Profile: Russell Granet, Part 2

Russell Granet, newly appointed Executive Director of the Lincoln Center Institute and Founder of Arts Education Resource, gave AFA staff a wonderful interview last week.  This is Part 2 of our conversation – check out Part 1 as well!

Where did you learn all your skills? How did you hone your evaluation techniques?

I have always been a reflective practitioner, and my initial time at the Creative Arts Team supported this.  Part of my practice has always been leaving workshops, taking notes, and keeping a journal on the work, because I want to get better.

I always liked people, and talking to kids and hearing their stories.  I had one kid in my classroom at CAT who wore a leather jacket.  When I asked him about it, he said that Barbara Streisand had given it to him.  I asked if he even knew who that was- he didn’t!  He just had heard the name and knew she was an important person, and he thought I would like him more if he told me that Barbara had given him the jacket.  So I take a situation like that, and I wonder what is it about what I do that keeps kids so engaged?

When I was at CAT, I would walk into a classroom and the kids would scream and jump up and down.  What is it about what we brought into the school that caused the disparity between what happened from 9 to 3 and when we were there?  I think a lot of classrooms are better now, but it’s still relevant.

I think that a question all Teaching Artists need to be asking themselves is: What do I want the students to know, understand, and be able to do as a result of my work? 

If you don’t have an answer, go back to your lesson plan and your unit plan.  I am a big believer in unit plans.  I don’t even ask to see lesson plans from my Teaching Artists once I trust that they do what they say they will accomplish.  If you’re in a classroom for 10 weeks with the end goal of a production, I want to make sure that you know how you’re getting the kids there.

Reflection is key.  If we lose that, we’ve lost the learning.  Teaching Artists can get caught up in the fun of what we’re doing, and then it’s 43 minutes into a 45 minute lesson and there are 2 minutes for “Focus on the ceiling, focus on the floor, focus on Russell: what did we learn?”  Or the bell rings and the kids are out the door.  If we don’t allow a proper 10 minutes for reflection, we’re not allowing kids to integrate what they learned.

I learned this all by making mistakes, by paying attention, and by having incredible mentors.  But I also knew that I needed them.  Sometimes when I teach this at NYU, it falls on deaf ears.  I have mentors in my life that may not know they were a mentor to me.  If you don’t capitalize on the people that can help you, if you don’t ask for help or take someone out to coffee, it’s lost.  Nobody will come to you and say, “I want you to be my mentee.”  People do what they can, but people at that stage are busy.  It doesn’t mean you can’t follow them or their careers.

Speaking of careers, CONGRATULATIONS on being the new Executive Director of the Lincoln Center Institute!  What are your major goals at LCI?  How do you see the role of LCI in arts and arts education?

Thank you!  A priority for me is to listen.  In the first month or so, I am in short meetings throughout the day with anyone who has anything to do with the Lincoln Center Institute.  That includes the staff, the Board of Directors, and constituents like principals, teachers, and Teaching Artists. 

In these meetings, I am trying to do more listening than talking, and I am trying to ask good questions.  I am trying to wrap my head around the enormous work at Lincoln Center.  LCI works with charter schools, K-12 programming, as well as a focus on higher education. If we get to work with teachers before they become teachers, we have a running shot at them believing in our work.  If more Teaching Artists had a course in the academics, I believe we would be in better shape.

I’ve always prided myself on being a team player within an organization and within the field.  I want to make sure that Lincoln Center uses the platform that it has. Lincoln Center has an incredible brand with local, national, and international reach, so with that, what should education look like?  I don’t want to take away from any singular arts organizations, but how can our work here help everybody in the field?  Are there things we shouldn’t be doing?  I am trying to develop strategic growth based on the needs of both the organization and the field.

That sounds difficult to balance.

The access and possible access is awesome, but once you get someone on the phone you have to have something to say.

I was talking to a reporter yesterday, and after the interview I asked her, “So, what do you think that I should be doing?”
She said that in arts education, people don’t understand it when we talk about aesthetic education or 21st century learning skills or how art increases a person’s capacity to be imaginative and innovative.

For a reporter, a parent, or a politician, if arts education is not teaching the violin or rehearsing the spring musical, it is difficult for people.  And we as a field have to remember that.

At Arts Education Resource, I would ask my clients to rehearse their elevator speech.  What do you say if you only have 30 seconds?  People often had a hard time with it because they would fall into jargon that only we understand.  If we cannot translate that for an outside audience, we will always be on the chopping block. That does not mean dumbing it down or being patronizing, but translation skills.  We do not want to talk down to people.

Right after my appointment was made public, I had breakfast with Maxine Greene.  She said that a Teaching Artist is the highest form of an artist because the highest form of artistry is translation, and a Teaching Artist translates art.  I spent two hours with her, and I could not write fast enough.

I sympathize with that feeling, especially right now!  In your TedX talk, you said, “What I am advocating for is that our young people grow up to think like artists.”

I believe it, my primary goal is not to create artists, but rather have young people think like artists.  Regardless of what a young person goes on to do – a quality arts education will help them in every aspect of their life.  If more of us thought like artists, we would all be in much better shape.

Russell, thank you so much for taking the time.  And congratulations again!

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