*Guest Blog by Jen Zidon – Executive Director of STAMP and participant in ArtUp Week 2019*
ArtUp Week sessions are great ways for artists to learn more about using their inherent gifts beyond performance and practice. At STAMP, we are always interested in helping artists learn ways to be more sustainable in their business practice. Artist, Teachers and Teaching Artists-Everybody Wins! was a lively session about how our local artists can supplement their income by becoming a teaching artist. This, in itself, isn’t new information but these panelists including staff members of the nonprofit Think 360 Arts, Chad Fisher from Lineage Music, and Joe Lessard, an instructor at the Music District, provided a remarkable look into the concept of a “teaching artist.”
Coming together at Think 360 Arts
Think 360 Arts brings the “teaching artist” concept to a new level by making their programs very professional and collaborative for artists and K-12 classroom teachers alike. They are advocates for paying artists well, providing artists—free of charge—with professional development opportunities, and finding good partners in schools and school districts for artists on their roster.
Think 360 Arts is a nonprofit business based out of Denver. They have been in operation since 1979. That is a big deal. If you have ever been involved in a startup of any kind but especially a nonprofit startup you will tip your hat to them if only for their service longevity in a community. In their pamphlet, they tout having a “54-year history of serving K-12 students…through teacher training, direct services to students, and public awareness programs.” They are a fantastic liaison between schools and teaching artists. They work as a central agency for research and best practices in arts integration within different curricula and standards working mainly with schools in Denver and the surrounding area.
Representing Think 360 Arts at this panel was Jen Olson, the fairly new executive director with a 20-year history of collaboration with schools and arts programs, Lares Feliciano, also new to this organization, an artist, filmmaker, and arts administrator who serves as the program director, and Jason Diminich the education director who taught middle school drama for 10+ years in New York City where he also served as an arts consultant for the NYC Department of Education. Their panel discussion was interactive as they asked the audience members to define a “teaching artist”. In sum, Think 360 Arts believes that a teaching artist is one who is a life-long learner and is dedicated to “perfecting their craft while also perfecting the teaching of their craft.”
Showcasing their work, was the Latin hip-hop group 2MX2. This group is currently on Think 360 Arts’ artist roaster as music teachers. The group is based in Colorado and, as stated on their website, is “well known for their modern renditions of traditional Latin music as well as their focus on political topics such as immigration, health, education reform, and other important matters of our times.” 2MX2 consists of four members: Owen Trujillo, Juice ET Hugo, Lolita, and DMD. They are all Spanish/English bilingual emcees, songwriters, and composers.
Making Music Together
During this showcase, they asked for three audience members to participate and sing Justin Timberlake’s popular song Can’t Stop the Feeling! While these three audience members sang, 2MX2 used their equipment to mix their voices into the music. They encouraged us to all sing along and by the end of the demonstration the audience, including me, was smiling, laughing, and participating. J.T.’s song was fitting because with the encouragement of this group we actually couldn’t stop the joyful feeling of the music being created in front of us.
After this demonstration, we were able to ask questions. I asked if they get invited back to the same schools often. Lolita said that one of the greatest feelings she gets from being part of Think 360 Arts is becoming a member of those communities that ask them back for another teaching session. She also added this, “Art, in most forms, is a natural language barrier breaker. Music is a beautiful tool to use to break those barriers.” They all said they like connecting with students through music, especially Latino students because those students might then be able to see themselves in these musicians.
Do you want to be a Think 360 Arts teaching artist?
Think 360 Arts is currently looking for musicians and artists based in Fort Collins and northern Colorado to add to their roster. They are very open to new ideas from all genres of art. Interested artists are encouraged to apply on their website. Applications will be live mid-March. Applications include the following: CV or Resume, Letter of Intent, Artist Statement, Workshop Examples, Work Samples, and References. Finalists will be invited for an in-person interview and teaching demonstration. Selected artists are required to attend a new artists orientation. If you are interested, please contact Lares Feliciano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A look into the Fort Collins Teaching Artist Landscape
Doing similar work as a teaching artist here in Fort Collins was Chad Fisher. Fisher is the founder and president of Lineage Music. He also started the very popular Laurel Elementary School strings program which now supports most of their 4th graders who are interested in learning the violin. I have had the pleasure of hosting his students for many years at Barnes & Noble. (I work as the community outreach manager there.) This is Laurel’s biggest fundraiser which provides financial support for their wonderful library. I have been amazed at how he has been able to grow this program into the huge success that it now is in just seven years. As a teaching artist, Fisher tries to tune into what kids want. He believes if you can get them interested in the music then the learning can begin. Fisher believes he is teaching a practical skill. At Lineage Music, and it seems as a life practice, he enjoys providing a support system to musicians and he is always looking for other artists to work with him and “see what we can do together.”
Joe Lessard also sat on this panel and provided his unique and colorful insight into being a teaching artist. Lessard teaches right here at the Music District and tours with his bands Head for the Hills and Whiskey Blanket. If you’ve ever heard either of these bands play, you might not guess that he is a classically trained violinist. Lessard said he veered from classical training because he didn’t like its approach to teaching and playing music. He now plays roots music and is knowledgeable about its history. He also enjoys teaching this aspect of the music to his students. As a teaching artist, he tries to give his students something that relates to them and says he possibly knows more Beyoncé songs on the fiddle than anyone! (He also tries not to wear the same shirt too much because his students tell him when he does.) He uses what I will now be calling the Lessard Chia Seed Approach because he says teaching music to kids is like sneaking chia seeds into their smoothies—the less they know that it is good for them the better! He believes learning music should first be enjoyable and that students, especially students that may be outsiders in a regular classroom setting, hang on to instruments because instruments are special and they, in turn, end up feeling special because of this. How cool is that?! Lessard also believes that music makes a person well-rounded and can teach people how to exist and relate to other people. He says that without community—in music—you really have nothing.