Because You Moved Us: An Update on the Fall Campaign

By Christina Magaña, Development Associate

Our Fall Campaign is ending in a week and we have much to report, a TON to be grateful for, and still more to ask.

This year’s online fundraising goal of $30,000 is the largest online fundraising goal in Workshop history. We decided to set the bar higher than ever before for three big reasons: we received some tremendously generous gifts; we received $3000 in donations in one day on #GivingTuesday; and supporters like you moved us. So we moved the needle from $20,000 to $30,000 in your honor.

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If you’ve already donated to our campaign, thank you.

If you’ve been with the Workshop since its beginnings, or if you just learned about our work yesterday, thank you.

You are supporting work built on a foundation of 50 years of expertise, and you’re helping to ensure that this work continues well into the future. With you beside us, we’re all stronger.

As you may already know, we invest our resources in working with schools where we can address issues of access to arts education programs and participation in quality arts learning experiences. Our programming attempts to confront systemic structures of inequality, and your giving helps us continue this work. We really can’t thank you enough.

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As we sit here writing and reflecting on how far this campaign has gone, on how far you have helped this campaign go, we again and again return to one particular student’s words. It just happens to be what we quoted in our acknowledgment letters: “I finally found something I’m good at…I want to keep doing this.”

Why do we want our supporters to hold this particular sentiment in their hands? Because it’s easy to forget the kind of thrill that comes with discovering, at long last, what you’re good at.

What a gift that this student discovered her poetry talent at such a young age, with the support of her phenomenal teaching artist. And how beautiful that this student not only knows her talent, but is excited to keep working at it.

That’s why we keep working so hard on the Fall Campaign, to make sure students have access to these moments of self-discovery. Today, we’re at 93% of our goal, with just 11 days left to get to $30,000. If you have yet to give a gift, we hope you’ll join us in these last few weeks of the year. If you’re one of our amazing donors who have already given, THANK YOU! You keep the Workshop’s wheels turning with your committed and joyful giving. It’s an honor to have you beside us in our work.

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The Community Circle Heals What Hurts

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By Matthew Clark Davison, Chief Artistic Strategist

A few months ago, veteran Workshop Teaching Artist and Capoeira Mestre (master) Salê Ramos found out he needed knee surgery. It could not have been good news for him, considering he uses his body to teach Capoeira to hundreds of students each week, including fifty at E.R. Taylor Grade School in San Francisco’s Portola neighborhood. Salê immediately scheduled a meeting with us to think together: How could we keep his classes going during the month he’d need to recover?

Capoeira is a Brazilian art form developed by slaves brought to Brazil from Africa at the beginning of the 16th century. It combines elements of dance, martial arts, and music, all steeped in the values system of community. Students learn to channel and focus their energy through elaborate, improvisational sequences of head and handstands, dodges, kicks, spins, cartwheels, and aerials. This all takes place in center of the roda, or, as Salê calls it, the Community Circle, where the musicians and players sing, play, and clap to keep the beat for the pairs playing in the center.

With a dozen or so classes with Salê under their belts, students at E.R. Taylor had already learned about Capoeira’s history—a vital part of learning the art form. They made connections between Capoeira and their daily lives, learned to play each of the traditional Capoeira instruments, and choreographed their own sequences to be performed in duets in the center of the roda.

Salê and the program team decided to expand on the metaphor offered by the roda. A bunch of us said we were willing to show up for Salê’s classes, but none of us are Capoeiristas. Salê didn’t seem to think that was a problem. He asked:

“Why don’t you let them teach you?”

What a fascinating question! So five writers and a contemporary dancer set off to learn the ins and outs of the Capoeira roda while bringing in some additional lessons from our fields of practice. Chinchin Hsu, a dancer and another of our seasoned teaching artists and mentors, had an intriguing suggestion for getting students to empathize with Salê’s plight: What if we ask each student to limit the range of their movement and expression within Capoeira by having them perform with only one leg or arm? We asked students to devise ways in which they could help and support each other as members of the roda when faced with limitation. Students jumped up and experimented with holding and physically supporting each other so that those attempting to play in the circle could do so without full range of mobility with both arms and legs. After, kids sat in the circle and discussed the timely question:

“How can we lend our strength to someone who’s vulnerable?”

We asked each student to fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise and write Hurt on one side and Heal on the other. What kinds of hurts have they seen or survived? And what actions could they take, or what help could they ask for, to get the hurt to heal?

Students also had a chance talk about their strongest Capoeira move, and the one they struggle with the most. Those who struggled with the “coffee grinder” (including myself) had Antonio—a more experienced Capoerista than the rest—break the move down step-by-step. “Which leg do you use to kick the ball?” he asked us, then told us to put that one out in front of us.

While kind and welcoming to the crew from the Workshop’s home base, Taylor students missed Mr. Salê. They discussed a few questions like: “How do we keep the circle strong when someone is injured?”; “What is the role of the community to injury/repair?”; and “How can we best take care of ourselves and each other when vulnerable or compromised?” Afterwards, they decided to make a video message for Mr. Salê. In it, they demonstrated their favorite move: sharing their strength and sending Mr. Salê  “healing energy” from the roda.

What’s New

We are excited to announce that as part of Performing Arts Workshop’s new Artist Leadership Training Program, this fall we will begin piloting an internship program in partnership with the University of San Francisco’s Performing Arts and Social Justice Department. Students who share our commitment to social justice and are interested in pursuing a career in the arts or education will be paired with a Workshop teaching artist who specializes in dance, music, spoken word/hip-hop, or Capoeira. Together, they will develop a curriculum and co-teach a 15-week residency in their art form. USF students will be eligible to receive course credit, and our young students will benefit from two teaching artists learning and growing with each other.

We’ve accepted one student for the pilot program next year. She’s a rising senior at USF, majoring in Performing Arts and Social Justice (Dance Concentration) with a double minor in health studies and child and youth studies. Stay tuned for an update in future newsletters!

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The Workshop was founded on the core belief that an artistic education should be viewed as a basic human right and a vital part of developing a compassionate, fair and just society. We sometimes get asked how these social justice values show up in our classrooms. We offer this vivid example, from spoken word artist/teaching artist Natasha Huey on a class she taught in 2014-15.


The news of Darren Wilson’s no indictment hit on a Thursday night, and my spoken word poetry class (at Visitacion Valley Middle School) was the following morning. After some hours of wrestling with different options for how to address this with my students, I contacted my partner teacher, Mr. Bandy, to let him know I would be doing a whole new lesson plan discussing how word choice, an element of composition in poetry, can contribute to potentially fatal stereotypes.

After a powerful class full of questions and troubling discoveries about how we misrepresent each other, Mr. Bandy and I sat down to plan the next few weeks. Mr. Bandy, who was always down for a challenge and trying new things that would be relevant and engaging for students, came up with the idea of a class project to have students make altars to Michael Brown and Eric Garner. We collaborated on the project guidelines to integrate poetry and source-based essay writing.

For the poetry components, students were asked to write through the point of view of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or any other fictional characters they could imagine that witnessed either’s death. Some students wrote through the point of view of a little kid (“‘Mom, when is this going to stop? I’m tired.’ Mom said, ‘I don’t know sweetheart.’”), police officer, grandmother, person who filmed Eric Garner’s death (“I was really scared to go back down there again because of what I saw. I told the interviewer that I said to put an oxygen mask on him when I heard him say, ‘I can’t breathe.’”), and more.

Lastly, students were asked to describe the world they wanted to imagine into existence—a world in which Michael Brown and Eric Garner would still be alive. Many students used the opportunity to “rewind” the scenarios they wrote about in their personas and “replay” them where conversations or advice happened with police instead of violence. On the first day of class, we worked on persona writing, and after weeks of working on specific detail and “show don’t tell,” we were ready to bring personas back and apply these new skills to the projects. But this was more than an exercise to get students to make cardboard altars or write pretty poems. This was an exercise in empathy.

Empathy was particularly urgent because many different classes featured students bullying each other and groaning, “Why are we still talking about this? What do these people have to do with us?”

We began to answer this each week when we tried to step into the shoes of another more and more effectively. What would this person’s hands be doing while they watched what was happening? What words would they choose to describe it? How would a child and a police officer see the scenes differently? To what and whom would they go home to afterwards? What does their home look like?

Mr. Bandy and I hoped that these altars could offer a sense of honor for the black lives lost that were not honored by the justice system or media. We also wanted to provide a space in class for students to work through these timely conversations and explore personal connection with the topic through poetry. So does specific detail and persona writing affect empathy? With this project, we just began to dig below the surface, but it certainly planted some seeds.

By the end of our residency, several students chose to write source-based pieces about social justice, and leaders in the classroom took an active role in encouraging their peers. How these seeds will continue to grow, I may never personally witness, but I find hope in a classroom full of students walking in the pain of someone else’s shoes and imagining love in its place.

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Superstar Teaching Artist (and 2016 Showcase Emcee) Natasha Huey with her students from Galileo High School. Photo credit: Robyn Navarro.

 

 

 

The Power of a Spotlight

By Emily Garvie, Executive Director

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The excitement of capturing your child’s first experience on stage: a priceless moment from our May 20 showcase. Photo credit: Robyn Navarro. 

On May 20, families and friends packed the Brava Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District. They came to celebrate the 86 young performers taking the stage that night. From preschool tots to older teens, these artists performed their own original compositions in dance, music, and spoken word/poetry, sharing what they had learned over a year of residency classes with Performing Arts Workshop artists.

It was the Workshop’s fourth annual Student Showcase, and my first as executive director. Photo evidence confirms that I was grinning from ear to ear the entire evening. How could I not? The Brava, itself a work of art, positively hummed with the preshow excitement of performers and their families mingling and chatting over food in the lobby. And that’s to say nothing of the show itself, which embodied the audience-performer connection at its best—a two-way flow of powerful energy and warm appreciation.

Since that night, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means for our young artists to take to the stage for the first time in their lives, to be in the rapt gaze of an audience. What it means for them to learn new skills during the school year, to practice (and practice and practice) for that one sweaty-palmed moment of performance that’s over before you even know it.

To be in the spotlight.

That moment reveals to us the value of what we are able to bring forth into the world. We see ourselves and our power with a new clarity, and a spotlight also makes us visible to others on the soul-deep level that art allows.

Next year, our artists will be focusing directly on process toward performance, harvesting the fertile ground that is preparing for performance, from creative spark to spotlight.

The importance of being seen—and feeling seen—simply cannot be overstated.

Toward the end of the show, center stage, in the spotlight, one young poet Cedrica Hampton called out the importance of being seen in her spoken word anthem:

Attention all girls of color, we are not invisible.
I see you.
& I hope one day you can see her too.

 

 

Meet Program Manager Adam Levy!

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As Performing Arts Workshop’s new Program Manager, Adam Levy manages our school and community site partnerships with the most supreme diligence, which makes sense considering his background. Adam’s a writer and translator, who, together with his wife, just launched a small press, Transit Books. We staff members are grateful for Adam’s commitment to the Workshop’s original book club revival project: the Place of Business Book Club. (Although a few of us have said more than once we plan on attending the staff book club meetings and then don’t, Adam remains patient and dedicated to the project. Maybe it’s the teacher in him.) Read on to learn more about what brought Adam to the Workshop and what keeps him committed to the work.  

What brought you to the Workshop?

After spending a handful of years in the classroom—first as a high school teacher in Budapest and later as a teaching artist and undergraduate instructor in New York—I came to the Workshop eager to support youth and arts programming in a new capacity, in communities that need it most.

What is one of the most memorable things you encountered while at a site visit?

We throw a release party each year for the poetry anthology put together by the students at Marin Juvenile Hall. In one of my first weeks with the Workshop, I was fortunate enough to hear the students read from their work. The power of their stories just blew me away.

What do you like most about being the Workshop’s Program Manager?

I love getting back in the classroom, either to meet with teachers or observe classes, although I don’t mind not having to grade papers!

In spite of our best efforts, we as an office have failed you, because we have failed the book club you started up again (a book club that we get so excited about but sort of fail to attend). Despite our failure, what makes you continue coming to work?

I keep coming to work because I’m surrounded by some pretty sharp, arts-minded colleagues, who care deeply about what we do. What they lack in book club attendance, they make up for in wit and culinary skill.

Meet Program Coordinator Priscilla Lopez!

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Priscilla Lopez is the Workshop’s new Program Coordinator, and she’s pretty fearless. She schedules our artistic residencies at school or community sites, manages our internal database, and regularly creates reports from our residency data. But what makes Priscilla even more amazing? She began this role just two weeks prior to our HUGE 50th Anniversary celebration, and she proved she was game for it all. The office has been enriched by Priscilla’s sense of adventure. She even fire dances! (In spite of our best efforts, she WILL NOT fire dance for us at the office.)

In this post, Priscilla discusses how she came to the Workshop, why she’s invested in its mission, and how a certain student in his Adidas track suit taught her the true meaning of swag.

What brought you to the Workshop?

Can I say destiny? (laughing). I think it was a profound desire to find not just a day-to-day job, but to connect my passion with my work. I love the Workshop’s passion and commitment to the students we serve. And as someone who understands the challenges inherent in the San Francisco communities we serve, as well as the power of art, I knew this was the right place for me.

What was most memorable to you about any of the site visits you’ve been on?

I had one memorable visit at Mission Bay [Head Start, one of our Preschool for All sites] to see Melissa Wynn’s creative movement class. There were 12 kids in the classroom, all excited, all wide-eyed. They were so eager to do the next move in the sequence, to get more and more. It made me think of how much energy you have when you’re between the ages of three and five. When you get older, you’re always thinking about how you appear to others, what you look like. But when you’re a kid, you’re not afraid to mess up, and you are so excited to show and tell. What I love about the Workshop is that it’s giving these kids a new way of allowing their energy to express itself.

How has working at the Workshop affected you?

I feel truly honored in serving the kids we’re serving, and I have a newfound respect for them because I’m even more aware of the challenges at their school sites.

I look at my nieces and nephews who can go to gymnastics classes or take part in a number of other extracurricular activities. Because of their socio-economic status, those classes come more easily. But what we’re doing at the Workshop is serving the students who don’t have access to those activities, or whose access does not come as readily or easily. I feel really lucky to be doing that work.

What was most memorable to you about the 50th Anniversary, especially considering how closely you worked with the student performers?

I think I was just mesmerized by how hyper and nervous and shaky the kids were. I made everyone take three deep breaths to calm down. It was funny, though, because as soon as they got on the stage, they were immediately performers. They just snapped into it! It was pretty amazing. And the parents of the kids looked so proud and excited, too. They took so many pictures!

Priscilla had recently told us that one of the 50th Anniversary student performers was wearing a sharp Adidas track suit. Priscilla said, “Hey, that’s a cool outfit,” to which the student replied, “Thanks, I know,” with a smirk.

What about the student in the track suit? Do you think he got his confidence and sass from the Workshop or was he just born with it?

(Laughing) You know, I think the confidence and sass were just him; he’s pretty indicative of the amazing students we serve. I think the Workshop was just the arena for him to show off that confidence.