Last year a got my first job as a teaching artist with People’s Theatre Project.
PTP’s Misson and Vision are:
People’s Theatre Project, a non-profit arts and social justice organization, unites members of under-represented communities and raises awareness of their shared struggles through the personally and socially transformative process of collaborative theatre making.
People’s Theatre Project envisions Washington Heights, its home base, as a model for community building through the arts.
Since last Spring, I have worked at middle and high schools in Parkchester, Elmhurst, Rego Park, Hamilton Heights, and Ozone Park, as well as with adults in Jamaica. It’s a lot of commuting, but some of the most satisfyingly challenging work that I have ever done.
Other than the adults I’m working with, all of my students have been new immigrants to the US, and English enrichment is part of a curriculum that teaches acting, art devising and social justice. My students have come from Egypt, Mexico, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, India, Honduras, Venezuela, Yemen, Colombia, Russia, and Ecuador, to name a few countries.
In each residency, the teaching artist (in this case, me) works with the students to create an original theatre piece about a social justice issue that the students care about.
Empowering young minds to consider how they can be critical thinkers and actors in the struggle for justice? Right up my alley! Sharing tools with them about how to be as effective in getting their message across as possible? Yes, please!!
And it works! The performances that my groups have put on have been so thoughtful and full of a loving energy. And all of the students make leaps in their ability and willingness to share their personal thoughts and communicate.
But I found out last week that all of the funding for summer school arts programs for English Language Learners (ELLs) like my students, has been cut. So, basically, everyone who works at organizations like PTP and was counting on those summer gigs will have to find a new work. And all of the students who could benefit from arts education (which is literally every student, regardless of language ability) will not be able to explore new modes of communication and creative, critical thinking at summer school this summer.
The opportunity to go to summer school for students who are learning English is a way to keep their skills sharp and growing.
Most of the students do not come from wealthy families that can afford to send them to camp, or summer programs that cost money. Summer school is a means of getting as much learning as they can for free and getting a leg up on study the following year. It is a way to get much more attention than during the school year when class sizes are much bigger. The fact that summer school teachers do not necessarily have to “teach to the test” is another perk: creative thinking can thrive.
When I got the news of the cuts, it was hours after the ACA was saved and completely overshadowed any relief I had been feeling. I was on my way home from seasonal work at another education non-profit, and when I got home, I cried. Not for my poor luck at having to now scramble for summer work. This is so much bigger than me. I am so angry and so sad for these young people who have had to endure the first few months of an administration which makes them out to be monsters and have now had even more opportunity ripped away from them.
Access to art education is access to new ways of thinking.
The act of creating art — whether visual, musical or performance-based — is the act of storytelling mixed with extensive adjusting and editing to find the best way to get your message across. It is not frivolous. It is skill that will help any person at any time in their lives.
The message that summer arts funding cuts send is that the government does not want a population of young, new Americans with critical thinking skills and the ability to make their voices heard.
I still have limited information as to whether these are federal or state cuts. But I am invested in the fight for public education in New York City, New York State and the US as a whole.
If you believe that all children should have equal access to arts education, then it is your duty to fight, too. Please, share your ideas and let’s make it happen!