Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reflection on today's Arts and Activism Conference

So I just got home from the Arts and Activism conference, where I attend a 4 hour youth development workshop. On the whole it was quite educational, and the tools presented regarding youth development outcomes are going to prove useful. I was also pleased to see the BYAEP frameworks so thoroughly examined. I wish more community arts students were present, as I'd love to discuss the event.

I do, however have some critiques of the day. I'm mainly doing this not to change the event in the future but rather for my own practice and reflection.

At the end of the session, we were divided up into small groups and asked to apply the outcomes and the BYAEP framework to the process of a youth based film making project. It was the first time that we had group conversations about real, concrete examples of activities that would facilitate these possible outcomes, and the only time we saw but one example. And we were just getting into the good, nitty gritty stuff of conversation about these activities when the exercise was over. Personally, I felt that the time spent on some other activities was not useful. I know I tend to be the grumpy dwarf about some sorts of activities (i.e. scarf dancing, etc.) as an administrator, but in a professional development setting, I'd rather get down to studying useful, applicable examples than inventing a movement that expresses myself. I know, too that many of you will disagree with this, but perhaps if the day were longer we could have fit everything in. In the end, I did not get enough time to discuss real world applications that utilize the concepts we were learning.

Another thing that really bothered me today, and something I have noticed at other points since I've begun this program, is a lack of professionalism. I'm not saying we all aren't professionals, but I noticed some behaviors and some instances that speak to this.

There were several times during the day that individuals were talking over someone else, perhaps in the corner in private conversation, or in the circle as a prior exercise wrapped up. If we are going to be generous of our time and attention, we must also respect other's time and attention. This sort of thing would never fly in a business meeting. I do understand that the nature of artistic work can be self indulgent and that freedom of expression is encouraged. But this isn't a romper room- we all have goals for what we want to accomplish for the day.

Another instance is being respectful of the assignment/directions given during an activity. For example, the facilitators asked for a response from each person around the circle of a word or a few words, but soon enough people were talking for minutes at a time about themselves without any real point or direction. I am not trying to detract from the fact that people in the group had much to reflect upon, and it's great that everyone was buzzing with ideas and appreciation, but spilling your innermost feelings as you have them was not the given task. I think sometimes in this work we forget to apply our "is this useful towards the goals of the session?" filter. In class when we are in a nurturing environment there is more room for the babbling process of self reflection, but in a limited time frame it can be frustrating. Perhaps this is a critique on both sides of the relationship here: the facilitators need to intervene when time constraints are not being respected, and the participants need to respect that there will be avenues to express their reflections, and those avenues need to be made available to them after the event or at a different time.

Ugh: crying. I might be unpopular in this opinion (and please comment if you disagree) but I don't think crying is appropriate in these sorts of gatherings. If we want our work to be taken seriously, we need to encourage ways of expressing that you have been moved in ways that are not only professional but useful to the group. Crying does not effectively illustrate to me how you are going to use this new information in ways that will carry the work forward.

I think there were many excellent things that came out of the session today, but there was a part of me that was looking for a more pragmatic experience.

I realize I've put a lot of negatives in this post. The positives are getting their OWN POST! because they are so special. Grumpy dwarf is done, for this episode.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Research Topic

I am interested in researching the power of metaphors in articulating a process that is largely internal.

I love to write, and metaphors are a powerful tool for a writer to help the reader understand a concept. But how would metaphors help a learner? And do they always need to be written down? Or can they have the same power in movement and art?

My proposed 'experiment' is this: at the end of class, to tell everyone to think of metaphors that describe the process of this course, and to do it through writing, visual art, or movement. Then I would like everyone to present their metaphor in class and have a discourse on the results. I might record this as well.

What I want to know is if the process helped anyone work through the difficult nature of this course? or did it even help refine one's question?  What medium did you use, and why? Or was this not helpful at all?

I want to know because I imagine in my future work that I will be working with organizations that are having difficulty articulating the methods and process of their arts based projects, and need to for a grant or the like. I want practice in working with a group as well.

Reading Responses, Arts Based Research

As I read the materials for this course, I am struck by a repeated theme of 'translation'; how can the data collected through arts based research be communicated in ways that make sense to a wide variety of audiences. How can we communicate the effectiveness of this work to scientists? policy makers? foundations? education administrators? There are so many people who could benefit and would like to understand, but it's an immense challenge to translate the information so that others not in the field can understand. In another course, a guest panelist mentioned that 'people like us' have "drank the punch", and it's a constant battle to explain the nature of this work to those who have not.

Luckily, the arts have a way of moving people emotionally that raw data and numbers cannot. The fact that most of us are so comfortable with the arts as a means of dissemination means we have this skill on our side. The arts also can help us process the information we've discovered, or even help the subjects process it. The story that Lisa told in class about the teenagers working on the Playwright Mentoring project at Barrington Stage is such a wonderful example. Sean McNiff wrote that:

...the arts help us improve the way we interact with others by learning how to let go of negative attitudes and excessive needs for control, learning how to foster more open and original ways of perceiving situations and problems, gaining new insights and sensitivities towards others, learning how the slip stream of group expression can carry us to places where we cannot go alone, learning how to create supportive environments that inspire creative thought...
Often the translating that is most important is from what is in our heads as ideas to tangible concepts.

Another interested concept discussed in the reading is that arts projects tend to be multidisciplinary. Does this help with my translating issue? In Chapter 1 of our text, Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor writes:

Blurred genres tend to have the goal to speak to diverse audiences both within and outside the academy. The use of accessible, vernacular, and aesthetic language and image, helps to explicity reach out to larger, more diverse audiences...
I've decided that this concept of using the arts to assist in articulating an intangible process is what I want to focus on this semester. How do we make our results valid and useful? When the process is often more important than the product, how do you measure that? Often this type of research just presents more questions than answers. This is SO hard for me and I find that it is so hard for the class as well. More on this in my next post, on my research topic.