The Power of “What If?”: A National Residency Teaching Artist Credential

Written by Stacie Sanders Evans,
Chair, Young Audiences’ National Residency Teaching Artist Credential
President & CEO, Young Audiences of Maryland

One of the things I admire about many of the artists I encounter is their ability to envision and create without constraint. Most of the time, I feel my ability to dream is tethered to my day to day constraints. Fortunately, I have the rare board of directors at Young Audiences of Maryland (YAMD) that isn’t asking me why our copying budget is over by 10%. Instead, they are encouraging me to dream bigger dreams and actually discouraging me from worrying about how to pay for it. They want to help shoulder the burden of these constraints so I have enough moments to live in the delicious “what if” space.

“What if” moments have gotten Young Audiences to where it is today both locally and nationally. One “what if” moment just recently led to a successful pilot of the Young Audiences National Residency Teaching Artist Credential for exceptional teaching artists. Up until this pilot, unlike almost all other professions within education, there has been no nationally recognized credential for the field of teaching artistry. 

Twelve artists (featured below) from seven different states have completed a very rigorous application process and earned the National Residency Teaching Artist Credential to date. Let’s applaud these amazing artists who took a chance with us and contributed to the larger idea of “what if” in an effort to help us test and refine a credentialing system.

Young Audiences formed in 1950 in Baltimore because of our founder, Nina Collier’s, “what if” moment. Nina’s question, “What if we bring musicians into our schools to perform?” ultimately led to the movement that created 32 Young Audiences affiliates across the United States and now benefits five million students annually. She had no idea the impact that question would have on children and artists.

In the ’90s, YAMD’s first paid executive director, Patricia Thomas, had another important “what if” moment: “What if artists are no longer limited to the auditoriums of our schools? What if they go into classrooms to give kids a chance to create in an art form?” Today, artists in partnership with Young Audiences, impact 230,000 hours of classroom learning in the arts every year, creating powerful moments for Maryland’s young people. Thank goodness there were Nina Colliers in communities across our country who were creating the same kind of opportunities for more children.

Once Young Audiences saw the transformative power of our artists in classroom settings to inspire kids and we saw how high stakes testing was narrowing the curriculum and negatively impacting student engagement in the classroom, we asked another “what if.”

“What if Young Audiences played a larger role in education and in our communities to bridge the gap between what we know the best conditions are for learning and what children actually receive in school? I call this the inspiration gap.

This “what if” led us to invest heavily in artist training (far beyond even our own roster of artists) and to create many more opportunities for artists to partner with academic teachers to use their art form to draw kids into learning in literacy, math, social studies, and science classes. This is known as arts integration, which could be learning fractions through the steel drum or about figurative language through writing and performing their own poems, or about the scientific method by writing rap songs.

Using the arts helps students connect to the academic content in meaningful ways–so the learning “sticks.” Young Audiences’ arts integration approach also requires students to “show what they know” through the arts by either performing or exhibiting. Students become more visible in this kind of classroom and it nurtures the sense that they matter. When you make the learning matter and students know that they matter–that is the secret sauce to bridging the inspiration gap.

Now school districts and foundations see us in a broader light, as an organization that can help improve educational outcomes for kids. These groups are investing nearly three million dollars in YAMD this year so we can address stubborn problems in education: preventing summer learning loss, increasing school readiness, and improving teacher practice.

Across the country, we have artists who are ready to bridge the inspiration gap, and there are even more who, with the right training and support, will soon be ready to join them. We believe the National Residency Teaching Artist Credential, along with a network of coordinated, affordable professional development opportunities, could lead to kids in all communities having greater access to a quality education–one that includes arts education and opportunities to learn in, through, and about the arts from the best professional artists in their community (even where there is no local Young Audiences affiliate).

Imagine a society where teaching artists are recognized for the valuable role they play in breathing creativity and possibility into our schools. Work which, in turn, draws kids back into learning. Imagine how many more kids would benefit if artists were able to choose teaching artistry as a profession because it was treated like other professions.

Members of the National Residency Teaching Artist Credential effort Top row from left: Brian Scheller, David Dik, Marsha Dobrzynski, Jeni Siepierski, Julie Lister, Jenny James, Sheila Womble, Ivy Bennett, Dick Deasy, Hana Morford, Chris Sheard; Bottom row from left: Valerie Branch, JoEllen Florio Rossebo, Susan Oetgen, Stacie Sanders Evans

Many, many things are needed to realize this vision, and I believe a credentialing system–one that is developed in partnership with artists and educators with students at the center–is one important component in a larger ecosystem that needs attention. And I’m not alone. A national survey revealed that 94% of teaching artists want a credential like the one we are designing for the field. One reason artists support this idea is that, currently, since our field lacks a credential, there is no unified way for that expertise to be recognized or validated.

For example, dance and teaching artist Valerie Branch has performed with over 10 dance companies, choreographed over 100 dance works, has a Bachelors degree in Dance (Magna Cum Laude), and has led artist-in-residence programs in 150 schools. But as a teaching artist, she had no signifier of her expertise, excellence, or the value she brings to the classroom. The National Residency Teaching Artist Credential solves this problem.

We are still early in this “What if we created a National Residency Teaching Artist Credential?” moment. And we hope one day, after thoughtful adjustment and many discussions with different stakeholders (that includes you!), and in partnership with the many other national and local organizations that care about education, this credential could be something that the broader field will welcome.

Was there ever a time an artist closed the “inspiration gap” for you or a young person you love?  Let’s make more moments like that for our young people. Wanna “what if” with Young Audiences around this idea? Let me know because it will take all of us–you, me, our friends, and our friends’ friends–to turn this new“what if” into a reality.

2018 Young Audiences’ National Residency Teaching Artist Credential Recipients

Valerie Branch, Young Audiences of Maryland
Melli Hoppe, Arts for Learning, the Indiana Affiliate of Young Audiences
Molly Johnson, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania
Laura Marchese, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania
Ray McNiece, Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, the NE Ohio Affiliate of Young Audiences
Emma Parker, Center for Arts-Inspired Learning, the NE Ohio Affiliate of Young Audiences
Malke Rosenfeld, Arts for Learning, the Indiana Affiliate of Young Audiences
Chris Sheard, Young Audiences of Louisiana

2019 Young Audiences’ National Residency Teaching Artist Credential Recipients:

Carrie Sue Ayvar, Arts for Learning / Miami
Harlan Brownlee, Kansas City Young Audiences
Quynn Johnson, Young Audiences of Maryland
Brittany Roger, Young Audiences of Maryland

Jason Baker

smARTbeats with Jason Baker of Fractal Cat

smARTbeats returns to WTMD on Saturday, November 10 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart! On this month’s segment, host Lisa Mathews talks with Jason Baker, one of our talented teaching artists from Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA). Jason is a board-certified music therapist and teaching artist by day. Kids lucky enough to have had him as their teacher in SALA over the past few summers will tell you he has a lot of wisdom and kindness to share. Do they even know that Jason is a bona fide rocker once the day is done?

Jason Baker with host Lisa Mathews in the WTMD studio.

In the classroom, Jason is known as a man who helps kids learn their math facts through writing their own beatbox riffs, who models compassion and collaboration, and who leads young percussionists with artistic excellence. No doubt, the same skills he uses as a music therapist cross over into his lessons. His students work diligently, checking their numbers and planning their beats in the arts-integrated math class. The kids are eager to support their peers as each finds the courage to perform their beatbox compositions at the mic.

Jason’s music majors exhibit the same cooperation and camaraderie as his math students. They don’t just play their instruments. With their drums in a circle, the young percussionists listen, they watch, they respond to one another. Their rhythm is alive and has a personality all its own.

By night, Jason Baker is the drummer for the highly acclaimed psychedelic rock band Fractal Cat. The classically trained musician’s beats are the pulse of Fractal Cat’s euphonic sound —and like a teacher in a classroom, he keeps the music rolling.

Young At Heart airs weekly on 89.7 WTMD from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.

Hear Jason Baker’s smARTbeats interview online now!

smARTbeats

smARTbeats is back with Khaleshia Thorpe-Price!

smARTbeats returns to WTMD on Saturday, June 14 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart! On this month’s segment, host Lisa Mathews talks with the multi-talented Khaleshia Thorpe-Price. Khaleshia is a musician, actor, and Young Audiences teaching artist with a contagious and explosive energy for the arts that fills students with creativity and excitement.

For over 15 years, she has facilitated residencies and workshops for children and adults for many arts organizations including Wolf Trap, Arena Stage, Young Playwrights’ Theater, Young Audiences of Maryland, Folger Shakespeare Library, Shakespeare Theater Company, and M-NCPP. In classrooms across Maryland, DC, and Virginia, Khaleshia helps students create and perform original plays with props and visual aids.  In addition to teaching, you can find Khaleshia directing performances in the Folger Shakespeare Children’s Festival and serving as a dramaturge for the Young Playwrights Theater Festival.

The artist not only co-wrote A Journey with Jazz, an interactive performance experience for young audiences, for the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts, she performs in the production with the Wolf Trap Jazz Trio. “In my classes I love to use music to unify my students, to build ensemble and community,” Khaleshia said. “The language of music has a way of speaking to my students and pulling us all together. I begin and end all of my classes with some type of music.”

Young At Heart airs weekly on 89.7 WTMD from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.

Tune into 89.7 WTMD this Saturday at 7 am as YA teaching artist, actor and musician Khaleshia Thorpe-Price joins host Lisa Mathews in the studio!

Andrew Greene Shares the Art of Ragtime on smARTbeats!

smARTbeats returns to WTMD on Saturday, June 9 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart!

On this month’s segment, host Lisa Mathews sits down for a chat with pianist, conductor, musicologist, and founder of the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra, Andrew Greene. A new addition to the Young Audiences roster, Andrew is excited to share his love and appreciation of Ragtime in Maryland schools and open ears and imaginations to the genre!

Andrew Greene, center, and the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra

Be sure to tune in to hear the artist talk about bringing to life important, historic films by performing original silent film scores from the era! On his website, Andrew explains, “All of our silent film scores use the actual music that existed when the films were originally released – it’s the closest thing to actually being back in the silent era!” The group accompanies short silent films featuring renowned actors like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, or Laurel and Hardy.

As an ensemble that re-creates the sounds and sights of a century ago, the Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra is both entertaining and educational. The musicians teach their audiences to understand, appreciate, and make connections to modern-day examples of the music they present, how sound can impact emotions, and to think critically to understand the role sound plays in creating scenes, moods, feelings, and emotions. “With critical thinking, we can create a scene just using music and sound!”

This unique ensemble gives audiences a true appreciation for the role ragtime music played in the art and history of cinema and an understanding of how ragtime music relates to the music we hear today. “When film was in its beginning stage 100 years ago, there was no sound to accompany the movie — so we work with audiences to show how sounds can change how we think about a certain scene or action sequence.” Their work has not gone unnoticed. “The premier American ragtime ensemble” as hailed by the Washington Post is rapidly becoming the leading professional ragtime orchestra in the United States- which is great news for Maryland students.

Young At Heart airs weekly on 89.7 WTMD from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.

Listen online as YA teaching artist, conductor and musician Andrew Greene of Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra joins host Lisa Mathews in the studio!

Steve Cyphers Talks the Physics of Sound on smARTbeats!

smARTbeats returns to WTMD this Saturday, May 5 during the weekly children’s program Young At Heart! On this month’s segment, host Lisa Mathews sits down for a chat with professional frontman and percussionist, Young Audiences teaching artist Steve Cyphers. Tune in and you’ll hear why Maryland students absolutely love drumming with Mr. Steve!

The musician has performed for audiences on stage his entire adult life, touring with bands in the U.S. and abroad, contributing drums, percussion, songwriting, and vocals. “I truly believe music and art can help break down social and political walls and help to build cultural bridges,” Steve explained. “That being said, I simply enjoy performing for, and with, people!”

In schools, Steve helps students gain a deeper understanding of playing and notating rhythms and the science of sound. In addition to body percussion and call-and-response exercises, Steve’s students learn how to play a bucket with mallets designed and fabricated by the artist to accentuate the high and low pitches of the buckets, and to provide more volume control for the classroom. With Mr. Steve in the classroom, students investigate the physics of sound waves and even get creative by altering their “instrument,” to change its sound.

“I’d like to inspire students to venture further into music and performance, and interact with them in a positive, fun, and educational way.”

And inspire students, he does. If you’ve ever wondered what true happiness looks like, just watch a group of Steve’s students singing and playing James Brown’s “I Feel Good” on bucket drums!

Young At Heart airs weekly from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.

Hear Steve Cyphers‘ smARTbeats interview online now!