Summer Institute 5.0
Teaching Social Justice: Current Events through Art, Inquiry and Reflection
July 23-25, 2015, New York City
Summer Institute is a three-day intensive workshop for creative writers, mixed media and visual artists, musicians, dancers and theater artists with 2+ years Teaching Artist experience. Summer Institute’s training curriculum is based on Community-Word Project’s “creative process” exploration methods, teaching practices and arts-in-education philosophy developed over 16 years.
On July 23, 2015, Community-Word Project began its 5th annual Summer Institute with a focus on teaching social justice through current events. The workshop took place at the 8th Floor Gallery in Union Square thanks to a generous donation by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. The participants found themselves in a beautiful gallery surrounded with inspiring artwork, which enhanced the creative energy already surging throughout the place.
Michele Kotler, Founder & Executive Director
Megan Morrison, Deputy Director of Programs & Operations
David King, Program Director
Patricia A. Chilsen, Program Director for Training & Internships
Craig Hayes, Deputy Director of External Affairs
This year’s group of 23 advanced level Teaching Artists came from different backgrounds, experiences and places across the country. In this workshop, they learned how to transform creative processes into teaching tools, experimented with how to create lesson plans and teaching paths that meet state and city standards, explored Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, investigated the Common Core State Standards, tried out a myriad of classroom management strategies, developed co-teaching and partnership skills, and incorporated inquiry and reflection in their lessons, remembering to remain relevant to students’ lives and to build community.
The first day started off with several icebreakers and warm-ups that prepped the participants for the lessons and discussions to come over the next three days. Participants got to know each other better through Graffiti Walls and a round of “Mingle Mingle,” which called for each person continually swap partners and ask thoughtful questions like “When did you know you wanted to be an artist?” or “What activist influences your life the most?” and “What artists inspire you to create?”
During each day of the workshop, a lesson was implemented by Summer Institute facilitators, Patti & Renee, and the participants acted as the students in order to experience the lesson more fully. While all art forms are utlized in Summer Institute’s curriculum, each day’s lesson focused on a specific medium that could incorporate the others. The first day’s artistic form was visual arts and the lesson called for students to act out certain political cartoons, and to eventually create their own.
Facilitators Patti & Renee led the group in a day long journey centered around current events, specifically the killings of unarmed African Americans by police officers.
In small groups, they explored articles related to various shootings in the past several years, from Trayvon Martin and Henry Dumas to Sean Bell and Oscar Grant. These articles were brief and came out quickly after the shootings occured, and each group was assigned one article on a specific person. Participants explored what similarities the stories had, things that stood out, and the differences. The groups were instructed to create group poems from the information they had.
These poems turned into performance pieces with groups adding music elements, movement, repetition, and other ingredients that made each piece unique.
The last step of this day long exercise asked the participants to take action and perform their community poems out on the streets of New York. Groups selected different spots around Union Square and gave life to their collaborative efforts. Some drew chalk outlines of their bodies, some wrote their poems on the street, and some groups performed their pieces on a loop to a different audience each time.
Passerbys stopped to watch, take pictures, participate, and even pay their respects.
Here is one group’s complete poem:
Howl His Absence
Let us all put on our hoodies
and bow our heads.
Buying a can of iced tea and skittles,
mentioning the word “gun,”
deciding to ride the subway,
holding a wallet in his hand,
blood shed red
life pulse ended unexpectedly, suddenly.
unarmed and innocent
black, afraid, gunned down.
Angry and confused
tears fall on a rainy night
a High School graduation
that will never be,
no one will see,
the book unwritten,
a father he will never be.
let us all put on our hoodies
and bow our heads.
On the final day of Summer Institute, the lesson implemented centered on collaborative theatre pieces and creating a diverse library in the classroom. Facilitators lined the room with various books from authors of diverse backgrounds. They split the room into small groups of 4 and asked the participants to select a picture book to read aloud together.
Some of the books were filled with words and long narratives, while others were smaller picture books that contained little to no words at all. The groups were then asked to create collaborative performance pieces for their books using different media like sound, visual arts and crafts, music, and movement. After some rehearsal time, the participants came together and performed their pieces for the rest of the group.
Day 3 called for the participants to think about their own artistic processes and creative elements and how to bring that knowledge into the classroom as an example for students. The participants came up with at least 6 creative elements that they use in their artmaking and designed “maps” for these elements.
This work is especially important to demonstrating the artistic proess to students. It is necessary to be able to point at concrete examples in the process, so that students do not feel they have to magically produced art without any structure or guidelines.
The last part of the day was left for reflection. Patti and Renee led the group in a review of the three day journey and answered questions participants came up with and wrote in “The Garden,” which is a list of questions that people had over the course of the workshops that could not be answered in the moment due to time.
Participants were also given a stack of post-its and led in a “room cruise” throughout the gallery where every chart paper, activity, slideshow from all three days were posted on the walls. They were asked to write their thoughts about each activity on the post-its and stick them on the wall.
Summer Institute 5.0 was a huge success. Special thanks goes to all of the participants for making it a meaningful and impactful experience.
Summer Institute 5.0 Participants:
Ekene “E” Okobi
Special thanks goes to The 8th Floor and The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation for their generous donation of the beautiful gallery! The space was welcoming and inspiring; it truly made the difference in our workshop!
The Summer Institute 5.0 Anthology was designed by Katie Rainey.