The Artist Is In Residence In More Places Than You Think

So Drew McManus must be reading my mind, or at least my reading list. Yesterday I was reading an ArtsNet piece about an artist-in-residence program with the Philadelphia district attorney’s office that went on to mention other artist-in-residence programs sponsored by different governmental entities.

It reminded me of some of Drew’s past posts about how the bands of the various branches of the U.S. military were one of the many ways the government supports arts and culture outside the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts.

What should happen today but Drew made a post about cultural diplomacy citing his past posts about military bands. I figured it was a sign that I should draw attention to the ArtsNet piece.

The main part of the article was about the Philadelphia district attorney’s artist-in-residence program which has the goal of stimulating conversations about criminal justice practices in the city.

The goal of the program is more in line with social practice art: to initiate conversations about the need for criminal justice reform, with an artist as moderator and interlocutor. “My presence in the prosecutor’s office sends a message to district attorneys, a powerful symbol of hope and redemption,” Hough said in an interview with Artnet News.

Through the program, prosecutors, victims and survivors of crime, and former convicted criminals will all take part in workshops, seminars, and other initiatives

[…]

Hough’s work at the district attorney’s office will involve more than just conversations and workshops. He plans to create a series of three-minute videos—“like a long-form commercial”—based on feedback from participants in the workshops and seminars, incorporating drawings he’ll make of those who took part. These videos will be shown at the district attorney’s office, on social media, and at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

Some of the other artist-in-residence programs sponsored by governmental entities sound pretty interesting. I knew about the U.S. State Department’s cultural exchange program, but had no idea about some of these others. Makes me want to keep my eyes open for interesting opportunities.

The National Park Service brings in one artist at a time for a period of between two and five weeks. Residents are required to donate a piece of art that represents their stay to the Park Service’s collection, and they also may be asked to present a talk for park visitors.

“I just loved it,” said Kim Henkel, a metal sculptor in Denver, Colorado, who had been a resident at Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon (“I was in a beautiful apartment overlooking the south rim”), and the Petrified Forest…

The US Military has more than just bands:

All five branches of the US Military also bring in artists—known as “combat” artists—for short-term (usually, a week or two at most) residencies on military bases or other locations where soldiers are stationed. The work they make on site is donated by the artists to the collections maintained by the respective branches.

…Military artists-in-residence are not told what or how to paint; they are not asked to be propagandists. Some of the artworks made in the past have focused on scenes that aren’t heroic or dramatic, including bored soldiers drifting off to sleep.

Many artists take part in these military programs just for the thrill of it. William Phillips, an artist in Ashland, Oregon whose specialty is aviation art, lights up when he talks about visiting an Air Force base, especially when describing taking a ride in a fighter jet: “Every time you get into a high-performance aircraft, you face danger. It’s not like sitting in my studio. And, when you put on that flight suit…”

US State Department’s program is actually more extensive than I was aware:

The US Department of State has its own residency program for artists too, called Arts Envoy…. Maxx Moses, a 57-year-old muralist and street artist living in San Diego, worked for a week in the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in 2011. …Moses led a team of 10 local artists in creating a series of murals on the theme of combating the AIDS epidemic. “Most of the artists had never worked with spray paint before or created in front of a live audience,” he said.

And perhaps the most unexpected program of all, the NYC Department of Sanitation:

And of course, perhaps the longest-running and most fabled artist-in-residence is Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who creates what she calls “maintenance art.” Since 1977, Ukeles has been the unsalaried artist-in-residence of the New York City Department of Sanitation. Among her artworks are a choreographed ballet of backhoes titled Romeo and Juliet and Touch Sanitation, an endurance performance that involved shaking hands with all 8,500 workers in the sanitation department while saying, simply, “thank you.”

Apropos to Drew’s post, you might have noted that a good number of these residencies are focused on using the soft-power influence of arts and culture to change perceptions and relationships where formal rules, processes, educational efforts, appeals to rational thinking, etc have fallen short.

You will likely also notice that in most instances, there isn’t a lot of payment involved, just food and shelter. Hopefully that might change if programs like the one in Philadelphia is perceived to have value.

You Think Surfing A Wave Is Tough, How About A Lava Field?

I wanted to give a little love and attention to the efforts of artists in Hawaii. As many readers know, I ran a theater in Hawaii for about nine years, presenting and producing a number of works by Hawaiian & Pacific Rim artists and cultural practitioners.

First, a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa production of a Hawaiian language play has been chosen to perform at New York Theater Workshop’s Reflection of Native Voices festival in January. If you are going to be in NYC at the APAP conference next month, swing by.

I saw it as a tribute to the success of efforts to revitalize Hawaiian as a spoken language that there is a video of cast members and director doing interviews about the show entirely in the language. In fact, I saw an article by a gentleman working on revitalizing the Welsh language discussing what he learned about similar efforts in Hawaii when he was asked to speak on the subject at the University of Hawaii-Hilo.

Along the same lines, there was a piece in Honolulu Magazine last month about four different people trying to keep Hawaiian cultural practices from being lost.

One person has researched Hawaii’s only indigenous stringed instrument in an attempt to revitalize it. (Despite the fact there are only three trees which produce wood from which the instruments are made left in Hawaii.) Another is trying to preserve lua, the Hawaiian martial art. A third is trying to preserve hula ki‘i, an ancient style of hula that uses puppets and imagery.

The fourth person, I actually had some interaction with. Tom “Pōhaku” Stone has been working to preserve papa hōlua which is basically land sledding. We borrowed one of his sleds for a production I produced. The thing is narrower than your leg and like 15-20 feet long. People would ride it down lava fields, though there were also apparently groomed slides of other types of rocks.

If you think that sounds dangerous and crazy, you are right. If you read the article Stone talks about a wipe out that opened up one side of his face, resulting in some nerve damage.

But each of these people has spent decades researching and constructing objects based on scant reference in an attempt to preserve cultural practices which were discouraged or even forbidden. There is a lot of perseverance and reverence that preceded the reckless skull cracking. (And granted, most of what these artists practice is not as dangerous.)

What About “Make Sure You Draw All Your Work” On The Test?

Hey all. Dan Pink linked to a round up of education research that came out in 2019. There were studies on how good teachers were better than awards when it came to raising attendance rates; the benefits of sleep on learning; gender differences in math ability are social construct; black students get fewer warnings before heading to the principal’s office, and many others.

As you might expect, among the “many others” were studies on the benefits of arts:

As arts programs continue to face the budget ax, a handful of new studies suggest that’s a grave mistake. The arts provide cognitive, academic, behavioral, and social benefits that go far beyond simply learning how to play music or perform scenes in a play.

In a major new study from Rice University involving 10,000 students in third through eighth grades, researchers determined that expanding a school’s arts programs improved writing scores, increased the students’ compassion for others, and reduced disciplinary infractions. The benefits of such programs may be especially pronounced for students who come from low-income families, according to a 10-year study of 30,000 students released in 2019.

Unexpectedly, another recent study found that artistic commitment—think of a budding violinist or passionate young thespian—can boost executive function skills like focus and working memory, linking the arts to a set of overlooked skills that are highly correlated to success in both academics and life.

The one that drew my attention most was a study that found while doodling distracted from learning, intentional drawing reinforced learning and memory better than reading and note taking.  The way I read it, this approach may be the easiest way to integrate creative expression and the arts into any subject AND improve test scores.

In a follow-up experiment, the researchers compared two methods of note-taking—writing words by hand versus drawing concepts—and found drawing to be “an effective and reliable encoding strategy, far superior to writing.” The researchers found that when the undergraduates visually represented science concepts like isotope and spore, their recall was nearly twice as good as when they wrote down definitions supplied by the lecturer.

Importantly, the benefits of drawing were not dependent on the students’ level of artistic talent, suggesting that this strategy may work for all students, not just ones who are able to draw well.

[…]

Why is drawing such a powerful memory tool? The researchers explain that it “requires elaboration on the meaning of the term and translating the definition to a new form (a picture).” Unlike listening to a lecture or viewing an image—activities in which students passively absorb information—drawing is active. It forces students to grapple with what they’re learning and reconstruct it in a way that makes sense to them.

It made sense to me that drawing was beneficial because it forces one to take the information they are receiving, process it and then execute it into a meaningful depiction. Reading and writing down lecture notes don’t require that you be able to process the concept, only that you recognize and understand the individual words. If you have studied a foreign language you may have had the experience where you can pronounce the words flawlessly and know what each word means separately, but can’t translate the meaning of an entire sentence accurately.

The article discusses other reinforcing actions in of the increased number of steps and synaptic connections which are required to execute a drawing which helps to solidify concepts in memory, but that is how is how I conceptualize I read.

If you are interested in putting this into practice either for your own note taking or to assist students, there are suggestions of implementation – student created learning aids, interactive notebooks, data visualization (which apparently can be applied to literature); book/comic book making; and one-pagers where students visually show the teacher their understanding of the concept.

Lessons From The Arts: Providing Direction To Experts

I neglected to note who had posted it on Twitter, but an article in The Economist about what the arts can teach business came across my feed today.

One of the first examples was an exercise used by a professor at the Saïd Business School at Oxford which asked MBA students to try their hand at conducting a choir.

The first to take the challenge was a rather self-confident young man from America. It didn’t take long for him to go wrong. His most obvious mistake was to start conducting without asking the singers how they would like to be directed, though they had the expertise and he was a complete tyro.

…The session, organised by Pegram Harrison, a senior fellow in entrepreneurship, cleverly allowed the students to absorb some important leadership lessons. For example, leaders should listen to their teams, especially when their colleagues have specialist knowledge. All they may need to do, as conductors, is set the pace and then step back and let the group govern itself.

It was noticeable, too, that the choir managed fairly well even if the conductors were just waving their batons in an indeterminate fashion. The lesson there, Mr Harrison said, was that leaders can only do so much damage—provided they do not attempt to control every step of the process. The whole exercise illustrated it is possible for a lesson to be instructive and entertaining at once.

While these lessons seemed to be laid on with a heavy hand, I couldn’t help think back to the video I posted yesterday which showed the first opera rehearsal with the singers and orchestra together.

There, the discussion of the role of the conductor and prompter was all about helping the artists to maintain pacing and remind them where they were in the process. That is pretty much what the passage I cited above discussed, so heavy handed or not, the use of a music ensemble to illustrate groups can be productive if left to govern themselves is valid.

I have come across the idea that performing arts groups can be used as examples of teams joining together to execute complex projects before. However, there was an example of the value of acting lessons I had never come across or considered:

But Mr Walker-Wise says that middle managers are often delivering words that are not their own (because they were devised by head office) or trying to inspire staff to meet an objective that was set by someone else. “The lesson from acting is how do I connect to this message without betraying my own personality,” he argues.

I am not sure that I would want acting to be valued for helping people to become better liars, but there are definitely times when we all need to learn to subsume our personal feelings in order organize others to accomplish a task. The military does this by instilling a sense of discipline and obedience, but their methods are not ones the general public will easily accept. Acting and other skills derived from performance training present an alternative method to get people working together as teams.

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