A note from Executive Director Jessica Mele

Whew! It’s been an especially busy but fun few months here at the Workshop. Here’s just a glimpse at what we’ve been up to:

  • Showing our thanks. On November 6, we hosted “A Taste of Performing Arts Workshop,” a party to show BIG appreciation to our current family of individual supporters, and also to welcome new folks into the fold. Thanks to our generous host and partner, the African American Art & Culture Complex in Western Addition, we had a festive and colorful venue for showcasing some of our students’ latest work. Former board member Merti Walker and former teaching artist Taylor Strand read their favorite poems in the anthology of student writing we published last spring from our residency at Marin Juvenile Hall. Three young poets attending one of our partnering schools, Visitacion Valley Middle School, performed a moving poem they wrote about violence in their neighborhood. When they finished, you could hear a pin drop. And as partygoers milled about with drinks and snacks, Core Teaching Artist Amani Manning transformed one corner of the room into an Afro-Peruvian dance class for anyone game enough to try it (including a few intrepid and utterly wonderful board members). With these tastes of the Workshop’s programming, a community of generous individuals and corporate sponsors donated food and spirits to make it a truly festive party. What a fantastic way to kick off a holiday season celebrating gratitude and community. Huge thanks to everyone who made it happen!
Teaching Artist Amani Manning shows Board member Yashica Crawford and a few other game partygoers some of the Afro-Peruvian dance moves our students learn.

Teaching Artist Amani Manning shows Board member Yashica Crawford and a few other game partygoers some of the Afro-Peruvian dance moves our students learn.

  • Sharing our smarts: We just learned that Program Director Karena Salmond’s proposal to the prestigious SXSW Education conference has been accepted! She will head to Austin, TX in March to present at this national conference. It’s a family affair; she’ll team up with sister Kimberlee from the New York-based Girl Scout Research Institute to lead a session on process-based instruction. Karena will present the Workshop’s unique teaching method — the Cycle of Artistic Inquiry — as well as the research and evaluation data we’ve gathered on how our classes develop critical thinking and other cognitive and behavioral skills. Go Team Salmond!
  • Shouting out for artists: As one of the largest and oldest teaching artist hiring organizations in the Bay Area (and the state), Performing Arts Workshop has long been an advocate for building up the profession of teaching artists and giving artists as teachers all the support and security their professional commitment deserves. Read more about my work with Teaching Artists Guild to professionalize the field and provide access to health and other benefits to teaching artists here.

Approaching the Workhop’s 50th birthday, I’m especially interested in seeing a direct line from the fierce commitment and generous spirit of our founder, Gloria Unti, to our teaching artists today. One constant has been an unwavering belief in the potential of each and every child. (In fact, we were just cited in a Wallace Foundation report on after school arts education on holding high standards). I’ll leave you with Core Teaching Artist Sonia Reiter’s inspiring insight into her 4th grade dance students:

I’m asking them pretty challenging questions in class reflection time. Sometimes I don’t get a lot of answers and I was wondering if my questions might be too complex. But I’m starting to realize that these students have the ability to reflect in pretty complex and exciting ways. So I’m going to keep asking hard questions even if I don’t always get answers in class, because I believe they’re thinking about it — even if they’re not answering in the moment.

Here’s to our devoted, dedicated and insightful teaching artists. Here’s to asking hard questions and having the patience to wait for the answers. And here’s to holding the greatest expectations for all that our young people can accomplish – in and well beyond our classrooms.

Wishing you each a warm and peaceful holiday season,
Jessica

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