It's one thing to teach children about the arts, but quite another to use the arts to help them learn about history, science, or even themselves. But for 28 years, the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education (LCI) has been bringing the arts to schoolchildren using a unique approach that helps youngsters incorporate arts awareness into their everyday experiences and bring creativity to problem-solving in subjects across the board. At the same time, it instills in them a basic appreciation for the arts and the process by which artists create.
"What we're trying to do is promote a form of education that nurtures the imagination," says Scott Noppe-Brandon, executive director of the Institute. "We're trying to educate for ownership of information, and for the individuals' active participation in shaping their lives as constant learners."
LCI's methodology is "a way of thinking about the role of the arts in education and an actual pedagogy itself," says Noppe-Brandon. "It is a way of teaching and a way of learning. Our view is, the best way to learn about the arts is to look at, study, and interact with art. If we can do that, we have the potential to understand the language it speaks, how it comes alive."
Since its inception in 1975, Lincoln Center Institute has served more than 2.7 million students and some 45,000 educators. Each year, entire school communities‹teachers, administrators, students, and parents‹are touched by the Institute, which trains teachers, arranges for in- and out-of-school performances, and sends teaching artists into its Partnership Schools. While Partnership Schools utilize LCI's approach in specific classes, Focus Schools make a long-term commitment throughout the whole school.
A core component of the Institute is an annual Summer Session for some 1,800 educators from across the nation. Participants, many of whom are not involved in arts education, come to Lincoln Center Institute for a series of performances, lectures, and workshops at which specific works of dance, music, and theater are explored in great depth. These works are then incorporated into their curricula during the subsequent school year.
Focusing on specific artworks is key, Noppe-Brandon says. "Our premise is that if your study of a work of art includes a personal, creative involvement, you will learn its language with a much deeper understanding than a purely didactic approach can provide. The result is a much greater capacity for self-expression."
The repertory for the 2004 Summer Session, which will take place from July 7 to 16, encompasses works of dance, music, and theater. Dance pieces will include Two Plus One by Pilobolus TOO; This Ain't No Rodeo! by Monica Bill Barnes; and a program by Ailey II. Music presentations will be The Different Moods of the Blues by Eli Yamin and his quartet; a chamber concert by the clarinet-viola-piano trio Piaclava; and drumming by Taiko Masala. Theater productions will include A Midsummer Night's Dream by the Aquila Theatre Company for Young Audiences; As If the Past Were Listening, Latino myths told by storyteller David Gonzalez; Gorilla My Love, a one-man show by John Patterson that explores themes of youth and democracy by using Native American and African American poetry; and Secret History, assembled by Ping Chong, with six actors reflecting on their lives against the backdrop of history.
The Summer Session's intensive, multidisciplinary workshops are constructed to enable participants to think more creatively. "The games and activities always have a purpose that brings them back to the works of art," says Claudine Jellison, interim assistant principal at the Manhattan School for Children, an LCI Focus School on the Upper West Side.
Last summer, Jellison, who has attended Summer Session regularly since 1994, took a workshop that included a session led by Anna Deavere Smith, whose play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, about the L.A. riots, was one of the repertory works. The participants were divided into small groups and given concepts to act out without using words. "It might have been something like 'being shut out,' or 'connecting,' or 'why can't we all just get along?'" Jellison says. "What do those concepts look like? How do we physically show them?" After attending performances of Twilight, she saw how those exercises "applied to the way the actors were working, to the way the play was staged." She found a distinct relationship between the workshop exercises and the actors' work.
Testament to the Institute's success is the expansion of its six-year-old National Educator Workshops, a weeklong program for teachers, artists, and community members who are not connected with LCI's Partnership Schools and therefore not eligible for the regular Summer Session. Until now, the National Educator Workshops have been held only at Lincoln Center Institute, concurrently with the Summer Session. This summer, for the first time, LCI is launching workshops outside of New York City, at affiliated institutes in two other cities: Urban Gateways: Center for Arts Education, a well-established arts and education organization in Chicago, and the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, a performance, education, and community center in Berkeley, California.
In the next two years, Noppe-Brandon hopes the Workshops will spread to many of the other LCI-affiliated institutes around the United States and the world. Such institutes already exist in places as far afield as Hong Kong and Australia, and this summer one is to open in South Africa.
Also burgeoning is LCI's Teacher Education Collaborative, developed in 1994 to bring arts and education into the curricula of higher education programs. Noppe-Brandon says this is particularly important because in the next five years the teacher transition rate in the United States will be enormous. "We realized that the vast majority of people new to the profession probably do not have the arts as part of their formal training in school. Research has always shown that to influence the way teachers teach it's better to reach them during their pre-service level than during the in-service."
Currently, almost 3,100 teachers-to-be are reached each year through the Collaborative's presence at five CUNY colleges‹Brooklyn, City, Hunter, Lehman, and Queens‹as well as at St. John's University, the Bank Street College of Education, and Yeshiva University's Stern College. As word of the Institute's work spreads, LCI is receiving requests from colleges around the country to do consultancies for them. Thus, in the coming year or so, the Collaborative will likely increase its national profile, Noppe-Brandon predicts.
LCI's educational approach is a powerful tool for teachers and students alike. It encourages children to ask questions‹and children love to ask questions. "By asking questions," says Noppe-Brandon, "they seek both knowledge and acceptance, a place for themselves in a universe they can understand."
"It helps them to work together," adds Jellison of the Manhattan School for Children. "They build a community. It helps them to see themselves and each other in a new and different light."
Ira Rosenblum is the director of publications at The Juilliard School and the author of The New York Book of Music.