A Look Back


It was a hot summer day, and I stepped off the elevator into an air conditioned upstairs art gallery full of people milling around. It was the first day of the Common-Word Project’s Summer Institute 5.0. The Institute was three days, but I could only be there for two. 

Two summers ago, I had read about CWP and I was intrigued by their stated commitment to teaching social justice to youth through the arts. I decided to see just how they incorporated social justice work into their curriculum. I was curious as to what I would learn and what would happen.

I looked around. Hmmmm. Everyone appeared to be half my age and have half my experience. I felt a bit like a fish out of water and a little foolish. My thoughts:

“What am I doing here? These guys look like newbies and I have been a TA for a long time! Was this a mistake?”

Then the session began, and the Institute’s teachers, Patti Chilsen and Renée Watson, proved very skilled. Each day was carefully scaffolded with one exercise leading into the next and included on-going reflection and assessment. We explored issues of race, gender and inequality – using visual arts, poetry and performance – individually and as a group. It was a pleasure listening to Patti’s and Renée’s discussions of the how and why of their choices and their methodology.

My classmates were a mix of ages, races, religions, sexes and abilities and practiced different art forms. We worked together easily, and trust built quickly. By the end of the second day, we went out into Union Square to do some street theater – as if we were habitual colleagues.  

By the end of the second day, I was sorry I could not return for the third. I had become energized by new ideas, and was invested in the group we had become. I had opened up new avenues of Teaching Artist work to take with me. Plus, it was fun!

I am so grateful I took the time and effort to be part of CWP’s Summer Institute. I learned new techniques, strategies and ideas. But perhaps most useful of all, I made a connection with others, who like me were interested in the conscious use of their art and teaching skills to address injustices and to help young people take hold of the world they live in. That is powerful! 

 -Robin Bady, Summer Institute 5.0 Participant