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Alums Gather for Arts in Education Conference

"The door was always a little bit ajar," said Jessica Hoffmann Davis, Ed.M.'86, Ed.D.'91, founding director of the Arts in Education Program (AIE) and former HGSE professor, at the Arts in Education Conference in late October. She was speaking at the event -- the largest yet professional development event of AIE alumni -- of the effort to found such a graduate program in a culture that sometimes regards the arts as frivolous. The conference was the most recent of several events initiated by Andrea Sachdeva, Ed.M.'07, and Joy Lamberton-Arcolano, Ed.M.'04, to foster a continuing sense of community among AIE graduates.

Davis could have been talking about the doors to conference rooms and classrooms at the Ed School that the 150 registrants would be going through over the course of the three-day conference, engaging in activities and discussions about arts-focused teaching and learning. The goal of the conference was to map the nationwide network of AIE alums, making them aware of their existing support system and increasing influence.

To kick the event off, AIE grads from organizations such as the Dallas Museum of Art and Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York spoke of their experiences in six-minute Pecha Kucha sessions, short and quick presentations devised to get and keep the audience engaged. Over the weekend alumni participated in professional development and art-making workshops, and presentations by faculty and other alumni.

Proof that AIE's influence is being felt in the field, was everywhere during the conference. One session showcased an alum from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., directing a one-act play by the three Latin American-immigrant actors from her adult-education literacy class; another had a participant describing her effort to implement arts-based curricula on the African Diaspora for the Pittsburgh schools in her job at the Heinz Foundation; yet another featured grads from the National Building Museum and the Strathmore Performing Arts Center describing their efforts to engage the families of D.C.-area students in their respective education programs; and another had the vice principal of a high school in Singapore celebrating the lifting of the ban on performance art and “forum theater” in his country.

Sunday's program offered some more leisurely activities, including a public art walk with an alumna who works in Boston's cultural affairs office; a calligraphy workshop with a Chinese language and culture teacher from Boston Latin School; and a storytelling and drawing workshop with a museum educator from New York.

Closing the conference, current AIE director, Lecturer Steve Seidel seconded Davis' challenge to “go out and find other doors that you thought might not be open but in fact are open after all.” He expressed pleasant surprise that the conference had done exactly what it had intended to do, providing an opportunity for program grads to accelerate a process of community-building that is difficult to sustain among a dispersed population with a variety of jobs. Seidel also defended his right to “preach to the choir” about the value of arts learning and the multidisciplinary application of the arts.

“It's fine to stay for a while in the room where the choir has been practicing for years,” he said, “because the choir needs to practice after all. And it's a great room anyway, with a door that is always open.”


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