Archive for November, 2011
I remember reading about Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in the New York Times one Sunday. (The Times has great arts coverage on Sundays.) So it was a no-brainer that I would plan to see him on the recent Arts Wisconsin panel held at the beautiful Goodman Community Center in Madison.
Hoping to walk away inspired… well… um… it didn’t happen. And I cannot really put my finger on why. It seems that I was more impressed with a guest on the panel, Chris Walker. Walker is a part of the dance department at UW-Madison. What’s so intriguing, is that he is the artistic director of the first ever First Wave Spoken Word and Urban Arts Learning Community. Students can major in a program that includes spoken word, hip-hop culture, etc. It was important that he reminded the audience that hip-hop culture is not a white thing, or a black thing, or a Latino thing, but rather an aspect of today’s youth that we need to be open to. Having personally taught in three of the largest public school districts, this opportunity with the First Wave program, truly speaks to my former students.
This leads me to a much more powerful experience from the week than the panel. It was my visit to The Alliance School right here in Milwaukee. A few parts of that visit stick out in my mind.
One, is the Alliance teacher, Heather Sattler. I knew from her Sunday voicemails and e-mails while planning the first meeting with her students that this was a dedicated educator. Upon being in her classroom, it was crystal clear that Heather (as her students address her) is a gentle, patient, genuine soul.
She allows the students to be themselves while encouraging creativity in numerous ways. One of these is listed in the “Creative Communication Community Agreements.” The list of agreements does not include the word ‘no.’ Instead, it uses the word ‘we’ throughout.
Listed is the following: Listen to music with ear buds when we are doing individual work. Some teachers, parents, and administrators might disagree with that classroom procedure. I applaud it. For one reason, music inspires artists to create. By listening to music, the students may be able to focus. And this is a reminder, that there are children who need to move to think. As kinesthetic learners, sometimes these students are seen as challenging to teachers. But developmentally, young people need to move. So it is an automatic cringe when I hear about classes who have no physical education, no dance, but tons of testing and direct instruction.
Another moment that was memorable was during the introductions. Each individual (students and many adults in the room; I will get to that in a moment) was asked to share his/her name, age, and something unique about themselves. One student adored drawing, another girl shared that she liked football and sports, and then there was a spunky young man (in a baseball cap and bowtie; he had style) who answered with, “I am special.” Now, these are middle school students. I am quick to believe that the unexpected (and simple, yet moving) comment was due to Heather’s inspiration, the school’s focus to help often bullied students, or both.
What made the gathering unique was that sprinkled throughout the circle of students were adults coming together for an innovative arts project. Thanks to A.W.E. artists and Mary Osmundsen, (and thank you, a.r.t.-ists, for attending our spring events to support this project), the collaboration is an example of how art organizations can truly come together to provide artistic and academic programming. The students will soon begin their journey using film, the six-word memoir, and music. The classroom was silent as the students were shown examples from SMITHTeens online.
If money was not an issue and budget cuts were a thing of the past, the ideal situation would be to have full-time arts specialists in our schools. But unfortunately, that is not the sign of the times. As a result, we must be creative and think outside-of-the-box in order to give our young scholars opportunities to express themselves, be creative, and learn through the arts. This leads me back to the Madison panel.
Former Lt. governor and local arts advocate, Barbara Lawton, expressed the importance of arts education for risk taking and imagination. She shared the necessity that “boldness breathes boldness.” It is already clear that even though it is only the beginning of the Alliance project, these young scholars and artists will be bold… and brave… and learning through the arts will magically exist in Heather’s supportive environment. Alliance artists, we look forward to sharing your creative process and final projects with our a.r.t. community. We applaud you, and we support you. Be bold.
Dance and love,
Christina M. Ratatori, a.r.t. founding director
For more information on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s First Wave program, go to:
For more information on A.W.E. (Artists Working in Education), go to: