CAPSA English

Teaching Artist (2015)

The Community Arts Partnership (CAP) is a co-curricular program that reaches out to the Los Angeles County. This award-winning program is celebrating its 25th anniversary of growing an artistic community. Over a thousand students benefit from CAP’s free classes in Animation, Filmmaking, Digital Media, Music, Photography, Theatre and Dance. CAP is in charge of linking CalArts faculty, students and alumni to over 30 partners that include public schools, community centers and social service agencies. They offer classes in after-school programs and school-based arts programs for youth ages 6-18. Last summer, I was part of the Residency for Teaching Artists that CAP inaugurated. The program consisted on academic classes followed by a three-week practicum at the CAP Summer Arts Program taking place at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts.

Over a hundred students were enrolled and engaged in the process of creating original work. The Teaching Artist Residency provided an integral experience; it was an intense and immersive course followed by direct exposure to teaching experience.

The dance department at the CAP Summer Arts Program was lead by faculty member Francesca Penzani and assisted by CalArts students Caitlin Adams, Whitney Jackson and myself. We had 35 students who had different dance background and three weeks to make a piece for the final show. Francesca had a student-based approach that encouraged them to make personal connections to the material and contribute to the overall piece. She guided them through a somatic process to develop movement for a solo. Also, she fostered a supportive and safe environment where the students could express themselves with confidence. Francesca is a great example of a Teaching Artist and served as a model and mentor throughout the practicum.

One of the best experiences from the practicum was the collaboration between departments to create a piece for the final show. Francesca was an advocate for interdisciplinary collaboration and arranged time to work with the music department. She gave me the opportunity to plan and teach an interdisciplinary lesson for dancers and musicians. I was thrilled to introduce the students to an interdisciplinary mode of composition. I followed Francesca’s student-based approach to guide the class through a collaborative process with their peers. They learned simple compositional structures and they were working as a team for a common goal. These academic and social-emotional outcomes enriched the experience of the students.

Lauren was one of the students that benefitted from this Summer Arts Program. She had been a problematic student in the past years when she was in enrolled in music and theater. This year she decided to try dance and we were warned about her attitude. At first she was shy and not willing to share when asked. After the first day, her disposition changed and was more engaged and active in class. She felt comfortable in a dance class where she was encouraged to express creatively and felt supported by her teachers and peers. It was very fulfilling to witness the development of a student and the benefits that an artistic practice can bring to teenagers.

Similarly to Lauren’s experience, other students in the L.A. area benefit from the free art classes offered by CAP. With this aim, the Residency for Teaching Artists prepares CalArts students to share their skills, knowledge and creative process. A teaching artist is not necessarily certified or trained as such, however this program gave us a broader context for a teaching practice. Teaching Artists often work or collaborate in a public education setting. During the residency, we learned the language of the National Core Art Standards, which are guidelines for teachers in structuring and planning content that is age appropriate. On the other hand, we discussed alternative education settings that rely on cooperative inquiry and how the arts provide a model for high-engagement learning within a community. In either public or independent education systems, my practice as an artist has value. Art and learning are at their core very similar; it is about making personal relevant connections between a new subject and yourself. I believe that is why CAP is a successful program; Teaching Artists act as facilitators of creative environments for an entire community as well as for individuals.

The summer that I spend studying and working for CAP enhanced my experience at CalArts and gave direction to my teaching career. I am in the fourth year of my undergraduate degree in Dance and have always regarded “teaching” essential to my artistic practice. I decided to apply for the Teaching Artist residency because I thought it would be beneficial to improve my teaching skills before I graduated. However, the outcome exceeded my expectations and now I have a broader panorama for my teaching practice. More importantly, it bridged my interest in choreography with my passion for education. I can stay grounded in authentic artistic practice and use those skills to guide learning in many settings.  The academic classes from the residency complemented my dance studies and further developed my artistic practice. Moreover, it was very rewarding to teach at the CAP Summer Program where I was given the opportunity to try my lesson plans and be mentored and guided by outstanding faculty. CAP is a wonderful link for CalArts students to engage with and to help grow the artistic community in the city. I’m very proud for being part of the CAP Program and help foster the creative and social development of the children and teenagers of Los Angeles