Baltimore Improv Festival
By Christa Huber, Arts Integration Coach, Patterson Park Public Charter School
I have been with Patterson Park Public Charter School for six years in various teaching positions in Title I, third grade, the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, and am now the school’s arts integration coach. This year has been a learning process, but also such a positive experience working in partnership with Young Audiences and Arts Every Day.
It was a personal goal for me to transition Patterson Park Public Charter School into becoming an arts-integrated school. I wanted to maximize our artist-in-residence programs with outside artists as much as I possibly could this school year. We believe in the strength of the impression that residencies make upon students and teachers. All of the work that comes out of a residency versus a day-long field trip makes such a difference. Residency programs allow students more time to engage with and learn from the artists. This exposure to artists is also important for the teachers because it provides a longer period of professional development so that they can learn skills and strategies that they can carry out in the future.
We had a fantastic variety of Young Audiences artists out to our school this year. These artists included: spoken word poet Femi the Drifish, ceramic visual artist Amanda Pellerin, Baltimore Improv Group, Flamenco dancer Anna Menendez, and more. These programs were made possible through Access for All grant funding from Young Audiences and funding from Arts Every Day.
We spread the residency experiences across different grade levels of the school. It was very helpful having the Young Audiences artist and program information online because it allowed me to search for artists that matched and linked to the content areas that our teachers were looking for.
There were a variety of stand-out experiences from our residencies, but here are a few:
- Femi the Drifish worked with our middle school students in Language Arts. A great thing about that residency was the response we received from students who typically are not comfortable with performing in front of people. By their culminating performance, those students in particular were the ones to stand up and share their poetry with strength.
- The third grade worked with Amanda Pellerin to create an Ancient Egyptian mosaic. This piece of work related to their study of the ancient civilization. Mr. O’Connell, our third grade science and social studies teacher, was blown away by how Amanda challenged the students to do their best work in a really positive way. We’re very excited to have that piece of artwork as a permanent fixture in our school.
- Anna Menendez brought some of the Spanish culture into our school. Some of our middle school students had just returned from a trip to Spain during spring break, so this residency was another way to connect with what they learned and saw on their travels. It also provided a relatable experience for the students who didn’t have the chance to travel to Spain.
I have personally seen the impact that residencies have had upon teachers compared to other arts-related experiences. I believe that having artists at Patterson Park helped our teachers develop a great deal. Artists exposed teachers to new art forms that they may not have had any experience with, such as spoken word poetry or improvisation, and gave our teachers opportunities to learn how to tie these art forms to the curriculum.
One of our charter school philosophies is that children learn best through hands-on activities with interdisciplinary and semantic learning models. Arts integration is at the core of our values and it naturally makes sense for Patterson Park.
During the last two years, our roster has grown in size to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms. From slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters, these new artists are undeniably unique.
To introduce audiences to our new artists, we’ll be posting interviews with those who recently joined our roster, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences with Young Audiences so far.
The Baltimore Improv Group is a talented ensemble that came aboard our roster in 2013, and their performances and residencies never fail to evoke laughter and learning. Read on to find out why they became a Young Audiences roster artist, what they learned through our Teaching Artist Institute, and why they believe improv works so well in the classroom.
What is your background as an artist?
The Baltimore Improv Group is celebrating its 10th year as a theatre company in Baltimore. We started small but have grown close to 60 performers, and we perform 90+ shows a year, including our annual Baltimore Improv Festival. We also teach classes to adults, teens, and children. Our performers have studied and trained all across the country, and we continue to host the best improvisers in Baltimore.
How did you hear about Young Audiences?
Our Education Director, Bridget Cavaiola, worked with Young Audiences for years in her position as the Residential Life Director for the Upper Chesapeake Summer Center for the Arts. The center would bring in Young Audiences artists to perform for its campers. She knew it would be a perfect fit for BIG and made the suggestion that we audition.
What made you decide to become a Young Audiences roster artist?
Improv is such a natural fit with children. It encourages risk taking, creativity, and collaboration. We have hosted our own kids’ shows and classes but knew this would be a perfect match for us.
Have you had any programs through Young Audiences yet? What was the most memorable part?
YES! We had more than 10 assemblies at schools this year and our first residency, too! We are looking forward to more in the coming school year. Some of our favorite memories are watching the students come up on stage and perform in front of their peers and receive that amazing confidence boost that comes from taking a risk within a supportive environment! We certainly have traveled Maryland quite extensively, and we will certainly remember the fun trek to Flintstone Elementary School in Allegany County!
You recently completed the Teaching Artist Institute Seminar this spring. What was your favorite part of the program? How has that experience changed your approach to a program or your teaching practices?
The Teaching Artist Institute is an amazing opportunity where artists, educators, and staff truly collaborate to help process, define, and designate the importance of art in the classroom. We loved the guided lessons, hands-on experience, and being around such amazing, talented individuals. We felt that this experience helped to shine a new light on our own experiences as a teaching artist.
What does your art form in particular teach students?
Improv teaches a lot! Listening skills, taking risks, collaboration, the power of “yes,” learning from failure and mistakes, and much more!
Why do you believe it is important for every student to have access to the arts?
Art is the glue that solidifies education for so many kids. It allows them to access their own creativity and instills a level of respect and ownership over a child’s education.
Keep an eye out for more interviews featuring our newest roster artists!