Artist and Educator Interview

The following is an interview I held with a role model of mine (Vivian Poey). I held this interview for many reasons, all surrounding my work, how it's developing and where it might take me. 

1. As an artist, how would you define your visual work? What are the literacies i in your work? who is your intended audience?
It is difficult to define my work in a short specific statement at this time as I am moving in multiple directions and away from traditional ways of thinking about art. I suppose I am increasingly seeing it as a process of investigation, documentation and interpretation of ideas and life issues. It allows me to see in new ways and transform what I see. Perhaps if I can move the website forward it can also be a strategy to connect to others and create visual conversations.

2. As an educator, how do you define your work? How important is an "arts based curriculum" in your teaching? What benifits do you find from teaching this way?
In a large scale general sense I see my role as an educator to be supporting students to find ways to learn through inquiry and to develop intellectual curiosity along with an understanding of good sources of information, an open mind and solid ways to apply knowledge in both practical and conceptual ways. I hope students find a sense of wonder in thinking in new ways about the enormity of potential learning for themselves and for their students (if they are or become teachers in any context). I think teaching for me is also ultimately about developing a sense of ethical, responsible and well informed agency.

3. I know that today, you are a professor at Lesley University. Can you please briefly describe any other teaching experience you may have had up until this point.
My earliest formal teaching experience was in high school when I volunteered at a daycare. I worked as an assistant with small children and this allowed me for the first time to get a glimpse of how little kid’s big minds and limited access to and knowledge of information shapes their perceptions. I really did not do any more formal teaching until I was working on my MFA at RISD and I received an assistantship to co-teach an intermediate photography course for non photo majors. This was a great experience. I co-taught with one of my peers and together we put together a course that engaged students in defining a topic/direction for their work and develop a cohesive portfolio of images. Our students were other RISD students in Architecture and other majors as well as a few Brown University students in Education, Anthropology and Semiotics. It was an interesting group and they did fantastic work. I recently saw one of those architecture students at a Lesley open house looking into Art Therapy graduate degrees. It was great seeing her and she mentioned she still has the portfolio of the work she made in our class. I had never thought of this but I guess maybe that experience preceded my current courses functioning as an inquiry into a topic (though the focus is very different and the work collaborative). Part of the collaborative piece is getting teachers who are not necessarily comfortable with the arts to share the wealth, the burden and the anxiety, to make it safer to take risks. It seems to work but I am never sure.
After RISD I was hired at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild where I worked as a Photography mentor in the after school program which brought students from every single public school in the area and a handful of private school and home schooled kids. In this position  I also worked as an artist in residence in 3 Pittsburgh Public High Schools. This work was so great because I got to work with both small groups developing particular projects and individually with kids as they developed their own work and their own ways of seeing. After a couple of years I moved to Washington D.C. To teach at the Children’s Studio School (a public charter school for the Arts and Architecture). I began my work in the school in its first year of operation as a charter school. They had been approved, found a building to rent space in (the third floor of a public middle school) and hired 5 artists/teachers to develop the curriculum and teach young children (starting at 3-5 years old the first year and growing yearly) everything through the arts. There were 2 visual artists, an architect and two poets).  This work was the most difficult and most incredible work I have had the opportunity to do. Our work began in quite literally putting the school together: recruiting students, painting furniture, moving it to the third floor of the building, designing the curriculum framework (based on DC standards of what students needed to know by 3rd grade) and devising assessment tools with the support of an educational consultant from George Washington University. I was the artist teacher in the Ocean Studio with 12 kids ranging from 2.9- 5 years old. I devised long term projects that would get us all investigating big questions through visual art. I included story telling and did plenty of science experiments and observational work, my kids interviewed people in their lives and collected stories from them about themselves and their ancestors. It required an enormous learning curve for me in content and pedagogy and most of all in how to create this learning community in my class. The kids came from urban D.C. And were mostly African American, Ethiopian and Latinos and brought a wealth of stories, languages, and ideas into the classroom. It was beautiful and difficult to imagine where they would end up considering the school system in D.C.  I went back to school thinking that I should go into public policy to improve conditions on a more large scale basis. I did an M.Ed. In Art and Education with a concentration in Administration, Planning and Social Policy...and decided to go back to teaching instead. My next stop was Lesley where I started teaching Art and Visual Inquiry (Materials of Art at that time) and eventually expanded to teach both the Art Culture and Community course as well as to work on reworking and running the Art Education program and teaching a few courses in that program.

My biggest challenge right now is working with teachers in schools in workshop settings. I feel unsuccessful and uninspired by the small scale format that does not allow them to get past their pre-conceptions about art and content and do work of any significance.

4. As an artist in residence, who were your students? what projects did you work on with your students? Describe your role as the artist in residence. What did you feel your responsibility was to your school? What were your relationships like with the other teachers at the school? Did you work with them on your art based curriculum?
As an artist in residence I worked in 3 public schools: Brashear, Carrick and Perry high schools in Pittsburgh. My students were urban students, mostly African American and white kids with a high proportion of free and reduced lunch. The kids were mostly really great. The security guards were mostly mean and the teachers I worked with ranged from fine to very problematic both on content knowledge and on pedagogical terms. On my first day introduced to one of the schools there was a lock down because of a rival gang coming in the school and starting a fight. Luckily that was the worst I experienced.

Interestingly I worked with art teachers rather than teachers in other subjects. Mostly the art teachers would give me a group of kids (usually the most disruptive but sometimes the most ‘advanced’) and I would pull them out and develop photo projects with them. In one school I worked with a ceramics teacher that I am quite certain drank (when you have had some issues in your family you learn to recognize them elsewhere) and with a photography and graphic design teacher who not only had questionable character (he was kind of a bully and smoked in the darkroom so it stunk all the time) but also had no idea about photography. His written instructions in the photo lab where downright wrong. He gave me a group of his ‘best’ students (all boys) who had been taught everything wrong, their prints were purple and brown instead of black and white yet they insisted that what I was teaching them was wrong because he taught them differently. Of course the way to print clean photographs also requires more discipline in testing, timing and washing prints. It was the most difficult group to work with because they were so blindly committed to him and his process. Finally I let one kid go, I told them if they were not interested in working with me they did not have to. The rest stayed and we had a great time. They were in the football team and the only group of kids in that school that I saw had friends of different races. I could see that playing in the team had bonded them in ways that the general school population did not bond.

Another school had a teacher that also had wrong directions and she would not even let me in the darkroom (a previous artist had told the kids that her directions were wrong) I had to build a relationship with her and make suggestions in roundabout ways until she let me work with the kids...wasted so much time trying to get through the teacher....then I had to keep telling the kids that ‘there are many ways of doing something’ so they would try running test strips and following ‘my way’. Eventually many kids realized this worked and began not only to make work but also to come after school to the Guild on a regular basis. Some of them did incredible work.

One of the teachers I worked with (ironically the only one who actually understood photography) started by giving me some ‘difficult’ students, then her most advanced students and eventually to ask for my advise in devising projects. She often followed through on my advise and she was probably the best teacher I worked with in Pittsburgh (though she was very restrictive about what kids could do work about, no blue or red, gang colors, no hand images, potential gang signs, etc.). During lunch with all the art teachers complained about the gay students who were upset that they were not protected by teachers from bullying. They discussed how depraved the gay lifestyle was and it was clear they shared the attitudes of the bullies about gays and thought it was ok for them to have stuff written on their lockers and taunted. This was difficult for me. I was the youngest (so much so that students often thought I was a new kid) and was difficult to get any credibility with the older seasoned teachers (except for the one I worked directly with).

5. Did you ever meet with your students parents? How did they appreciate their children's art education?
Yes, I met parents both in the after school program at the guild and at the opening receptions for the accomplishment show which included work from all Pittsburgh Public Schools. The parents I met fully appreciated our work as they were the parents that were committed enough to come and visit and celebrate the artistic accomplishments of their kids. In my position as an artist in residence at the school I never met any parents.

At the studio school parents placed their children there for multiple reasons (not always interest in the arts). For example. Many of the Ethiopians were there because they felt that other schools did not value their culture and they were tired of having the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and other Christian holidays imposed on their kids. One family brought all the rest. They were a tight community and very involved in their studenst education. Others thought it was convenient (down the street), but mostly they really appreciated the work we did and always spoke well of the school and teachers. Some parents who were public school teachers themselves talked about how their kids learned more in one month at the Studio School than most kids learn in a full semester in the traditional public school. This made me sad. They valued the arts mostly because they could see their kids grow, but I am not sure they came in valuing the arts themselves. Often parents (generally the most educated) wanted to have one on one conversations about how this work helped their kids academically and often moms were convinced and fathers needed more background and sharing. We held required workshops for parents so they could understand the process. So even in a school dedicated to the arts that parents chose to enroll their children in, many were skeptic of the soundness of an arts based education.

6. What is your mission as an educator? If your students were to walk away with one lesson, what would you want that to be?
To provide whatever tools students need to have the widest range of personal and professional opportunities, including those they know they want to pursue as well some that they may not have considered. This requires that they have both basic skills and that they be critical and creative thinkers and learners who recognize that they have agency to make their own decisions.

7. What are some struggles you have encountered in your field? Have you ever found it difficult to find work as an artist/educator?
I have never had difficulty finding interesting and rewarding work but I have never made much $$. I have always been willing to move for interesting work which has been both great but also a struggle in getting to make a new community every time and stay in touch with loved ones left behind.  (though I must admit am not so willing anymore)

8. Sometimes I worry that my career might lead me to strictly "free lace" type of work, working as an artist in residence for schools, and by working in poorly funded arts organizations. What are some words of advice you would give to an upcoming art educator. Do good work, work hard and take risks that allow you to grow. The advantage of non-profits (specially when you are young) is that while they pay badly and work you hard, they tend to provide opportunities for learning that established big organizations are unlikely to provide. You can often take on work that feels beyond your edge of expertise and if you are a fast learner and a hard worker, do your research and tap your resources you can prepare to do work that you may not have envisioned.

Think of this time as an investment, travel and let the work take you where it may.

Be creative, opportunities come where you least expect them. Go to arts and community events, when you are part of a community you meet people who are connected to others in the arts community.

9. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Will you still be involved in the Arts?
I will still be involved with the arts and I will still be involved with education. I would like to learn more and move slowly toward new expertise in TESOL and bilingual education. I would like to work to infuse that field with the arts. I may be here or I may be in a school setting with kids. Likely not in administration but rather working with teachers, students or families.  Who knows?

I used to think I may move away from the arts (thinking that perhaps they are not seriously connected enough to people’s lives and to things that matter) but every time I doubt, I realize that they are integral in my life. Also through my students and some of the courses I teach I often am reminded of the enormous potential the arts carry. But I think I will always need to connect them to other areas of life.

The attached file is my personal reflection of my interview with Vivian. 

Community_based_interview.doc Community_based_interview.doc
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Type : doc
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