I told everyone I was doing this for my five-year-old granddaughter, but I must admit I felt giddy standing next to Miss America, Nia Franklin, to have my picture taken. I was at Lincoln Center in New York during a week-long institute called the “Aesthetic Education Immersion Lab.” I didn’t know what to expect from this week, and never would have guessed that I’d be so excited to meet Miss America.
A TED Talk Every Morning
That particular morning started like every other one at the Institute. My friend, Cheryl, and I walked down Broadway from our hotel on 77th Street to the Juilliard School at Lincoln Center on 65th Street. We entered a dark auditorium, found our seats, and waited for the morning’s keynote speaker to begin.
On the previous morning, we had been inspired and dazzled by Carl Cofield, the Associate Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem, telling his story of how he never would have had the courage to enter the arts as a young African American boy had it not been for a teacher who pushed him in that direction. Carl has been a trailblazer and has won numerous accolades for his work which looks at classics through a multicultural lens.
During another keynote, we were the audience for a live recording of the podcast “Teaching Artistry with Courtney J. Boddie.” Courtney’s guest was Ty Defoe, a Grammy-award-winning artist, shapeshifter, and two-spirit person from the Oneida and Ojibwe Nations. Ty’s work focuses on social justice, indigeneity, and environmentalism. I could have listened to him for hours! If you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear Ty’s response to the rambling question I asked (at 1:06:20.)
You can also hear a “Land Acknowledgement” at 14:07 in the podcast. An acknowledgement was made each morning during the Institute. Although they were new to me, they are very common in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. A land acknowledgment is a statement to honor and respect Indigenous Peoples as the original inhabitants of the land, and to recognize their relationship, both past and present, to the land.
We would like to acknowledge the land that we are on today. We are on the island known as Man-a-hat-ta, now called Manhattan, . . .
Sandra Jackson-Dumont, Chairman of Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, spoke at another of our “TED-Talk-style” keynotes. She spoke with humor and incredible passion about innovative ways to create art experiences for all. When someone asked, “How can I work for you?” we all agreed it would be amazing to work for any of the keynote speakers. Each morning, I felt I was in the presence of a true genius.
On the morning of the Miss America selfie, Henry Timms, the President and CEO of Lincoln Center interviewed Nia Franklin on stage. She shared her story of growing up with a passion for music, fostered and developed in her Black church in North Carolina. When she decided she wanted to become a composer, she realized she had no female or African American role models. Yet, she persisted, and started entering beauty pageants as a way to pay for her education. After earning a prestigious fellowship at Lincoln Center and moving to New York City, Nia briefly gave up pageantry but returned to it again realizing that she had something to offer young African American girls by participating. Many pageants later, she was crowned Miss America for 2019. Nia explained that the “pageant” is now called a “contest,” and, among other changes, the swimsuit competition has been eliminated. After hearing her tell her story and share her enthusiasm for music composition and arts education, I realized what an incredible role model she is for all of us.
Teaching Like an Artist
The bulk of our time at Lincoln Center was spent with forty Connecticut teachers and three master teaching artists. Our facilitators crafted lessons and activities designed to model Lincoln Center Education’s method of using a work of art not just as an interesting connection to a lesson, but as a main focus for a series of lessons.
Our workshop included two viewings of The Peculiar Patriot, a one-woman show written and performed by Liza Jessie Peterson. I wrote in my journal that day that Peterson filled the stage with so many characters I forgot that she was actually alone on stage. Her powerful performance told the story of America’s prison system, it’s glaring injustice toward people of color, and the impact it has on families and communities.
We also studied artist Roger Brown’s exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design. For each work of art, our instructors led us through pre and post-viewing activities, including art making and lots of time for reflection. Each day brought us closer to designing our own lessons using the Lincoln Center Education model.
In our free time, we explored New York, saw incredible Broadway shows (Cheryl saw Chicago while I attended Come from Away), biked and walked through parks, saw a free outdoor show in Harlem, and ate our way through every neighborhood we visited. It was another great week of learning and connecting with other teachers.
I am truly grateful to Barbara Dalio and The Dalio Foundation (the same organization that funded my trip to Cuba through Fund for Teachers) for making this workshop and our hotel in New York available at no cost to Connecticut teachers. As I told Barbara Dalio during a dinner she hosted for us one evening, this was a first-class experience from the quality of our teachers, keynote speakers, the art we were able to view, and our overall time in New York City.