Shoulder to Shoulder

By Heleya de Barros
ITAC 6, Oslo, Norway

We ended our time together, standing on top of chairs, dancing like chickens. As only an international gathering of teaching artists and community arts practitioners could…

I had the great fortune of attending the 6th International Teaching Artist Conference: Art as a Catalyst for Change this month in Oslo Norway, hosted by the Norwegian ITAC Hub, Seanse Center, in partnership with the International Teaching Artists Collaborative (ITAC). I previously attended three ITAC conferences and it feels fitting to round out my time as Co-Executive Director at TAG with this one. My first ITAC experience in 2018 was at ITAC 4 in New York City just days after beginning my job as Executive Director of the Association of Teaching Artists. It was at ITAC 4 that I met then Executive Director of TAG, Jean Johnstone, in person for the first time and the seeds of our eventual merger of TAG and ATA were planted (read more about our 2020 merger here). And it was at ITAC 4 that the ITAC Collaborative was launched and TAG’s eventual work collaborating with Lincoln Center Education and now the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to become the US ITAC Hub (read more about the ITAC Hubs here) also began. 

Heleya being silly in a vocal warm-up in a theatre workshop led by International Girls Ensemble [Photo credit Seanse Art Center]

At ITAC 6, one of the closing days’ performance was an incredible moment of connection curated by the Korean ITAC Hub: The Embodied Catalyst; Dancing with/of/about/on/within/for you. This multimedia dance performance explored how movement and dance can be catalysts for connecting people, and it ended with a physical embodiment of teaching artists connecting, shoulder to shoulder, with each other. Five dance teaching artists from KACES (Korean Arts & Cultural Education Services) performed in conversation with a video documentary that interviewed 13 KACES other dance teaching artists about their work. Performers appeared throughout the conference hall speaking the words from the documentary and expanded upon gestures from the interviews into a nearly 20 minute, high energy movement exploration. The last question from the video was: What does it mean to have colleagues? 


“Hmmm… tough question. How could I put it? Maybe, standing side by side, like this, and looking in the same direction.” 

Teaching Artists Marika Crête-Reizes and Marco Pronovost from Montreal, Canada explaining their environmental art card game to participants. [Photo credit Seanse Art Center]

The crowd then naturally got up and stood together, shoulder to shoulder, side by side, looking in the same direction. It was a powerful moment not just because it has been more than two years since gathering in person and standing shoulder to shoulder has been safe, but because of the power of feeling, seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling our teaching artist colleagues from 36 countries together—knowing we’re not alone on this path. 

[Watch the full video of the dance performance and aftermath starting at minute 15 here on Day 3 Video]

Over the three-day gathering, I connected with colleagues during an outdoor, exploratory arts card game developed by teaching artists from Montreal. My group of four spent 90 minutes finding art and creating in our natural environment. We created a group music piece using singing bowls to accompany a master flautist from Massachusetts. We explored the theatre of the oppressed techniques used by Israeli teaching artists on the Israel/Pakistan border with both countries. We drummed on handmade indigenous drums and sang songs with a first nations knowledge keeper and storyteller. We took a field trip to the Kloden youth theatre on the outskirts of Oslo. And so so so so much more.

Knowledge Keeper Chantal Chagnon from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Saskatchewan leading a drumming workshop. [Photo credit Seanse Art Center]

I knew the power of art and teaching artistry and its ability to move, connect, and foment change before traveling to Norway, of course. But that wasn’t really the point, was it? Knowing that art can be a catalyst for change and feeling and seeing a room full of community artists standing shoulder to shoulder with one another is what we take away from an experience like ITAC. It’s why I travel to schools to get youth out of their desks, up on their feet, and into their bodies to experience theatre off the page. Art is experiential. And community building is as well. 

That’s why I joined the Association of Teaching Artists and TAG. To continue to build community with teaching artists. To build that line of us standing shoulder to shoulder longer. I’m incredibly proud of the work we have done with ITAC and the US Hub, including expanding the TAG Asset Map to reach a global audience. Just three years ago, there were hardly any dots on this map, and we continue to build forward together. While I’m moving back from a leadership role at TAG to make way for the next leaders, I know they are standing alongside me and the line will continue to grow longer, stronger, and deeper. 

Heleya with TAG National Advisory Committee member Sumayya E. Diop and Arts Corps teaching artist Maria Luisa Guillen Valdovinos at ITAC 6. [photo credit Heleya de Barros]



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