What is the name for the energy that permeates a campus a week before Spring semester gives way to summer? I’m almost certain I don’t know, but it’s certainly present at Columbia College Chicago. With this energy surrounding us, and as has become ritual for me, I’ll use this space now to reflect on some of my recent happenings, highlights, and breakthroughs as the semester wanes.
I’ll begin with my most recent experience of attending the second annual Citywide Teaching Artists Summit at Hyde Park Art Center on April 29. To be completely forthright, I was not quite sure of how this event would transpire, even with agenda and theme (giving a platform to democracy, protest, and self-care in pedagogy) in hand. The truth is it’s always difficult to anticipate just how a conference will operate, as each is unique in vision and scope, although in this case I was confident it would be a great experience given its organizers: The Chicago Artists Coalition.
And, indeed, the experience was a wonderful one. The day began with an amazing keynote speech by Rachel L.S. Harper, Founder of Seen + Heard, in which she emphasized the importance of exercising beneficence in our practice as teaching artists. For the remainder of the day, we continued to build upon this framework of “taking the plastic off” of arts pedagogy through activities that included a panel discussion, breakout workshop sessions, and a closing keynote speech. I had the privilege of participating in the Self-Care and Wellness Practices workshop led by artist Rhonda Wheatley, in which we discussed our challenges as arts educators and strategies for promoting well-being and reducing self-criticism in response to these struggles. In both this session and the closing talk given by Lauren Ash, Founder of Black Girl In Om, we engaged in guided meditations as a form of grounding and holistic self-care.
Something that I particularly enjoyed about this experience at Hyde Park Art Center was the cross-disciplinary view it offered in arts teaching, with attendees ranging in artistic and teaching practices from theater to music and Pre-K to college. Moreover, this day’s emphasis on empathy and humanity led me back to my own personal artistic interests, on which I’ll comment next.
My artistic practice this year has centered on the notion of “constructing” intimacy among an audience, my work, and me, and so I felt the aforementioned summit’s core values truly spoke to this objective. Also towards this end, as of about six weeks ago I began working one-on-one with Columbia professor Bryan Saner, who has greatly influenced the way I’ve approached my work even in the relatively short span of time during which we’ve known one another.
I feel that there are felicitous moments during your MFA experience in which things gain sudden clarity and momentum, which I think accurately describes both the experience I’ve had working with Bryan and participating in things like the Teaching Artists Summit in this latter half of the semester. My correspondence with Bryan, moreover, came as an unexpected change in my semester, making it that much more marvelous and reaffirming the importance of embracing change and–as with the Teaching Artists Summit–broadening your horizons in unexpected ways.
With these reflections, I now close my fourth semester in the MFA Interdisciplinary Arts and Media program and prepare to enter my third–and culminating–year at Columbia College Chicago!