Busy Day Ahead for @asfaCW! Student-led workshops at Princeton Elementary in the AM; @LindaSuePark at UAB in the PM! #DayInTheASFALife

Around this time every year, things get kinda hectic at ASFA-CW. Readings, applications, interviews, outreach visits, senior theses, college acceptances, classes (of course)…and more! It’s a special place to be, where opportunities and challenges abound, and we wouldn’t have it any other way! In keeping with that attitude, here’s Linda Sue Park’s TED talk, “Can a Children’s Book Change the World?” Her answer? [SPOILER ALERT!] No — but the kids who read them can. (Can a CW department change the world? No — but the students who navigate its steady stream of opportunities and challenges certainly can!)

Young Creatives Unite: ASFA Seniors in CW, Visual Arts, and Dance Combine, Collaborate, and Experiment to CREATE!

We’re working with our colleagues in the Visual Arts and Dance departments again this year to create interdisciplinary performance pieces that combine visual, linguistic, and kinesthetic modes of creativity. It’s always a great learning experience, and the work is always just as great. This year’s theme is “Wearable Art.” Can’t wait to see what these talented folks come up with!

ASFA-CW/Dance/VA Collaboration Photos + Kudos!

Here’s just a fraction of the photographic evidence (click here and here for slideshows) of yet another successful year of one of the coolest interdisciplinary endeavors in the ASFA universe! Writers, dancers — and this year, visual artists! — push envelopes, take chances, and (most of all) CREATE! TOGETHER!! #FunTimes. Many thanks to ASFA-DANCE’s Teri Weksler, who’s been the driving force behind this project, and to ASFA-CW’s Kwoya Maples and ASFA-VA’s Randy Gachet, who coordinated with Teri and the students to make this such an extraordinary learning experience for everyone involved. And, as always, thanks to ASFA’s core academic teachers and administrators, who adjust on the fly and help us fit this project into an already/always chock-full daily-weekly-semesterly schedule. (You guys are the best!)

Inclusive + Arts = Education.

Okay, so here’s a quick rundown of what a professional conference is like for arts educators (really for anyone at any level of academia): there’s the milling around, the eyeing of one another (which is to say: an assessing of “the tribe” — “Is this the cohort to which I (we) belong? Are these my — Our — people?”); there’s a keynote (or several); there are probably awards and maybe a pertinent tour (or two) and definitely a fair amount of receptions; …and then there are the panels and presentations. Lots and lots of panels and presentations. (By way of an example, see the TED talk above, given by arts leader Ben Cameron, who closed out this year’s Arts Schools Network [ASN] conference in Minneapolis with a [different but equally] spirited and inspiring talk about why all the arts matter, now more than ever — and, more pointedly, how we as artists and teachers, as creators, performers, and audiences, can rise [not to but] with the extraordinary occasion of our times.)

This week, at ASN – Twin Cities, where the theme has been equity and inclusion in the arts, these very things have happened (of course) for me and for my ASFA colleagues/bosses. But, like, a lot. It’s been an eye-opener, in all the best ways. And (so, therefore) here are some of my overarching observations with these two newly opened eyes: Continue reading

Parallel Universe (Part II): Perpich

Our ASFA entourage visited another arts school in the Twin Cities, one with an older history than PiM and, perhaps, an even closer kinship to ASFA in terms of (1) the very specific mission it fulfills and (2) the large and multifaceted constituency it serves. Founded in 1985, the Perpich Arts High School is part of the Perpich Center for Arts Education, a state agency in Minnesota that is charged with enhancing the arts for public school students throughout the state.

That’s a hard job — Minnesota is a big state (ten thousand lakes!), and, as is the case just about everywhere, the unmet need for arts-infused teaching and learning is just as big. What’s more, public education has changed a lot in Minnesota since 1985. The arts high school at Perpich — which is only open to juniors and seniors, all of whom have to run the gauntlet of a rigorous application and audition process — was once  pretty much the only game in town the entire state for advanced high school arts instruction. Now, there are several arts high schools in the Twin Cities alone, none of which have admissions processes that are as selective as Perpich’s and all of whom extend their curriculum for a full high school experience (i.e., grades 9 – 12).

Simply put, because they’ve been around a while, the folks at Perpich are at a different stage of the cycle of an arts organization than most of their competitors peers, locally and statewide. Like the folks at PiM, they’re fighting the good fight of providing intensive arts instruction in a broader educational ecosystem that often gives the arts short shrift. But circumstances dictate that Perpich has to do it in a slightly different way than a school like PiM does. For the arts high school at Perpich, it means adapting to a new landscape where they have to compete for students; stay vigorously current in their culture, curriculum, and facilities; and guard against the complacency that past success can sometimes bring — all while still holding true to a core set of values that has served the school and its students very well for over thirty years. (All of which are eerily apropos considerations for us at ASFA, as we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary and face a very similar to-do list.)

From what I can tell, Perpich has two very important aces in the hole in making all that happen: (1) they have the people (students, teachers, and a very optimistic and capable new leadership team) and (2) they have the place (a campus awash in green space and natural light, human warmth, and lots and lots of great student art, on display, everywhere [see above]). With assets like that, you can win just about any good fight worth winning.

Parallel Universe (Part I): PiM

All this week, I’m away from ASFA-CW attending the annual Arts Schools Network conference. This year, the conference is being held in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and today, conference attendees visited several arts schools and conservatories in the Twin Cities metroplex. The first school I visited this morning was PiM — the Performing Institute of Minnesota Arts High School, in nearby Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

It’s tempting — too tempting — to think of a school like ASFA as a one-of-a-kind, Hogwarts type of place: half secret society, half Island of Misfit Toys, half Parris Island of specialty education (yes: [at least] three halves; it’s just that kind of place). And in some respects (the best respects) ASFA truly is unique. In fact, the state of Alabama expects nothing less: it’s ostensibly mandated that ASFA offers unique instruction in its six specialty areas, instruction that young Alabama creatives can’t really get anywhere else.

A short visit to a school like PiM puts a different slant of light on things, though. The big takeaway, for me, is that we’re not alone in the world. There are other schools of witchcraft and wizardry in Harry Potter; likewise, there are other passionate people — students, teachers, school administrators — building and nurturing dynamic creative communities full of possibility and imagination. Everywhere. That’s, like, a Thing, in the world. And it means we ASFAns are not alone in fighting this good fight, which I (for one) find very empowering, very encouraging — and very, very inspiring.

ASFA-CW’s Ashley Jones Joins The Conversation: Part II

Conversation_ReadingThis week, ASFA-CW’s Ashley M. Jones is one of sixteen Bash Fellows taking part in The Conversation, a three-state (MS, AL, LA) tour of readings and workshops dedicated to examining and expanding notions of Diasporic Blackness for young writers in the American South and beyond. All week, she’ll be engaging her ASFA-CW students from afar, filing field reports, exhorting them to engage some of the concepts she’s considering during the fellowship, and we thought it would be fun to let the outside world in on that exchange. Here’s Ashley’s missive from the second day of the journey. Ever and always the writing teacher, she offers up a few evocative writing prompts (some of her own devising and some from her fellow Bash Fellows) for her students back at the ASFA-CW ranch.

Continue reading