This is the online stream for sharing conversations that happened throughout the Greater Bay Area from March through June 2012 around the question:

How can we collectively transform public education through the arts to create a better future for everyone?

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Upcoming San Francisco Conversation-In-A-Box

The conversations are spreading across the bay! At the Arts Education Brown Bag meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday, May 16, 12-1:30pm, Louise Music will share the Alliance for ALL’s vision for Conversations-in-a-Box, and we’ll use the toolkit to kick off new conversations.

The Arts Ed Brown Bag meetings started twelve years ago as a way to promote advocacy and collaboration. Since then a regular group of artists, educators and cultural leaders attend to talk about the issues we face and to forge powerful collaborations. At each meeting, presenters or panelists discuss topics pertinent to arts education in the Bay Area.

If you’ve never been to an Arts Ed Brown Bag meeting, I really encourage you to come and be part of the dialogue with this great group of people. And if you’ve attended, but haven’t come in a while – add your voice to what’s sure to be a rich discussion.

Here are the details for May’s meeting:

When: Weds, May 16, 12-1:30pm

Where: Latino/Hispanic Community Room A of the San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch at Larkin and Grove (right next to the Civic Center BART station.)

Hope to see you there!



Connection and place

Since the last synthesis team meeting, I’ve been musing about connection, relevance, and place. Specifically, what is the essence of why the arts are important to learning, how do they connect with all other learning, and how does our concept of where and how that learning takes place support (or limit) that growth.

As I’m moving into a new role, I’m thinking a great deal about community and how organizations and institutions create, engage, shape, and reflect the communities they serve. I’m also thinking a great deal about nontraditional performance spaces, and ways to collaborate with a greater cross section of service providers to better support all of our children’s needs.

On a recent hike, I kept remembering a group I performed with back in Chicago called Theatre Hikes. They did docent led hikes through county and state parks, and at various stops along the way the actors (and we spent a good deal of time running across shortcuts to get into position in time!) performed a play-with each chosen spot along the hike corresponding to a new set design. At a time when many children may not have the opportunity to see or experience arts learning, when their exposure to nature and the outdoors can also be limited, and when childhood obesity rates are a national focus, are there any efforts being made already in the area (aside from possibly Mountain Playhouse at Mt. Tam) to combine developing a love and respect for the beauty of nature and outdoor activity with that of creating and experiencing the arts for children and families? If not, are there others who might be interested in exploring some options?

Making Room for Collaboration

By: Jennyann Carthern 

Wikipedia defines collaboration as working together to achieve a common goal and repeating that process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize those shared goals. I believe this has to be our starting point.  As a Teaching Artist behind the scenes. I’ve noticed a sheer separation between Teacher and Artist, and Arts and Learning among faculty. There is a perception that art doesn’t bring any true value into the classroom. Teachers pass out illustrated worksheets and projects that students have to do for homework, but the assignment is just another assignment. It’s a norm, where the attention to art and intrinsic value is a matter of getting it done.

Teachers seem to value the structure and repetition that they’ve already built in the classroom, by using the same curriculum, the same assignments, and the same literature, yearly. Accepting it as fate, something that cannot be changed. This is their comfort zone.

What if we challenged faculty to step out of that zone, by working with them to create a New Monster! Designing new structures, materials, and coursework that fit their package?  New legs to stand on!

This would be a challenging feat though! Anyone who has ever left their comfort zone eventually has to stand up to resistance.

So how do we battle this resistance, and work with them to be for them?


We must meet Teachers where they are, many Teachers I’ve come across simply resist Art, because their no Picasso. They’re like many of my students when I first meet them. “I can’t draw!” Art is more than a pretty picture on a piece of paper. Meaning we need to present faculty with new definitions of what Art is.


We must change the perception of the Starving Artist. YES! This one is important because if Teachers and institutions feel that Art has no future. Art has no future! We need to initiate entrepreneurial programs into schools. Entrepreneurs and Game Changers depend on creativity, and ideas to move forward. They’re not afraid to make changes, think outside of the box, even at the cost of failure. Failure is a light, a comeback to start over, and create a new picture.

Maybe by seeing, Teachers can start doing.

As of now the only ideas in schools are structures and wheels.

Go to School ~ Go to College ~ Go to Work ~ Get Benefits ~ Get Insurance.

What if it looked more like this?

 ~ Go to School ~ Go to College ~ Generate Ideas ~ Make a Plan ~ Start Business ~ Get Own Benefits ~ Set up Retirement Packages ~ Collaborate ~ Network ~ Create Financial Goals ~ Etc Infinity!

 The starving Artist only exists, because we haven’t created a picture that works for them or their trade. We leave those students with a D.I.Y. approach to education. So, we must change that perception, and present a new  picture that Teachers can model, with value already attached to it. Giving students more options and choices to make for their creative futures.


We must ask Teachers what they value, and connect those values to learning. All of us come from different places and have different stories to tell. Why not approach Teachers with a lens of themselves. To initiate passion and optimism in the classroom. Many Teachers have it when they start, their pumped up and ready to go, years pass, and their engine dies. They get tired, frustrated, and give in to their circumstance. When we’re able to be in our own bliss, that’s where we’re most effective in life. So why not in learning. We need to give Teachers ways of bringing themselves into the classroom using creative tools and connections that match who they are.  Such as recordings, community projects, poetry, crafting, paintings, music, whatever you can imagine. Our personal life shouldn’t be separate in the classroom, within reason. It should be fuel for the fire!

What do you think?

First Synthesis: How do we get people involved?

Two overarching sentiments were palpable at the first synthesis meeting in April.

  • The landscape feels awesomely large and we are unsure of context
  • Many voices and perspectives have yet to be heard.

The chosen process being an emergent one,  the collective feeling of uncertainty at this stage is no great surprise. The second group sentiment underscores a key challenge at this milestone: We need to hear more voices, more conversations, before shape can begin to emerge from the mosaic.

Who do we need to hear from? You!
Get involved:


I’m reading Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer, and about a third of the way in, after this well-known Picasso quote: “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Lehrer continues:

“From the perspective of the brain, Picasso is exactly right, as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC, the part of the brain that is most closely linked to impulse control, the part that artists learn how to ‘turn off’ when sketching or improvising)  is the last brain area to fully develop.  This helps to explain why young children are so effortlessly creative; their censors don’t yet exist.  But then the brain matures and we become too self-conscious to improvise, too worried about saying the wrong thing, or playing the wrong note, or falling off the surfboard.  It’s also the point that the infamous ‘fourth grade slump’ in creativity sets in, as students suddenly stop wanting to make art in the classroom.” (p. 109-110).

So if we’re training kids in artsmaking from K, we are in fact priming their ability to switch off the DLPFC, thus giving them a more effective pathway to creative thinking across every sphere, and making them more effective people wherever they end up.

We’ve gotta start in K.

And you’ve all got to read this book.

Reflections on synthesis 4/6/12

Themes from today’s meeting: I kept hearing about all the different pages that different stakeholders are on, so I’m thinking about the common themes we are all trying to read and write on those pages. For me that’s around creating curriculum and schools where different kids can enter and thrive.  For those to come to pass, we need as may points of entry as possible; we need also to be able to talk to each other across our differences of approach and job description. So if we’re all reflecting on this process, what if we each reflect in writing (briefly, 5-10 mins a week to record one small moment) and then collect those writings across many jobs and communities, for say a year, guided by some key questions, to find common themes?

Listening to the broadness of the overall idea, my brain turns to people who revolutionised the notion of school. If I remember founders of progressive and equitable education (from Froebel to Friere), I feel it must be constructivist. If I think about Deborah Meier, I think about relatively small, highly responsive communities.  If I look at Geoffrey Canada, I think about educating families intensively, beginning before children are born, but within communities of relevance.  It seems important to create supportive webs that include schools, or perhaps center around schools.

Where are the arts in all this?  Perhaps in the answer to the questions we try to ask kids and families daily: “What makes you unique?  What are your strengths?  What are your needs? How will school make you stronger, and how will you contribute to the strength of school?” Perhaps because I work with young children, I think that we must start at 5, when children still primarily express themselves physically, rhythmic-melodically, dramatically and through art media.  Our job at that point becomes to support and build on that freedom of expression.  And since teaching a Kindergartener necessarily involves singing, dancing, dramatic play, and visual representation, maybe it is at K that we can best start to build arts-integrated curriculum, and scaffold it up as we do our students.


Photo: courtesy students at the Arts and Humanities Academy at Berkeley High School, from the RADIATE project – an interdisciplinary study of radiation, issues of power, language and visual arts


I have just returned from meetings in Coronado California where the California Department of Education, the California Arts Council and the California County Superintendents of Education Services Association were convening working groups comprised of individual and organizations from across the state to consider how to bring learning in and through the arts into the public education of every child, in every school.  This initiative is called Create CA, and is inspired not only by the recognition that current education policies are failing to prepare California’s students for the complex and challenging future they are growing into, but that current education policies are doing little to stem a horrific drop out rate, especially for Latino and African American students who are facing an unacceptable future of poverty, violence and encarceration.

Work groups were organized around issues of Educator Quality and Professional Preparation, Policy and Politics, Equity and Access, Collaborative Relationships, Creative Workforce, Research and Evidence Building, Curriculum and Instruction and School Finance and Sustainability.  The Bay Area was well represented by the San Francisco MoMA, San Francisco Ballet, KQED, Oakland Unified School District, Oakland School for the Arts, Performing Arts Workshop, Luna Kids Dance, Teaching Artists Organized, San Francisco State University, Alameda County Office of Education, Contra Costa County Office of Education, California College of the Arts, Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education and the San Francisco Arts Commission.

There was so much synergy and overlap in Coronado with the conversation that Helena Carmena Young convened across multiple organizations at the California Academy of Sciences.  There the topics included educator quality and curriculum and instruction through STEAM collaborations.  So it was with the convening of multiple organizations and individuals at the San Francisco MoMA, as described by Leyna Lightman, where the dream of a renaissance through the arts for equity, access and growing a healthy and vital economy was launched.

Across the Greater Bay Area and this large and diverse state, individuals and organizations are recognizing that while everyone has too much to do already, it makes nothing but good sense to talk to each other and work  together.  Through these multiple and intersecting entry points and processes, an understanding of both the challenges and the wisdom embedded in our communities is emerging.  This emerging understanding is a huge resource that can inform economies of scale, complimentary expertise, and mutually reinforcing activities as a support to new solutions that would never be possible if we all continued to work individually and in isolation – no matter how much money we had available.

The idea is spreading that we are at an important moment where we understand that we not only can we make a collective impact toward a better future for everyone, but that we must employ our most creative powers and energy to create collective solutions that work with our natural environment as well as our human dispositions toward learning, interdependence and community.