On the road againAs I write this, I pause to quickly grab a pencil and jot down one more thing on my “Bring” list, so I don’t forget when I leave for a foreign country at 8am tomorrow morning. I have more anxiety than I typically do—normally I am happiest and most content moving through space (or preparing to), and love my collaborative-creative projects best of all.

So what, I asked myself, was I worried about this time? I had done quite a bit of social, cultural, and language preparation, spent time with friends and colleagues from this country to help prevent myself from various pitfalls, and although I knew I would have to be on my toes, I also knew I had done what I could, and that lots of listening, grace, good humor and respect, we would muddle through.

Yeeeaaahhh, still worried.

Why? Turns out I am worried about the collaboration process itself. I have met none of the other people (okay, I met my point person’s husband in 2000, but hadn’t seen/worked with him in maybe 8 years) and I really have no idea what the various stakeholders expectations are, nor how anyone else involved—especially those folks in the hosting nation—perceive collaborative work and relationships.

To quote “Collaboration, from the Wright Brothers to Robots” by Michael Schrage in the March 23 Harvard Business Review, Thinking it through

Successful collaborators don’t just work with each other; they work together through a shared space. Shared space — whether physical, virtual or digital — is where collaborators agree to jointly create, manipulate, iterate, capture and critique the representations of the reality they seek to discover or design. This holds true for collaboration around products, processes, services, songs, or the exploration of scientific principles. Shared space is the essential means, medium, and mechanism that makes collaboration possible. No shared space? No real collaboration. ….. What makes a scientific discipline or artistic community or academic institution or R&D group energized and excited about embracing shared spaces to make collaboration simpler, more accessible, more effective, and more satisfying? How does collaboration become as much a value and a behavioral norm as a core competence and pragmatic means to creative ends?

YES, yes, and yes!

So I reflected on how I could best prepare myself to forward these concepts, knowing virtually nothing and no-one in advance. Here is a fabulous idea that I returned to that I have not seen pop up in a while, along with a couple reflections. I will let you know when I return how it turned out!

Know Which Part of the Collaboration Circle You Fit Best

Working Together Many years ago (over a decade), I took an amazing workshop at a conference on collaboration, a found an invaluable model for a successful team, one in which everyone felt valued and enjoyed their role. (Side note: I have searched the internet extensively for this man’s name, but cannot locate it). In a nutshell, there is a circle of ‘ways of being’ (my words) on a project. Before I explain them, let me share with you what people often say. “Oh, I can do all of those!” That statement does more disservice to your project than anything else. Why? Because it implies (a) that you do them all equally well, and (b) that they all make you equally HAPPY. Neither is true. There will be one of those that you love the most, one role that gives you pleasure and that you know you do well in any aspect of your life. You might “leak” over to the other ones, but for now, discover which of them is the MOST you. Then build your team with people in the other positions who are the most themselves! It works incredibly well—things get done quickly and happily, and everyone feels needed.

Here are the roles:

If we imagine the circle as a compass, let’s start with Visionary in the North position. “What could be?” Visionaries,HP Pre Prod you are the people who have a gazillion amazing new ideas pouring out of you all the time, and sometimes that means you don’t finish what you start (unless you have an amazing support staff). You are the ones who said, “What if there was a thing that could hold a bunch of people, and it had wheels and had its own power-source?”

Enter those of us on the “East” part of the circle, the Becomers. “What are the ways that could work in real life, right now, and the steps to get there?” We are problem-solvers through and through, taking great joy in listening to a bunch of different but simultaneous dreams (even seemingly divergent ones), and figuring out how to connect them so they all come true with maximum inclusivity and efficiency. We are the ones who said, “Hmmmm, well there could be axles and a driveshaft, and instead of turning a crank for the gears by hand, it could be a contained explosion whose force moved pistons which move the crank…” You get the picture.

Welding  But to bring the dream that became a plan to reality, the group needs those in the “South” position, the Doers. The Doers are the awesome folk who remember all the things to make the plan happen smoothly. They know the person who has space to rent, and make sure the insurance is in place before the others even knew they needed insurance. They make sure the forms you didn’t even know you needed were filled out and properly filed yesterday. There are enough pencils for everyone, they remembered to have fans installed, checked the weather report, and got enough tools for all, including some left-handed ones, and oh yeah, everything is color-coded and sensibly named, so it is easier to find by category next time, and they show up with a contact list. I worship these people.

But where does the money come from? Voilá! Coming in at the “West” are the Storytellers. They can’t help it. Their enthusiasm, love of detail, and natural warm extra-version mean that never actually ‘network’, they just share because that’s how they are, and before anyone realizes what is happening, other people have joined the dream, opening up both their hearts and their checkbooks. These people are incredible, and as an introvert (and on the polar opposite of the circle), I completely don’t understand how these magical beings give people joy by parting them with their resources….but I do know that what they are doing is including folks—in some small way– in the Visionary’s dream itself.

This lovely model also helps us to

Speak to the Most Wonderful and Skilled Parts that Live Inside Our Collaborators

and, as my mother would say, to

Put Down the Basket of ‘Shoulds’!

Wishing you the best for your next project !

photo by Thomas Hoebbel Photography

photo by Thomas Hoebbel Photography

The economy in the USA and Canada is beginning to pull out of the big ole tank, but jobs are still both hard to come by and easy to lose. Which makes it … the BEST time to stop telling your kid to get a degree in accounting, and instead help her/him become an artist!!! I now pause for you to get your knickers out of that painful twist while I clarify. Being a full time artist is very doable. It is also very different from saying “I want to be a Broadway/MovieStar”. It’s similar to the difference between, “I want to go into innovative technology” and “I want to be Steve Jobs.” Those highly visible, highly specific goals are certainly within a realm of possibility, but they come as the result of hard work, initiative, discipline, and commitment to the practice/career itself. Wanting to be an artist as a vocation is not only fabulously feasible, it is also rewarding, practical, and in today’s world, surprisingly stable.

Here’s the story, morning glory:

  1. Training– multiple entry points, multiple outcomes
  2. Entry Points: one can become a full time artist via college/university training OR via workshops, diligent dedication to/with an artistic institution, mentorship, and project-based training.Outcomes: Training in the arts is also training in observation, expression, commitment, and a sense of excellence. Training in the performing arts adds improvisational problem-solving, the ability to work constructively and efficiently with others, presentational skills, ability to create ‘mile-markers’ for a project, the ability to work with a hard deadline, delayed gratification, the holding of the team’s project above all other things including petty intra-office differences, critical thinking kills, and the ability to give input to others in a positive way. Turns out most businesses LOVE employees with these skills. Tom Vander Well says it like this: 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me forSuccess
  1. Job Security  “What?!?!” Yes, people, yes.arts-in-edYou might have a full time job at a museum, theatre, school, university, or college, and that full time job is as secure (or more so) as any other organization/education job. The John Hopkins Business School released a study  in 2012 showing that while other businesses were laying folks off, non-profits actually ADDED jobs… for the past ten years, including 2007-2009. What about education jobs? Well, according the Guardian and Forbes, “The biggest source of employment for graduates was the education sector – where more than a quarter (25.5%) now work.” Read more here .

What if you are a free-range artist, ronin, piecing together a patchwork of employment and creativity? Here’s the best news: I am never completely out of work. There are leaner times and fuller times, certainly, but even when some things fall through, my other over-lapping projects hold.

  • 3. Other Benefits

This is my life, and I would not trade it for anything, despite the hard, endless work, the constant outreach, and the lack of what I call “getting paid for not working”– you might know it as “sick days, paid holidays, and vacations”.

Why would I not trade? What do I get?

italy 2

Photo by Thomas Hoebbel Photography

All jobs have pluses and minuses; here’s my pluses.

Freedom. I love my freedom. I love that if I look carefully and work hard enough, I can find a way to travel for work. I love that if I am happy with a group and their project, I can help it become an annual or regular event, but if I am unhappy with the people or project I am working with, our partnership will have an ending, and that I can still make the project wonderful and the ending graceful. Most of all, I love love love the variety of people, places and types of work. I love that any given day I may be deliriously happy working with fourth graders as they find their own artist-academic selves, recording an audiobook, rehearsing for a stage show, and doing my accounting (in one work day).

Human Relevance. I spend my time seeking connections…with people, histories, text, struggles, joys, sorrows, injustices, learning, discoveries… the list goes on, in every single working minute. I am also a part of fostering groups connection-seeking, in every project that I do. WOW. I make a living (and do a LOT of volunteer work) serving humanity, everyday. Making art. Striving for grace. As Henry Miller said, “Art teaches nothing… but the meaning of life.” Please do not tell your child who wants to be an artist that they need to have a real job or have ambition—if serving people, fostering human connection, and creating grace are not good enough for you, well, you might want to wonder why.

Yes, your child will need to think about what to do next. Yes your child will have to have initiative and work hard, and yes, this life is NOT for everyone who imagines that it is.

But neither is being a Business Major.

PS There are also College and University programs for Business Arts Majors!!

Bonnie Gale's work 1     It’s winter, and winter wonderlands bring to mind evergreens and warmer climes– for me, at least! So this blog is focused on Living Art—projects to do with your school or community that engage everyone, are stunningly beautiful, functional, and full of science and history exploration opportunities.

What the heck is Living Art?

In a nutshell, structures and sculptures made from alive plants (and some people would include running water). These are not just your king’s topiary! I was recently in Texas, and visited the Houston Museum of Natural History  and it’s adjacent Japanese Gardens in Hermann

My family at the HMNH

My family at the HMNH

Park . Gracing the grounds are wonderful huts, for lack of a better word, made of saplings. I thought immediately of my colleague Bonnie Gale. I had known about Living Art for sometime before meeting a willow-artist, but it wasn’t until I worked with Bonnie Gale of Living Willow  that I really understood its potential as a community arts medium, and as a fabulous part of any school curriculum. She writes, “Living willow structures (such as gazebos, tunnels, outdoor living rooms) have so much potential in the landscape. Structures are made from long, live willow rods that are pushed into the ground and then woven. Willow will self root and self graft so rods can literally be pushed straight into the ground. Living structures are often built in schools and communities with grant monies. In school settings, the design of the structure has been the logo, motto or mascot of the school. Living willow structures transform a bare yard into instant green three dimensional space providing shade, play and interest.”

Where Can I See Some, or Get Help?

LWS Book-coverIn addition to the amazing Bonnie Gale and Living Willow, there are a number of artists and places that specialize in this kind of work, and parks are adding more all the time. There’s Inspiration Green in the UK and the Bluestem Nursery in Canada, and I feel sure that a bit of internet searching would reveal more. Bonnie says, “The students and community members are involved in all stages of the structure from conception, design, layout, ground preparation and building through to on-going maintenance. Living structures are community building catalysts getting neighbors to communicate and work together … I love making large scale installation art. The bigger the better! Due to the recent degree in landscape architecture, I also love large scale design where the structures are incorporated with other materials, such as corten, rock and runnels. Successfully building living art which is rooted and growing in the ground, has a great deal of challenges not found with inert materials. The live material is so special and has profound energy….it clearly is a dynamic partnership.”

A Fabulous Example You Can Visit

 The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, “a public botanical garden dedicated to creating a more sustainable earth through research and education”, completely blew me away. Living structures, alive flowing water, towers, bridges, caves and pathways, and wild learning stations made this park a “must see” for me. If you are in Texas, add it to your list of fun places to be.

But no matter where you are, give some thought to finding community partners for this kind of project—long lasting, and far-reaching, Living Art is an incredible way to mix art, science, and public use space!

 

A little more about Bonnie Gale:

“My life as an artist is totally oriented to spatial containment and definition. I started with Geography at school (60’s) and southampton 001then on to City Planning (70’s) to making baskets (80’s) to being an installation artist of living structures (2000’s). It was all pretty logical but at the time, leaving the job world and becoming a basketmaker felt a complete change”.

Bonnie Gale has been a professional traditional willow basketmaker and willow artist for the past 31 years. In 1999, she was awarded an Artist’s Fellowship from New York Foundation for the Arts. Her living willow installations have been featured in Vogue, Vogue Living, House and Garden and Fiber Arts magazines. In 2009, her work was featured in the PBS “Cultivating Life” series and in 2010, she appeared on the Martha Stewart Show. She produced her first book: Living Willow Form in 2014. Her main web site is www.bonniegale.com. Her living structures can be viewed on the web site www.livingwillow.info

Zoe on ComputerNow that the school year is in full swing and folks are beginning to stress about test scores, the idea of extending the school day, cutting recess, cutting creative activities and so on comes again to the fore. “Play is under pressure right now, as parents and policymakers try to make preschools more like schools. But pretend play is not only important for kids; it’s a crucial part of what makes all humans so smart, ” Alison Gopnik wrote in “Let the Children Play, It’s Good for Them! A leading researcher in the field of cognitive development says when children pretend, they’re not just being silly—they’re doing science”. If you are a regular reader of mine, you know this is crazy making for me—I have written blogs in the past that touch on related subjects ( for example, The Importance of Play). I also believe that play is crucial to a healthy society; it gives us the opportunity to explore ideas and test working relationships, take risks and discover that failure is a step on a path, not an end. Yes, I love using and recommend heavily Michael Rhodes book, “Theatre, Community and Dialogue, the Hope is Vital Training Manual” AND the original community-building book The New Games Book: play hard, play fair, nobody hurt, by Andrew Fluegelman, Ed. Headlands Press: Garden City, NY: 1976”. Moreover, neuropsychologists and others have shown how we build new neurons with focus and practice, including those for empathy ( see “Mirror Neurons”  and “How to Grow the Good in Your Brain” ).

skulls of overwhelmingnessWhy the heck are we denying developing humans the opportunities that make them become fully realized?!?

So as not to bore you to death, I have broken the rest of this blog into 3 easy-to-digest sections, and you can scroll to your fave.

  1. I. How is play important to individual development?
  2. II. Why might play be important to the health of society?
  3. III. What are some cool awesome play-like things you could do RIGHT NOW that would also be helpful on a larger scale?

I. Jon Hamilton, in an article titled Scientists Say Child’s Play Helps Build A Better Brain, writes “”The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says. “It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.” There links in the article to more studies and commentary on play, its impact and it’s decline, and in fact, NPR’s website has a whole section on Education (click here).

II. As an artist, I recognize the crucial role play and playfulness has in a creative process, but more importantly, inStudents discover! our ability to be less afraid of the unknown and of failure. Play is where we can learn to roll with the punches, take healthy risks, form useful alliances not conscripted by religion, race or like-ability but born out of a mutual desire to accomplish something. A lack of play opportunities compels us to fear ‘risk’ and ‘other’, and fosters the idea that we must feel secure at all times and at all costs, cling to what is known as ‘safe’ rather than risk alliances and explore change. On a large scale, this is how we become controllable; the Taliban outlawed arts, education, and playing, as do many regimes.

In John Poole’s article, he writes “Not surprisingly, Panksepp and others think the lack of play is a serious problem. Especially at younger ages. And particularly in school settings. Without play, we know that other species become quick to aggression and have trouble “fitting in.” Panksepp thinks the rising rates of ADD and ADHD may in part be due to this problem. In trials where extra playtime was given to kids showing signs of these disorders, there was marked improvement in their behaviors as reported by teachers and parents. “It’s not just superfluous,” says Panksepp. “It’s a very valuable thing for childhood development. And we as a culture have to learn to use it properly and have to make sure our kids get plenty of it.”

IMG_0449A fabulous website called “Invention at Play” is very much worth visiting to arm yourself! Here’s a sample “Make Believe/Visual Thinking: In pretending, we learn to navigate with ease between real and imaginary worlds while learning the differences between them. Using our imaginations encourages original thinking, flexibility, adaptability, empathy, and the ability to generate multiple solutions to a problem. Pretend play helps us learn to think visually and spatially and to both capture and express ideas.”

III. Cool games for grown-ups to help make a difference!

In How Scientists Are Using Games to Unlock the Body’s Mysteries! They’re not just for kids anymore”Sharon Begley writes about online games that help scientists solve important problems, like Foldit“This online game asks you to determine the 3-D shape of a protein, knowledge crucial to understanding how it works,” (Foldit here) and Eyewire (neuron mapping).

Other fabulous fun that helps is on Zooniverse (I LOVE these!).

I want to close with another Sharon Begley quote, “It’s this tinkering approach, this trial and error, that is the basis of play. Beginning when we could hold a rattle, we all learned to solve problems by playing with them.”
Let’s keep making play an important part of learning to solve problems.

A Murder of ClownsBest times of my high school life.”

I just received this comment on my Facebook page after posting a PSA on how theatre transforms students’ lives. This comment does not represent a desire to goof off and party, nor is it an isolated sentiment. Theatre Education programs provide a safe place for students to be themselves, to explore relationships, to develop compassion, collaborative practices, and the idea of delayed gratification. Theatre Education programs are about understanding relationships and possible motivations behind the actions that people take.

These are the obvious take-aways.

Here’s some less obvious ones.

* Success in School. By any definition of “Youth at Risk”, the percentage of those who Song Rehearsalgraduate from high school is doubled—doubled!– when those students are coming from an arts-rich school environment. Click here to read the research study. 

At-risk students in arts-rich school environments also get better grades, have better attendance, are more likely to take upper-level classes and to succeed in them…. and on, and on, and on (more research here). For another take on how theatre education promotes success in school, watch this short (1.5 minute!) video PSA

* The business of theater is good preparation for other careers.

Here’s a short video PSA, if you prefer video, and below is an excerpt from Backstage Magazine, an article by Harvey Young (click here for the whole article).

Rahm Emanuel, the current mayor of Chicago and formerly Chief of Staff to President Obama as well as a Congressman, majored in the Humanities in college with a specialization in dance. “Value” studies would look at Emanuel and identify him as not being successful because he neither works as a professional dancer nor earns income in the field of dance. Instead of adopting this flawed logic, it is important for us to 

Fourth Grade Science Arts!

acknowledge that the skills gained through theater apply to other jobs and careers outside of the performing arts. Theater majors frequently become makers and producers oftheater but they also (and probably in equal or greater numbers) become lawyers, politicians, management consultants, marketing executives, and community educators to name just a few of the many career paths open to them.”

What Can You Do?

* Vote pro arts-in-ed.

* Find a way to support/promote arts-in-ed programs in your community

* Take a moment this week to see a performance that moves you to laughter or love or understanding or tears, or to watch a child become invested in the performance version of something otherwise challenging, or a community discovering and celebrating its voice. Then thank an arts educator.

Want to Develop your Own Skills?

There are a number of organizations that hold conferences. The New York State Theatre Education Association will be hosting its 30th Annual Educators’ Conference this year on September 19, 20, and 21, 2014 in Niagara Falls, NY. This conference is designed for anyone who uses drama and /or theatre with students – drama teachers, teaching artists, music teachers who direct shows, after-school providers, English teachers, general classroom teachers and others.

NYSTEA logoThe weekend will be full of workshops, panel discussions, and performances that will provide up to 26 hours of professional development hours and help educators and artists build on past experiences, take stock of existing standards – including the Common Core requirements, and find new strategies and inspiration for the future.

 Register at NYSTEA EDUCATORSCONFERENCE

Need more convincing? Try Impact Creativity and there are more Advocacy Links at Art USA (Americans for the Arts).

I close with this quotation of Henry Miller: The arts teach nothing…except the significance of life.