Renee Brown’s update on this year’s A Day at the Met program, and why this field trip matters for our students.
Growing up my family and I didn’t frequent art museums and it wasn’t until I moved to New York that I was introduced to the world of art. In the beginning art museums were very intimidating for me because I was certain there was a correct way to view the art; a way that I hadn’t been taught. It was the chance encounter with an art historian that changed my perception of how to appreciate all the works that are held within the walls of a museum. This encounter was the key that unlatched my love for museums and gave me a new found confidence about my personal interpretation of art; rescuing me from the harsh judgments I held of myself in regards to how I interacted with all the museums New York City has to offer. A Day at the Met, Arts For All’s yearly event, strives to introduce, enthuse, and empower children throughout the city with the magic that is held within a museum.
The key moment that I shared with the art historian many years ago is something I try to bring each year to the participating students with A Day at the Met, and I believe is the reason Anna Roberts Ostroff created such a wonderful day for school children nine years ago. Encouraging the enthusiasm and insights the students have for the art shown is an incredibly powerful tool in fostering the continuation of excitement for the works of art and culture that they will continue to encounter as they grow and develop into adults.
A Day at the Met is generously sponsored each year by Capgemini and includes lunch in the Met cafeteria for all the students, chaperones, and volunteers. The participating groups this year have both shared the day with us in previous years; however, each year different batches of students from the groups join in the day. This year we had second graders from the Bronx’s PS163 and mixed ages from New Alternatives for Children (NAC). PS163 and NAC’s children are boundless with their appreciation, excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to be a guest at The Met. Due to their constricted facilities, PS163 has limited arts programming and 96% of the student body is living below the poverty rate. New Alternative’s for Children serve children with medical disabilities and/or chronic illnesses. The students at both organizations have an incredible eagerness to learn and this provides a wonderful experience for the volunteers, Met guides, and their accompanying teachers and chaperones who sacrifice one of their days off during the weekend to contribute to the further growth of their students.
Personally, each year the uniqueness of A Day at the Met is an experience that tops the previous year; I am continually surprised by the never ending special moments that emerge frequently throughout the day. This year for example, the students lit up when they saw the different kinds of swords and were able to recognize a Samurai in contrast to the other swords on display in the Arms and Armory afternoon tour; they couldn’t stop exclaiming “This is so cool!” They were also in awe with the way armor would fit a knight, especially in the feet. A lot of giggling took place in the afternoon armory tour at how big and boxy the armor needed to be in order to cover the boots of the Knights when they entered a battle.
I had the pleasure of giving an afternoon tour again this year and introduced the 18th and 19th century American rooms to the groups. I was able to weave in basic historical facts of the founding of our country and was pleasantly surprised by the information they already knew. The teachers and chaperones that accompany the kids are always actively involved in the tours as well. This year the teachers spontaneously pulled out ten dollar bills from their wallets when we stopped at a painting of Alexander Hamilton for them to compare his two different pictures. The kids also loved the opportunity to identify what was different about their homes versus the ones that our ancestors might have lived in. Their confidence grew as they eagerly pointed out what they liked and disliked-each child excited to share their observations and insights. At points they were part student, part detective trying to determine the function of the locked bookcases that had curtains attached to the inside and a huge silver tray that dominated one dining table.
The cherry topping of the day is when the activities have to come to an end and the shy children we meet in the morning are now the talkative, loving children in the afternoon. Nothing says thank you better than a line of kids waiting their turn to give you a hug of appreciation. I feel extremely fortunate for the continuous opportunity to participate in A Day at the Met. The humbling lesson I re-learn every year is it doesn’t take much to make a difference in a child’s life. From my experience I have realized the basic ingredients are: giving up a small portion of your time, really listening to their ideas and encouraging them to think in greater detail. Children desperately want to be heard and encouraged and I think adults can help water the seed of a more confident future generation by listening and encouraging at every given opportunity.
The Arts For All staff interviews our summer 2013 intern, Carly Ginsberg!
Please describe yourself in 3 words.
Big-hearted. Kooky. Imaginative.
I follow a lot of the rules of theatre in my daily life, and I owe the art form a lot for making me the person that I am. Things like always being open, putting my attention on the other person, constantly asking myself what I want, and trying to fill my gaping hole—they’re sometimes really, really daunting and difficult things to do, but when they’re done right, everything just feels right. And they make you a more empathetic, kindhearted person.
Theatre is one of the primary reasons why I’m determined to cultivate empathy in the classroom—the practice of wholeheartedly listening and fully understanding the feelings and perspectives of others. Two parts of myself that I used to consider so different from each other—the actress and social innovator—have, in turn, shaped one my greatest life goals: redefining classrooms as places of empathy for everyone, everywhere. I believe that cultivating empathy in students will not only enhance their own capabilities, but will also eliminate so much of the bullying and other hindering social qualities that infiltrate the current school systems. I wholeheartedly believe that this cultivation of empathy comes from bringing art into the classroom, in all of its forms.
I also really want to spread theatre magic everywhere! It makes you a better person. It opens up your mind. It makes you see the world in a pretty amazing way.
That’s a great answer. And so in line with our mission. What are you excited to learn this summer at Arts For All?
I’m so excited to learn about what it truly means to be a Teaching Artist, and to work directly with students in this new and exciting way.
What were your experiences with art as a child? How did those experiences impact you?
I was pretty sassy as a child. There’s no denying it. But, it was all good sass, I promise. I channeled all of my sass into creative energy, and spent most of my time creating my own shows in the entryway of my house, or writing crazy stories that I unabashedly called novels. Art was and is my savior. The stage is where I feel most at home, even if the stage is the floor of my home in California. I’m a wacky, passionate performer and I’m so grateful that I learned that at such a young age.
Who do you look up to, professionally and personally, and why?
I love Jenny Slate. Along with being one of my favorite comedians and actresses, Jenny is also an empathy enthusiast. Her creation, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” is all about appreciating the gigantic world around you. It’s about perspective. And it’s fun and silly. It’s everything that I value about art. Jenny’s sense of humor is almost freakishly identical to mine, which is another reason why I value her so much. Words float out of her mouth in this funky, yet beautiful, way, and I just love it. I admire Jenny because she does what she loves without any inhibition.
What do you hope to do after college? What’s the dream?
I want to be happy, and I want to make other people happy. That’s the dream.
What’s your favorite piece of theatre? What’s your favorite musical score? Why?
This is a big question! I like theatre that shakes things up—theatre that makes you see the world in a different way. I love theatre that jumps off of the stage and hits the back wall. A piece of theatre that has done this to me is this little show I saw at the Yale Summer Cabaret a few years ago called “The Phoenix” by Isabella Carmody. I went one night with my friends and was so touched by it that I went back the next night by myself. It had a magical effect on me, I think because of its fantastical, yet beautifully naïve and child-like nature. My favorite musical score is probably Hair. It’s happy and peaceful and energizing and inspiring all at the same time.
Thanks Carly! We look forward to hearing more from you this summer.
AFA /Chicago has been enjoying a busy, art-filled spring. Cara Winter tells us all about it – with photos!
In February, Arts For All /Chicago worked in collaboration with the Junior League of Chicago to present our first ever DAY OF ART. Nearly 70 low-income students from the Rebecca K. Crown Center were brought together for a full day of hands-on workshops. AFA /Chicago Teaching Artists taught 25 different workshops in Visual Arts, Dance, Music, Theater, Poetry and more.
As a thank-you (and as a memento of the event), Arts For All/Chicago and Junior League brought in a fantastic artist, Scott Holterhaus, to create a mural for the Crown Center’s Art Room. Throughout the day, students had the opportunity to meet Scott, ask him questions about the mural (and his work in general), and had the chance to watch him during the various stages of painting.
With the DAY OF ART 2013 behind us, we embarked on a new project in March: an ongoing Creative Writing Workshop at Hammond Elementary, another low-income CPS school in Chicago. Some of our projects included writing scenes for a play, poetry making, and writing essays inspired by photos (the photos we used are from a project called That Tree, by professional photographer Mark Hirsch).
Finally, with the weather warming up, we are scheduled to install the finished mural at Libby Elementary. Pictures of the finished mural, coming soon!
As we look forward to summer and fall, Arts For All / Chicago will be looking for more opportunities to serve the children of Chicago, with the Arts.
On April 21, 2013 at Joe’s Pub, we celebrated our 5th year as out own non-profit and our 10th year of serving children in New York City! Arts For All Goes Public: Celebrating 5 Years, hosted by Aaron Lazar and Alex Gemignani, was a great success. PigPen Theatre Co. played a set from their album “Bremen,” and we had performances from Alex as well as Broadway’s Felicia Finley, PJ Griffith, Elizabeth Stanley, Coco Cohn, Jessica Vosk, and Zak Resnick.
What some of our supporters had to say:
“The Arts for All Benefit was an absolutely incredible night. From start to finish, I had so much fun as a volunteer and an audience member. I had never been to a cabaret before, and I was so impressed. Every performer was so talented and brought such a vibrant energy to the stage. The event was a true success and it was all for a great cause. It was truly exciting to be a part of it all!” – Nitisha
“I have been to quite a few Arts For All events in the last couple years. That being said, this year’s benefit, Arts For All Goes Public, blew me away. For the first time, unlike years past, I had almost no involvement in the planning and production process, so I did not know what to expect. For all I knew, it would be pretty much the same as our benefit last year. Of course I always have high expectations of the amazing programming Arts For All brings to our community, our students, and our donors, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience on April 21st. Like in the past, we had the amazing PigPen Theater Co. perform. No matter what kind of music you like, you are glued to this group from their first note, they are addicting! So as much as I loved PigPen’s performance, they didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the venue – Joe’s Pub was so cool. (Yes, it’s a 5 cent word, but it really is cool!) It was the perfect venue for our benefit and set the mood for a successful and fun night. I think it was the first time we had a stage for the performers and table seating for the audience as opposed to being on risers. The second surprise were the Broadway performers. I was so impressed by the talent that we got to perform this year. The Broadway stars put this year’s benefit on a whole new level and definitely raised the bar for the future! The evening was intimate, but also not. There were so many people in attendance, so we didn’t get to mingle much, but I am sure that every person in the room felt a connection to the performers, to Anna and Alan, and to the teaching artists and volunteers who dedicate their time to this great cause.
As always, I am constantly more and more excited to be a part of Arts For All, Inc. and I cannot wait for Arts For All’s 2014 Benefit!!!!” – Jordana
“The annual benefit was such a blast to attend – and I am now a complete fan girl of all the wonderful performers I saw that night! Despite Aaron Lazar losing his voice, the talent on the Joe’s Pub stage was spectacular (and that stage in and of itself is such a prestigious place to be). Since each performer read a quote from an Arts For All workshop or event before they sang, I got to hear the voices of the children we were there to support as well as the incredible voices of the Broadway and off-Broadway stars.
In addition to the cabaret, the silent auction was a huge success. We had donations from all sorts of local businesses and local shows, from indie music groups to the JCC in Manhattan to Pippin on Broadway, to make a wide range of tantalizing items. The silent auction was a great reminder of all that NYC has to offer. I had never been to the Arts For All benefit before, but I know that I am excited to volunteer again next year!” – Olivia
The seven men of PigPen Theatre Co. are collaborators, theatre makers, musicians, and longtime friends of Arts For All. PigPen is performing at our Benefit on April 21, 2013 – you don’t want to miss them!
In 3 words, please describe PigPen as an artistic company.
Stories. Music. Imagination.
After our second show together, friends, family, and the people we respected most kept telling us to keep going further. That was the moment that we looked at each other and thought, “Maybe we can really do this for a living.”
How does the group work? What is the group dynamic in creating the shows, music, etc.?
Completely collaboratively. Any one of us can bring in a song or a story or something we want to work on, and anyone can add to it.
What’s your favorite thing about performing/creating together?
The best part is that because we have so much fun together as friends, our work doesn’t feel like work anymore. It’s challenging still, but it constantly feels like play.
What inspired you to make your album, “Bremen”?
So many people would approach us after our shows asking, “Where can I buy your music?” So making “Bremen” was the best way to get it to them. We found that we loved playing music just as much as we loved making theatre, so the album really became a dream come true. Because of the excitement around “Bremen,” now we get to spend as much time developing new music projects as we do new theatre projects.
What do you want to do next as a company?
We are looking forward to performing our show, The Old Man and the Old Moon, this fall at Writers Theatre in Chicago! We are also thrilled to be touring “Bremen” through some incredible concert venues around the country. Both opportunities allow us to experience new cities and meet incredible new people.
Oh, and we’re writing new stuff too….
Who do you all admire, personally or professionally, and why?
Steve Martin. Have you seen that guy play the banjo?
If you were trapped on a desert island with only one musical score, what would it be and why?
Anything Ladysmith Black Mambazo has ever done. In particular, Paul Simon’s Graceland and “Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Friends.”
What challenges have you faced on your way to success as a company? How did you get through them?
One time, on our way to Martha’s Vineyard, we left all our ingredients to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the week at Ryan’s house. Fortunately, some friends we were staying with gave us cold cuts and potato salad. Crisis averted.
Also, scheduling for seven people can be the biggest challenge in itself.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Keep making your own work. Don’t be afraid to fail. Practice. And work with people you like.
In 1 sentence, please tell us why you support arts education and Arts For All?
If it weren’t for arts education, there would be seven less PigPen members than there are now, and we know firsthand that Arts For All inspires kids to pursue artistic futures.
If you were stuck on a desert island with one score and one book, what would they be and why?
That’s almost an impossible question. Right now Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. And, the score to Carousel is what’s in my head.
Are there other shows that you’ve done before that you want to return to at some point?
I’d love to do Man of La Mancha again. I’d love to do Les Mes, and play Jean Valjean. There’s so many great parts that I’d love to play that I haven’t played yet too. I’d play Sweeney [in Sweeney Todd], that would be great.
Now I know they’re super young, but do you hope your kids grow up to be artists?
I certainly have a different take on it than when I was growing up – it was very common to just push your kids into academics and doctor/lawyer/banker thing. I think the world is an amazingly different place with individualism and entrepreneurship. I would certainly not mind if they were artists. The reality is that if you want to have a family, you have to make a lot of money to survive.
I dunno… whether destiny is predestined or not – I think it’s a little bit of both. There’s infinite possibility depending on the choices that you make. But some people — you read biographies of Paul Newman, and the cards just fell into place. And certainly I’m not saying that he didn’t work hard, but every door that opened seemed to be the right door. That is fascinating to me.
So you have to learn how to make it the right door?
I think one has to learn to not limit themselves as to the doors that they think they should be walking through. But I think that only comes from a connection to your gut. Not doing what you think you should do, or what others tell you, but being so sure of yourself that you trust yourself.
What was it like to realize that you weren’t going to be a doctor and you were going to be a performer instead?
Well, it was this [process]: an MCAT score is good for 3 years, go to grad school for 2, live in New York for 6 months, get a tour, and come back and the MCAT scores are no longer valid. So if I want to go to medical school, I have to take the test again, and I don’t ever want to do that. And so, “Well, I guess this is your path.” And it’s been an interesting one having come from such an academic place, acting is such a physical place. You know, it’s a brain place versus an action place. They’re just different worlds. And I’ve spent 10 years just trying to get more comfortable in the physical world.
I think one of the things that inspires me is just knowing that I got this far with a relatively limited idea of my own self. So, I’m looking forward to the next 10 years.
Thank you! Great questions. That was fun!
“I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.” – Steve Martin