ALit Online

This post by Artistic Literacy Research Associate Serena Le belongs to a series introducing the people and purposes that have inspired this website and spearheaded the development of our Artistic Literacy Institute. We hope you’ll join us as we explore the issues at the core of our work and invite ongoing conversation and collaboration!

Early in our conversations about whether and how to develop an online presence for the Institute, we asked ourselves a whole slew of questions.

Should we focus our attention just on the 2019 Institute itself, building a simple event-centric site or adding a page to the Cal Performances domain with just a few contextualizing statements? Should we attempt to create an informational home for artistic literacy more generally? To what extent should we feature our extended community and speak more intimately about our work? To what extent should we open the door onto resource provision and development?

In short: What’s necessary? And what’s possible?

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Some of the most herculean online efforts to document and support the labor of arts-based education come courtesy of major presenting organizations. The Kennedy Center’s ARTSEDGE site, for instance, hosts everything from detailed lesson plans and teaching guides for K-12 classrooms to carefully considered writings on arts integration and professional development curriculum for teachers and administrators. 

Others are the work of national coalitions like the Arts Education Partnership, which guides advocacy and oversees a massive arts education research database, and the Teaching Artists Guild (and Collective), which connects teaching artists with arts and culture organizations through their interactive assets map.

And still others are the result of philanthropic projects and collaborations such as the Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program site, which shares extensive outcomes and analysis, resource materials, and contact information for each of fourteen major projects funded nationwide.

While we may not be quite so herculean (we are currently, after all, only a team of six!), the drive behind each of these larger efforts runs deeply parallel to our own. It is a drive to clarify terms and strengthen tools, to spotlight transformative work and working conditions, and to enable the bridging of theory (belief, outrageous ambition) and practice.

It is also a drive against institutional exceptionalism and isolation. Since valuing artistic literacy is, for us, synonymous with valuing access, we want our work to recognize and respond to a diversity of classroom, program, and organizational needs beyond our own. We also want our work to be transparent, to be available to others (freely subject to inquiry and influence) and to be oriented toward conversation (freely acknowledging of the many contributions that have influenced us).

It’s all too easy for significant labors to go undocumented and for programs and projects to end up siloed away from those who would appreciate and enrich them most. Even when documentation exists in abundance (as with the resources mentioned above), it can be hard to move from passive sharing and passive witnessing to active relation, communication, partnership.

For these reasons, our website is built around the core promise of gathering together in person, as individuals, to convey and parse our learnings. If you’ve found us online, we’d love for you also to find us in June—or at least to let us know you are out there, in all your dimensions. Hand-in-hand with this promise is our commitment to sharing the contexts and content that best define us, that keep us thinking and connected and make us believe in Institute-like gatherings to begin with.

• • •

At an Artistic Literacy Department staff meeting last month, Sabrina described our work within Cal Performances as, in part, “opportunistic”—that is to say, we are always scanning for and responding to emergent possibilities for learning and connection. However much we’ve planned in advance, we try to leave room for asking more questions and seizing upon fresh points of contact. Does an upcoming performance dovetail with a new K-12 initiative? Is a visiting artist particularly open to meeting with a class? Can the theater lobby be co-opted for a spontaneous post-performance discussion?

As we continue to flesh out these pages and move into and through the Institute, our hope is that it will be with the same ready posture. With luck and community, we will witness as much as we create, maintaining curiosity and flexibility about what we can offer and what roles we can play. Though the work we hope to share online and in June has been years and, by some respects, decades in the making, our desire to learn is ever-present and our methods for sharing are ever-evolving.

Serena LeComment