Studio to School

It’s not the end, it’s the priciple of the thing.

Reflection #15

What went particularly well this year? Why? Were you able to make progress regarding the principles you selected? If so, how would you describe that progress? If not, what got in the way?

Principle: Understand and respond to evolving community contexts, including histories, strengths, and needs.   

Our team reached consensus that we were beginning the year in the “Embedding” stage.  This still seems to be the accurate designation for the first half of our year. Our team is making strides toward thriving and I believe we will arrive there late this year.  A group of our current teaching artists, some past arts educators, and guest artists have received a grant from the MAP Fund and will create a performance project that studies the history of the Boom and Bust economy in the Illinois Valley.  We will create the performance by interviewing a broad strata of Valley residents about their experience and history here, thus learning more about our unique culture and creating deeper connections within our community.  (Arts educators have a rich, nuanced, and evolving understanding of community context, built through authentic interaction and experiences.)

In parallel, beginning in June, RiverStars students and families are invited on field trips to explore our “backyard” at the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.  During these trips, students will learn about local geography, biology, and history. They will also spend contemplative time in nature creating the artistic framework for our Spring Show.  Because the material is coming from our participants, we are showcasing their different perspectives and integrating them into our product. (Students’, families’, and local tribes’ knowledge and perspectives are respected, valued, and integrated in ways that benefit students’ arts education; Arts education programming broadens, enriches and expands the knowledge and interests of students and the school community, while remaining appropriately flexible to meet evolving needs; Arts programming is visibly responsive to student needs and interests. Students feel empowered and have deeper, more meaningful relationships to art and with others; Everyone engaged in planning and implementing arts education feels included and respected.)

Principle: Build appreciation and support for arts education in schools and communities.

Our team did have different opinions about where our program fit into the rubric.  Wherever we started, I believe we have grown in some areas. Around engaging families and community, we began in the Deepening section and are heading toward Embedding.  We are finding new ways to engage our families in performances, field trips, and program development. This year, we produced our regular main stage shows and some additional small scale performances and flashmobs.  This summer, families are invited to participate in our field trips and join us in dance classes. Finally, many families are interested in participating in ways that will help sustain our program. Some families have stepped up to volunteer during our shows.  Others are engaging in fundraising efforts by planning events, giving, or asking. It is our goal next year that every student has at least one family member that participates in our program in a way that suits them. (There are targeted, proactive, culturally responsive ways for families and other community members to participate in arts education; A diverse group of community champions work in concert to advocate for arts education.)  In order to round out and arrive fully in the embedding category, we will continue to do some work towards the goal: Student interaction with the larger arts community is integrated into programming. Though we do have guest artists work with us from time to time, we could be expanding our partnerships with other types of artists in our community (music, visual).  This would take more time/resources for coordination and outreach with other organizations.

Around student performances and/or exhibitions, our program has always been strong.  Everytime we perform, our venue is packed with standing room only, or if it’s outside, all eyes are on us and the public gathers and watches.  Our contribution of a Flash Mob at Halloween is anticipated and our 2 mainstage shows have become cornerstone events in the community. Even after our 4 weeks dancing at the Farmers’ Market, people ask hopefully, “Will the RiverStars be dancing today?”  We are definitely in the “Thriving” stage here. (Student performances/ exhibitions are celebrations of students as artists. These events are traditions that are anticipated and well- attended by the community.)

The section “Making Art Visible” is a category that we have not spent a lot of active time developing outside of our performances.  I would say we are in the “Deepening” stage where our schools are strengthening their music programs (band, choir, violin, ukulee), but still lack a visual arts program.  We enjoy our strong partnerships that dedicate space in the school for our activities, and are asked to perform for the middle school students as an enrichment opportunity.  Next year, we would like to perform in the Elementary School as well. I believe we are moving toward the Embedding stage as we plan for our community arts highschool (opening 2020).  Many of our families tell us that they find ways to stay in the Illinois Valley because of RiverStars Programming. (Space is regularly available for performance or exhibition of student art. Students have multiple opportunities throughout the school day to see, hear, touch or otherwise experience art.)

Working with the Principles

In so much of our work, we are chasing momentum and constantly trying to improve and build upon what we have.  In some ways, deepening the stages of the principles seems like it is naturally happening. However, as I reflect back on the progress that we have made this year, I see small steps that will lead to greater visibility and impact.  Having the rubric spell out the indicators of these stages is helpful to develop new strategies and fill in the gaps that we might not have seen before.

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