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Creative Advantage Summer Institute Prepares for the Next Year of Seattle Arts Education

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Edited by Marian Mohamed

Attendees representing their art medium at the introduction to The Creative Advantage Summer Institute on Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo/Lucia Flores-Wiseman)

The annual Creative Advantage Summer Institute invited local artists, arts educators, administrators, and community partners at the Seattle Arts Museum on Aug. 24, to take part in professional learning through panels, workshops, and community building in preparation for the 2023–2024 school year of arts education.

Founded in partnership with the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture (ARTS), Seattle Public Schools (SPS), and the Seattle Foundation, Creative Advantage aims to reinvest city resources and funds to establish equitable access to quality arts education for all students in Seattle Public Schools. Over the past decade, Creative Advantage has ensured all 73 elementary schools teach at least one arts discipline, opened a Media Arts Skill Center, made gains in equity for students furthest from educational justice, and as of 2020–2021, has expanded to 81 out of the 104 schools in the city.

“The creative advantage is unique. It is a collective impact project to support arts education equity and justice, making sure that young people have access to the arts education that they deserve,” said Tina LaPadula, The Creative Advantage Arts Education Project Manager. “It's amazing that we have been around for 10 years—that we've maintained this work through a variety of different leaders.”

Mateo Acuña, 2023/2024 Seattle Youth Poet Laureate, delivering their poem, “The Black Locust,” to the crowd of attendees on Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo/Lucia Flores-Wiseman)

Mateo Acuña, Peruvian-American artist, writer, poet, and 2023/2024 Seattle Youth Poet Laureate, delivered the opening invocation with their poem, “The Black Locust,” which explored themes of generational knowledge, personal identity, and colonization through the education system. Acuña, now a student at Pacific Lutheran University, wished he had better access to arts education programs growing up in Auburn, Washington.

“For me, I grew up in a place where there wasn't a lot of arts education and I really only started doing poetry in college because that’s where there were poetry classes,” said Acuña. “When you're investing in arts education, you're mostly targeting young people, and they can realize sooner who they are. Art can help you discover who you are.”

Following the introduction, attendees chose from a list of workshops to learn new ways to improve access and the impact of the arts from their role within SPS.

Workshop attendees cut out shapes from paper to create stencils of significant objects and symbols in their environment on Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo/Lucia Flores-Wiseman)

The workshop, "Bringing Arts Integration to Life with Since Time Immemorial Tribal Sovereignty in WA State Curriculum,” introduced attendees to arts integration, an interdisciplinary teaching practice that uses an art form to teach another non-art content area. In the example activity from the workshop, participants created stencils of meaningful objects in their environment to learn about place-making and tribal sovereignty.

“With arts integration, the students are not only learning art skills and concepts like stencil-making, they're also learning about specific tribes and the geographic area that the tribes lived in,” said Carina A. del Rosario, Creative Advantage teaching artist, and the workshop host.

Workshop attendees cut out shapes from paper to create stencils of significant objects and symbols in their environment on Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo/Lucia Flores-Wiseman)

Arts integration aims to deepen students’ understanding of both the arts and non-arts content areas at the same time, and as del Rosario emphasizes, makes lessons more memorable for students. The workshop activity offers opportunities to implement culturally responsive education.

Following 2015 state legislation that required all schools to teach about tribal sovereignty and indigenous peoples of the area, similar “Ready to Go” lesson plans shared by Tribes and educators are available on the Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State curriculum website.

“When we give students opportunities to not only explore their own cultures, but the cultures of others, you have students who can engage a lot more readily to the content,” said del Rosario. “I think it also promotes this idea that even though somebody might be from a different background, that we still share lots of very similar qualities and hopes, and values.”

Across the hall, attendees got the chance to explore ways they can physically and vocally express emotions through the workshop, “Processing Emotion Through Song: Teaching Mindfulness and Emotional Awareness through Singing and Music.”

Sara Litchfield and Gemma Balinbin, from the Seattle Opera and Summer Institute workshop hosts, lead a reflection exercise on Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo/Jonny Tran)

The workshop was hosted by Sara Litchfield, Seattle Opera Associate Director of Youth Programs, and Gemma Balinbin, Seattle Opera Youth Programs Manager. It contained three different components that allowed participants to discover ways to utilize the fundamentals of singing to build strategies for mindfulness.

Litchfield and Balinbin first guided participants through a physical and vocal warmup, asking each person to think about breathing. Then, they broke into groups and did an exercise where participants were asked to sing a nursery rhyme embodying a certain emotion. Finally, each group was asked to reflect on that emotion and build an original song around experiences and words they associated with said emotion.

Both workshop hosts really wanted to challenge the notion that music needs to be perfect and practiced. They wanted participants to ditch the focus on technique.

“We really wanted the focus of this workshop to be that everybody can sing, it doesn't have to be perfect, it can be improvisatory, it can be something that we come up with on the spot, and we can make all sorts of different sounds,” said Balinbin.

At the center of the workshop was breath work, as the hosts cited how much of meditation, social emotional awareness, and the mindfulness practice is centered on the breath.

“They can take that idea back to their classrooms, and use it as a tool for breathing together, re-centering and moving through negative emotions,” said Litchfield.

At the heart of the summit was equipping educators with tools and resources that they could take back not only to their classroom, but fall back on when they need support.

Host of the session “Improv for Wellness,” Teague M. Parker, whose workshop centered on a holistic and accessible approach to self-care and community building all through improv, said he hopes educators leave today with the realization they can be more selfish.

Attendees participate in an improv exercise led by Teague M. Parker, “Improv for Wellness” workshop facilitator on Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo/Lucia Lucia Flores-Wiseman)

“I really want them to take some more time to be like, hey, you're loving, you are caring, you give so much to everybody,” said Parker. “But how about a moment for you to say, ‘How am I? What do I care about? What is my artistic expression as a teacher? And can I reclaim that a little bit so that when I come back into the room, all my self-worth isn't based on my students?’” said Parker.

Themes of caring for yourself and connecting with the community through art echoed throughout each workshop.

Beyond the workshops, the Summer Institute included performances from 206 Zulu featuring local dance and hip hop groups, a dance break session with Seattle-based instructor Jeffie Lou Jackson Thorn, and time for educators to network and collaborate within and across disciplines.

206 Zulu showcase to attendees during a lunch break on Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo/Lucia Flores-Wiseman)

The summit fosters a collaborative environment and a unique instance where educators have the chance to connect with fellow teaching artists who may not practice a similar discipline.

“What I love in these kinds of summits is the exchange of ideas. So I would be thinking about something and then when I come here, I'm participating in a workshop as a participant,” said attendee and teaching artist Diyva Rajan. “And it gives me perspective on where that idea and the different directions I will be able to take my idea.”

Tina LaPadula, The Creative Advantage Arts Education Project Manager, and Rayna Mathis, Creative Advantage Project Manager for SPS, presenting the goals and values of The Creative Advantage to Summer Institute attendees on Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo/Lucia Flores-Wiseman)

At the start of the initiative, The Creative Advantage assessed what arts education looked like in the Seattle Public School System, and LaPadula shared the crucial role that a student’s socioeconomic status has on their access to arts education.

"Race, family income, home language, were the greatest predictors of whether or not a young person had access to arts education at all in their neighborhood school,” said LaPadula. “And that's just not okay. So we've banded together and we've been working together for a decade trying to move the needle on that.”

The public can look forward to learning more about these findings, challenges, and successes in The Creative Advantage’s 10 year report that will be coming out later this year. It will cover what is needed now and in the next decade to ensure their efforts of bringing equitable arts education to Seattle’s public schools is successful.

“What I would like to see is truly equitable arts access across the district,” said Rayna Mathis, Creative Advantage Project Manager for SPS. “I hope and would like to see the societal value in art. It's even structured in school as an elective and not a necessity of life, and I do think it's a necessity.”


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