Engaging With Youth As Active Participants and Accountable Community Allies
On June 11th, 2015, I had the pleasure of sharing my teaching practice with Marwen staff and teaching artists. I was able to discuss the people, resources, conferences, and approaches to teaching that have had the most impact on my own praxis. My biggest take away from that is that Marwen continues to be a space where young people can be who they need to be. In the times that we live in today, this is not something I take lightly. As a Marwen alum, I appreciated hearing that current teaching staff is actively seeking ways to build a sense of community while sharing accountability of themselves and students, particularly during difficult conversations.
Marwen Blue Line: Art at Work Photo Project, 2007
Getting to talk about my own experience as a Marwen Alum allowed me to reflect on just how special Marwen was for me, specially as I developed strong bonds with people that genuinely cared for my well being and expressed honest levels of vulnerability that went beyond art making and learning itself. It was because of that, that I was able to confidently develop my own skills as a young artist then and can continue to build that same momentum as a teaching artist today.
With Marwen mentor/friend Gina Anselmo, 2007
During this workshop we talked about Augusto Boal and I posed questions around the transformative opportunities we can can creatively unfold through art making.
- In what ways do we see art as an opportunity to transform? What does art transform? Does it transform anything?
- In what ways do we set “stage” for students to become spect-actors in our classroom/learning for participation and collaboration among students and ourselves?
We spent time contextualizing the work of Augusto Boal and unpacking how theater/art are forms for people to find engagement, responsibility and community.
Who is Augusto Boal?
From Theater as Discourse:
- Augusto Boal developed theater of the oppressed work to emphasize the value of participatory theater in order to foster cooperative forms of interaction to address and resist social injustice and oppression. Engages audience as participant and is designed to engage vision and dialogue.
- His work is rooted in Popular education ideas developed by Paulo Freire where praxis (ongoing action and reflection) becomes a pillar for liberatory education.
- According to Boal, “the spectator is a bad word. It is less than a man and it is necessary to humanize him, to restore him to his capacity of action in all its fullness…” (155)
- Theater is a form of knowledge; it should and can be a means of transforming society. Theater can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it. (Games for Actors and Non Actors)
- Spectator must act to be free, release themselves of merely passively watching and become fully engaged. “Perhaps the theater is not revolutionary in itself; but have no doubts, it is a rehearsal of revolution!” (155)
We also talked about the need to acknowledge the many experiences different students bring to the table as a resource so that as a community of learners we can create meaningful and sustained engagement. I brought up the concept of E+T=M:
E+T= M (Experience plus text, equals meaning.)
I learned about this from the book called Homegrown where Amelia Mesa Bains and bell hooks transcribe various critical conversations around feminism, social justice, family, and education.
It is the idea that students are not empty and come to education to be filled, but rather that each of them brings their own knowledge to share. Text, is what Mesa-Bains describes as the teacher, the one that uses multiple learning platforms to “apply knowledge to develop meaning- relevant and useful education that engages the learner” (pg. 46).
Creating spaces for organized and organic student development:
Acknowledging power dynamics and fostering vulnerability as a source of empowerment and using it as a tool.
Setting up structured opportunities to discuss and reflect. Students can “assess” their own work and progress and see what peers have been developing.
As I think about how my own work as a teaching artist continues to evolve, I cannot stress enough the need and urgency to make time to reflect on my practice with other educators. We have to do our own homework, researching and reading and sharing with one another to ensure that we are positively giving young people access to what they have a right to. We also have to do this with a level of sensitivity that celebrates and builds the confidence of our youth. It is through the building of trust and positive relationships that we can really begin to do work that transforms us. What a beautiful thing, that we can do this through art, so that we can remember and actively witness what this process may look, feel, sound like.
Silvia Inés Gonzalez is a photographer and teaching artist in the city of Chicago. A believer in the arts as a form of transformative healing and a cultural worker for social change, she enjoys practicing art as a labor of love with others. She has experience working in Chicago Public Schools, media literacy practices with youth and community based projects with women. Her personal work explores individual narrative and ritual as well as the significance of collective healing. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with two degrees, one in Art Education and the other in Photography. Silvia is currently a teaching artist at the Village Leadership Academy Upper Campus. She is also a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Masters of Art Education Department where she is researching transformative praxis that addresses power and engages social change.