City building at Mount View Elementary

I moved to Seattle eight years ago intending to dive fully into the city’s culture. I’ve wandered the halls of 619 Western Ave during art walks and cheered on slam poets late into the night. I’ve learned to effortlessly distribute waste/recycles/compost into each appropriate bin. I make my own kombucha and am pretentious about coffee […]

I moved to Seattle eight years ago intending to dive fully into the city’s culture. I’ve wandered the halls of 619 Western Ave during art walks and cheered on slam poets late into the night. I’ve learned to effortlessly distribute waste/recycles/compost into each appropriate bin. I make my own kombucha and am pretentious about coffee with the best of them. Weather does not deter my outdoor activities and of course I don’t use an umbrella.

I came to Seattle for much more than sipping lattes though.

I came to contribute to and see this city reach its full potential for greatness. At some point along the way, I decided that I wanted to do more than be an artist in my own right; I felt compelled to seek out opportunities for all youth in the city to engage in the arts. Arts had shaped my youth and my life in Seattle, and I wanted to see these opportunities made available to the generations behind me. Thus working with Arts Corps to teach ceramics at Mount View Elementary (within the greater Seattle area) has been such an honor and so fulfilling.

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Today our class wrapped up the City Building project that we spent much of Winter quarter working on. Students had collaborated and used various ceramic techniques to construct businesses, a zoo, a hospital, homes, parks, a soccer field, a transportation systems (and yes, our city had two coffeeshops). They saw the culmination of their hard work as they combined individual pieces into one collective city, choosing where to place each piece of the city and drawing roads connecting each piece to the others. As they stepped back, they saw how their individual contributions added to something so much larger.

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I was really excited about this project because it not only allowed the students to use all the ceramic techniques we had thus far learned, but the project also required the students to dream into and then create a city as they would build it. My hope was that the project would empower the students to think of themselves as significant contributors to their community!… That they are culture shapers!… That anything is possible!

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Today was also my last day as a resident of Seattle. Tomorrow I move to San Francisco to join the Exploratorium’s Extended Learning team, where I’ll continue to create opportunities for people of all ages to engage in curiosity, creativity, and possibility. I’ll surely immerse myself into that city just like I’ve done here, but as I leave, I’m hopeful that something lasting has been planted here in Seattle. More than a few skills in ceramics, my hope is that I’m leaving these students with a greater sense of their potential, both as artists and as contributors to their world.

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With all that Seattle has to offer (and yes, today was sunny and 70), I cannot think of a better way to have spent my last afternoon in this city than investing into these budding artists, moreover, young culture shapers.

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Song Writing and the Creative Process

One of the biggest perks of my job as a teaching artist at Orca is that I can practice being a teacher with the support and resources of several other educators at my side. I get to receive feedback, try new approaches and strategies, and assess how I am doing professionally on a daily basis. […]

One of the biggest perks of my job as a teaching artist at Orca is that I can practice being a teacher with the support and resources of several other educators at my side. I get to receive feedback, try new approaches and strategies, and assess how I am doing professionally on a daily basis.

Each day during first period, this dynamic works in my favor during the song writing class that I co-teach with the AWESOME sixth-grade teachers, Jeff and Tanisha.  In the classroom, I get to work through my own creative and professional process alongside those of my students and colleagues.

Our classroom culture aims to create an open and authentic space to write about what interests you. A typical day in song writing (if there is such a thing) might include any of the following: dance warm ups to Justin Timberlake songs, a get–to-know-you game based on Musical Chairs, a presentation on recording via Garage Band, a game of The Human Knot, a visit from fellow CSI teaching artist and song writing guru, Amy, and sustained time to work on writing lyrics.

While teaching artists consider myriad aspects of creativity and education, for now I want to focus on critique, feedback loops, and assessment because there is an element of each in the others. Critique is essential for any artist to hear new perspectives on their work and have the opportunity to engage in something they hadn’t considered. Feedback loops are the result of critiques. For example, “my classmates said the piece wasn’t relateable, so I will tone down the echo effect that makes my lyrics incomprehensible.” Assessment is trickier to define. Arts Corps’ definition is to “make student learning visible and give young artists reflective time.”  In no way is assessment a grade or judgement of a final product.  It is a chance for students to decide how their skills, understanding, behavior, and attitude have changed over the course of the class or project.  In a nutshell, feedback from others and the willingness to receive and create multiple iterations from that feedback is critical to how they will assess their own learning.

For the most recent project, we decided to try a new method of peer evaluation and feedback: post-its.  Since I am from Minneapolis, I decided it was good to keep my fellow Minnesotans employed by requiring each of our 20 students to give feedback to each of the 10 partner groups, including themselves, on post-its.  (I’ll leave the math to you.) After each song, we took a few minutes to write what we heard that we liked, and how we thought they could improve for the next project. This was the result:

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Suggestions, critique, feedback, and compliments were stuck to each laptop so that we all had the chance to receive feedback. For self assessment, we asked students to write (again on post-its. You’re welcome, 3M.) responses to the prompts, “one thing that was awesome about the way I worked was…” and “one thing I would change about the way I worked was…”  Their thoughtfulness was impressive:  “I helped pick out tracks. I would want to give more ideas.” And, “I tried new things and pushed myself to step out of my comfort zone.  I would change how I worked by pushing myself a little further to sing maybe.”

At a time of transition in my life, my Uncle Dave told me to, “Measure your success in ways that are meaningful to you, not what others might think.”  I have it written on a (virtual) post-it on my laptop screen as reminder to myself of what is important as I experience new identities in various stages of young adulthood. As a rookie artist and educator, evidence of my learning is visible in how I encourage students to be honest and vulnerable, create stories from potentially nebulous ideas, risk putting them on display for peers, and stand tall in their own definitions of success— and to do the same things myself.

-Liz Farmer
AmeriCorps Artist-in-Residence
 
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What place does audio production have in the classroom?

Sound is all around you. It manifests in music and alongside visual media; in espresso machines and drops of coffee filling your mug, in freeway traffic, in dog whistles, shouting bats, and cell phone transmissions – it exists as vibrations in the air even when we believe it to be silent. Upon waking every morning, […]

Sound is all around you. It manifests in music and alongside visual media; in espresso machines and drops of coffee filling your mug, in freeway traffic, in dog whistles, shouting bats, and cell phone transmissions – it exists as vibrations in the air even when we believe it to be silent.

Upon waking every morning, we are bombarded with sensory information but are not often taught how to wield the power of our senses to create new understandings of the world. This is the culture that audio production fosters.

Audio production includes your favorite CDs and vinyl records. It includes video game sound effects and everything you hear in movies. It is at the heart of live concerts and podcasts and broadcasts and the reason you can hear sound coming out of speakers. Audio production is the process of capturing sound and reproducing it back to an audience – or perhaps to document and archive to retrieve in the future.

In my personal process of integrating arts into the classroom at Madrona K-8, I have been striving to give audio production equal weight as an art form and as a tool for students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic in an unconventional way. To demonstrate this, I recorded and edited my own podcast to represent my own understanding of the unit topic: Poverty.

I worked with a fellow AmeriCorps member at Arts Corps to record one of their spoken word pieces that deals with privilege and opportunity, and then included an interview portion where they talked about the meaning and intention behind their piece. Not only did I end up with a great podcast example, but I managed to show multiple levels of art – not just the artistry of the podcast itself being put together, but the art in crafting words to create meaning and the power this has in a recorded medium.

For the poverty unit, my fellow teaching artist and I collaborated on a rubric to include the choice between a visual project, an audio project, or another mixed media project. Many students took to the idea of using audio recorders to perform a rap, song, or commentary that showed their understanding and interpretation of the poverty unit theme.

There is a certain fearlessness that young people possess when it comes to giving them choices. Too often, the school system institutes rote procedures that allow little room for creative exploration and personal expression. One project really struck me as an example of what we may have never learned about two students’ unique expressive ability had we not given them this creative choice in the classroom.

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Audio production teaches young people how they can use their voice as a mechanism to express ideas, how to practice and plan for the moment of recording, and eventually transcend the fleetingness of time by contributing their voice to recorded history.

In the end, it can just be a playful process where students have a means to demonstrate their understanding of a topic in an unconventional way that now has a chance to be shared and celebrated.

 
-AMY
AmeriCorps Artist-in-Residence

 

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Can you hear them?

Arts Corps’ teaching artist Vicky Edmonds uses the art and practice of writing to bring the deepest and most authentic parts of ourselves to the page and to the world. Recently, she shared a piece of poetry with us, and we would like to share it with you. During our staff retreat last year, we asked staff […]

Arts Corps’ teaching artist Vicky Edmonds uses the art and practice of writing to bring the deepest and most authentic parts of ourselves to the page and to the world. Recently, she shared a piece of poetry with us, and we would like to share it with you.

During our staff retreat last year, we asked staff members to reflect on why they do this work, and what it means to them. We then asked them to write a poem that explains their love for it. This poem was her response.

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To read more poetry by Vicky, visit her website here.

 

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What’s Beyond Free Pizza?: Mentorship, Adultism and Building Equitable Intergenerational Movements

From Denver to Seattle, to whatever city Brave New Voices finds its annual home, I’ve always loved being one voice in a chorus of youth shouting, “Youth right now are the truth right now!” This short chant, cheered at nearly every Youth Speaks Seattle open mic and slam, still rings electric in my throat when […]

From Denver to Seattle, to whatever city Brave New Voices finds its annual home, I’ve always loved being one voice in a chorus of youth shouting, “Youth right now are the truth right now!” This short chant, cheered at nearly every Youth Speaks Seattle open mic and slam, still rings electric in my throat when I yell it. To honor the expansiveness and power of youth art and movement might mean allowing “the next generation to speak for itself”. As someone who gets to witness visionary art and organizing from the YSS Spokes on a regular basis, this possibility feels… possible (fancy that). Even more, it feels creative, productive and revolutionary.

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Arts Corps + Youth Speaks Spokes celebrating their graduation from the Arts Liberation and Leadership Institute (ALLI)

 

Yet, for many [adult-run] community organizations and spaces, adults struggle to envision how youth can take part in conversations about programs and services, even if they are the intended audience. Often, this is a result of ‘adultism’ (and how it interacts with racism, classism, ableism, sexism, homophobia and more), a term meaning the “prejudice and accompanying systematic discrimination against young people”. In an adult-defined world, youth don’t get much say in the systems they are forced to navigate, sometimes without support. Activist and youth worker Paul Kivel offers a more in-depth article about how adultism can play out: http://www.paulkivel.com/resources/articles/23-article/83-adultism

I’ve heard fellow youth organizers joke about how adults always say “Free Pizza!” as a way to entice youth to show up to programs that adults planned for them. While free pizza is definitely a legit reason to attend an event (this is not a request to stop offering free food – lets keep feeding youth), but why is that a main strategy for adults to engage youth? What would free pizza look like if we added youth collaboration and leadership to the menu?

I’m excited to live in a city where visionary youth-driven/led organizing has thrived. It’s been a tremendous learning experience to watch youth and adults negotiate how genuine youth leadership can take shape, beyond tokenization or lip service. From Seattle Young People’s Project and Queer Youth Space to YSS itself, there are some radical role models in town to push forward the conversation of youth-centric movements & orgs. (And of course, badass youth-driven orgs extend beyond Seattle, check out Fierce and Youth Speaks National, just to name a few…)

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Ken Arkind, organizer and mentor for Denver Minor Disturbance

Coming up in the Denver Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Slam, being a youth poet part of a larger youth movement was strengthened by amazing adult allies. Though I wasn’t using terms like ‘adultism’ and ‘ally’, I knew that my fierce mentors helped transform my agency and poetry by dedicating endless time and energy investing in youth poets. Slams were all ages and warmly intergenerational, with many bonds formed between youth and adults artists. Surely, many audience members thought, “Oh, those youth poets are so adorably angry!”, assuming our passion wasn’t to be taken seriously, seen as simply something we’d outgrow. But among the adult poets, we were given the chance to spit, share awe and even beat the grown ups. At the end of the day, the amount of magic that I felt my mentors possessed kept me coming back to them with trust and inspiration. They were the experts, the teachers, the wise elders that pushed me to find my own voice on the mic. Now, I see that they did not “have all the answers” but rather they asked me the right questions.

Now, as I begin to age out of my youth identity, I start to find myself on that other side of mentorship. What does it mean for me to grow into the role of a mentor? An adult ally to young folks? How can our communities be intergenerational and maintain a keen analysis of adultism and its intersecting oppressions? What does “youth-led” mean in practice? And where do adults and mentors fit in, with all of our varied experiences and identities? As a young person, I saw first hand exactly how transformative mentorship could be to young artists and activists. Accountable and intentional mentorship creates space for youth to work through thought processes, refine skills and gain support from adults. How do we bridge the gaps between youth leadership and adult support in sustainable, critical and genuine ways?

If you’ve got answers, half-answers, brainstorms, pushback, questions or resources, please drop me a line to continue the conversation, at shelby.handler@artscorps.org

 

Further Resources:

 

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Meet Teaching Artist Mylen Huggins!

Teaching Artists and Classroom Assistants are invaluable members of the Arts Corps community. They contribute their time, energy and creative minds in so many different ways. Without them we would be lost. Each month, we will feature a Teaching Artist or Classroom Assistant from the Arts Corps community, and invite them to share their experiences, […]

Teaching Artists and Classroom Assistants are invaluable members of the Arts Corps community. They contribute their time, energy and creative minds in so many different ways. Without them we would be lost. Each month, we will feature a Teaching Artist or Classroom Assistant from the Arts Corps community, and invite them to share their experiences, sources of inspiration, and thoughts on social justice. Do you have a pad of paper available? Because you’ll want to take notes!

 

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Meet Teaching Artist Mylen Huggins! Mylen Huggins believes that the arts are an essential part of becoming an educated person. She’s a visual artist, an arts advocate, coordinator, collaborator, facilitator, volunteer; her passion to bring more arts into schools resulted in the development of a thriving arts program at a neighborhood Seattle Public School that began in 2009. She’s been teaching visual arts to young learners since her earliest days at Seattle Children’s Museum in 1996. Since then, Mylen has facilitated various art-making workshops and classes from preschool cooperatives, to after-school programs, art camps and currently at elementary schools. Mylen has exhibited paintings in different venues around Seattle. As an artist, she is greatly inspired by and thrives on the super-art powers and creativity that comes from her collaborative work with students.

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What inspired you to become a Teaching Artist? Actually, teaching found me. When my sons were in cooperative preschool, I always volunteered to organize the art activities – making props, creating masks, painting, sculpture, construction, whatever visual sensory activity and tactile projects the teacher needed help with. The best part of the whole experience was being a part of the wonderment and awe that children expressed when they discovered that they have just created art with their own two hands, conceived from their very own self, always blew me away. Or when I helped them realize something has always been there, like the color of shadows, or that objects when looked at from a certain light has a shady side or when they realize that writing their name is a form of drawing, and that all along, they have super artistic powers…it is so inspiring to be a part of that discovery and that building of confidence is for lack of a better expression, AMAZING!

What project(s) are you working on with youth right now? At Southern Heights Elementary School, a K-5 school without art instruction for the past 4 years, I worked with the teachers and principal to develop a curriculum that introduces and explores the fundamental language of visual art. The students learned that there’s not a day without line; that texture is the smoothness of their skin to the rough feel of the rug they sit on for story time, that green can be made by mixing blue and yellow, etc.  Southern Heights students are courageous, they are trying new things, they realize that imagination and creativity is always a part of them.

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In addition to Southern Heights, I am also working with a group of Kindergarten and 1st grade students at Madrona Elementary School. I designed a curriculum around books that are fun, visually engaging, familiar perhaps and hoping that it would generate a visual narrative as a collage, a line drawing, a textured painting, or as a portrait. One of the first books I read to the students was Swimmy by Leo Leoni and then we used stamping inks and markers to create thumbprint fish. One student created three-dimensional eels by accordion folding paper and drawing in eyes, others combined stamping ink and markers to create their fish.  My initial plan was to have the kids glue all their fish into the shape of another big fish, just like the story, but before I made the suggestion, the eel designer exclaimed, “We should make a school of fish!!”  Brilliant, I thought. I ripped a huge sheet of blue paper, laid it out on the floor and handed out scissors and glue sticks and there on the floor was a school of kids creating a school of fish. Collaboration in action!

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What do you feel is most important about the mission and work of Arts Corps? I’ve been an independent teaching artist since 2009, a volunteer art docent since 2003 and advocate for the arts for as long as I can remember. I am a passionate supporter of bringing more art into public schools – a belief that I share with Arts Corps. I am so honored to be a teaching artists for Arts Corps because I am fulfilling what I feel is my civic duty of bringing quality, high art education to school children, especially those who are underserved.

How do you incorporate social justice into your teaching?  Each student contributes to a community agreement that every one has to abide by in order to create a safe, supportive and collaborative environment. At the end of each lesson or session, we take the time to reflect on individual work or group work and provide encouraging and supportive words to make each person feel confident and successful about their work and themselves. I also make sure that the classroom teacher is included in our discussion and activities, the experience that occurs during art lessons is not just for the students, but also for the classroom teachers.

 

To view some of Mylen’s personal artwork, visit her website.

 

*Photographs by Mylen Huggins.

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