challenges, questions and inspired us to think more deeply about the work that we do at the New Victory.  In addition, we were invited by Eric Booth, a great leader in arts education and The National Guild for Community Arts Education to develop the Teaching Artist Track as part of the conference – which focused on creating working groups to discuss and build projects around key questions about the development of teaching artists and teaching artistry as a profession.  Here are some thoughts on the experience from WT:
Courtney J. Boddie: What excited you about the conference?

WT McRae
WT McRae: I was delighted by the minds talking about arts education on a national level. Most interesting was a call for us to stop trying to justify the value of the arts by tying it to other disciplines of the humanities, but instead to stand up for the intrinsic value of the arts. 

Possibly some of the most inspiring ideas I heard came from Dennie Palmer Wolf, who I am excited to work with this year at the New Vic as part of the SPARK program. She also suggested that we reframe the conversation about the value of arts in our communities.  Dennie said that the investments we make in our communities are long term, and that the things artists and arts service providers add to the community now may not yield results until the next generation. I find it exciting to think of the work we do as a long term investment. 

CJB: What was inspiring to you?

WT: Don Marinelli, founder of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University said that we can either view the adoption of immersive technology as a tremendous challenge to our art form, or a tremendous opportunity. I’m excited by the evolution of art forms. It makes me energized to think that the theater I will be creating in my 60s might look so different from the work I have created until now, that I can only begin to imagine the edges of what it will be. 

CJB: What tools, strategies, methods did you learn that you could immediately apply to your work?

WT: One of the sessions I attended presented on the Connected Learning work of Dr. Mizuko Ito. The work was an ethnographic study that looked at how students learn on the internet. What she found was that there are three factors that drive the interest of the modern student. She believes the "digital native" learns in environments that are: 1- social, 2- explorative, and 3-challenging at a high skill level. I will certainly be considering the way I implement these three matrices in the work I create as an artist and as a teacher. 

CJB: What were some take aways for you?

WT: Technology is changing our world to a participatory experience that gives the audience agency, individual purpose, and the opportunity to curate its own experience. If theater artists and teachers hope to compete with technologically housed methods of entertainment delivery, we will need to find ways of creating work that does the same thing. Much in the way that shows like Catherine Wheels’ Hansel and Gretel, or Erth's DinosaurZoo are asking different questions about “what a theatrical experience looks like,” teachers and artists will have to explore these questions too. 

CJB: What questions came up for you as a result of the conference?

WT: The big question I left the conference with is: How can the cultural organizations and service providers in urban areas combine their efforts to create programs that will be more effective, less costly, and provide arts education to urban students at scale. Nationally, it seems like there are organizations competing for the same resources to implement similar programs, that the teaching artists that are staffed for this work across organizations, also tend to be the same.

Watch videos from this year's conference, featuring panel discussions and keynote speakers, here.

Courtney J. Boddie
Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education/School Engagement, is responsible for the direction and growth of the New Vic Education Partnership program: Education Performances for New York City schools, Classroom Workshops, Teacher Resource guides and professional development. She also supervises the New Vic Teaching Artists. She is a Board member of the NYC Arts-in-Education Roundtable and co-chairs the TA Affairs Committee. She is on the adjunct faculty for the Educational Theatre Graduate Program at New York University, where she also graduated with a Masters in Educational Theatre.

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