“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language.
That is how civilizations heal.” – Toni Morrison
These opening words were spoken by moderator Tamara Anderson, actor, singer, writer, and director with twenty-four years of experience as an educator, at A Day of Purpose: Decolonizing Arts Education, and event in collaboration with Black Lives Matter at School, Teaching Artists Guild (TAG), Zinn Education Project, and Creative Generation. This reinforced the ideology that artists aid our understanding of how to be human. The pieces that make us think, or cry, come from those who truly understand the human condition. This underscores the value of arts education as a way to dissect complex issues; a way to understand multiple perspectives.
As artists mark the times from their creative outputs, they were hard at work recording history at the start of the 2020 syndromic, a time of multiple crises. Ignited with the COVID-19 outbreak, and shortly followed racial injustice by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, these two monumental events were unavoidable as the world was forced to digest tragedies that catalyzed a state of reckoning.
Letters of solidarity quickly flooded our feeds through honest intentions and, for some, optics.
3 years later we still wait for reparations, from both parties.
Brene Brown said it best, “what I’m invested in is threatened if you’re telling the truth,” and individuals have resorted to fear-based behavior because “…the specifics of [belonging] lead to the uncomfortable truth that [oppression] is the foundational infrastructure of American capitalism. It’s hard for these individuals (Rich White Christian Hetrosexual Cis-Gendered Males) to be too specific about combating [oppression] because the underbelly of their investments is the reality that the extractive economy is predicated on social hierarchy.” The bans on Critical Race Theory (CRT), recent anti-trans policies, and other injustices have the power to affect the humanity of both present and future generations (i.e. Reagan’s Trickle Down Economics), which is why doing the work now rather than later is critical.
What is the role of a teaching artist in enriching and protecting the lives of young people?
How can we have critical conversations when there are risks?
It might all be about decolonizing the mind.
Deborah Menkart, event panelist from The Zinn Education Project, mentioned that, “young people are not born with these ideas, systems of oppression are taught and reinforced with law.” We have all been taught that the status quo has worked for everyone (i.e. The American Dream), therefore, our society has rejected those who do not fit into dominant narratives; those who crave to see their culture mirrored back at them, meaningfully.
Luckily, there exist individuals who are compelled to achieve holistic representation because they too did not see themselves at the table and learned, as Tamera references, “that without mirrors [one] cannot affirm the classroom, push back on things that do not feel right, and empower relationship building.” Yet, this requires power, whether inner power or in collaboration, which often is not bestowed upon the oppressed. For instance, when we think about arts integration, schools usually cultivate relationships between non-arts educators and teaching artists, but what if these two groups had the autonomy and resources to craft their own relationships? Artists could be appreciated for their cultural relevance and non-arts educators wouldn’t form negative relationships around the arts due to capacity constraints.
A shift towards collective power, where all people are leveraged.
NEVER Stop Learning
From Tamara’s perspective, everyone walked away with a new tribe to build on and call to. As social creatures, we seek community where we can listen, share, receive and collaborate. Attendance—by nearly 100 teaching artists and advocates—demonstrated the importance of this connection as participants made the time to engage even while juggling their own balancing acts.
Overall, as Bailey Clemmons, teaching artist from North Carolina and TAG National Advisory Committee member, summarizes, “It is important for us as teaching artists to understand strategies to continue this pathway of decolonizing arts education with BLM at School. We have to recognize the reality of our social location, not just race, but culture. Walking down the street in New York is different than in Nebraska. No matter where we are, we can build a community within that space, making the space welcoming for all. From engaging in cross collaboration to understanding the norms of our upbringings, we ourselves have to continue to be consumers of art. It is imperative that we peel back the layers, come at it from a different lens, advocating within school districts and leveraging student voice.”
Humans need to heal and people are hurting from wounds, so why don’t we feel the magical moments of moving through tough and raw times, together.
Whatever happens, teaching artists are not giving up.