May 262016
 
This past month MAAE brought its Building Community Through the Arts creative theater program to the Boys and Girls Club in Augusta.
 The Boys and Girls Clubs give after school support to low income youth who are potentially at risk. At the Augusta Boys and Girls Club BCTA teaching artist Jeri Pitcher conducted an extended residency with seven youth, grades seven through nine. Working through group improvisation the students created an interactive theater piece and performed it for the rest of the club members and invited guests on May 5th at the Holocaust Center.
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Titled “Runaway,” the piece described the situation of a teen-aged girl who, facing conflicts with her mother at home, struggles with how to deal with it. None of the options she considers – leaving home, staying out on the streets, or getting shelter with some older boys who promise drugs as well as shelter, are healthy ones, and the audience at the end is asked, “what would you do?”
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The students’ work was focused and intense, and the discussion at the end was lively as the audience debated the various options, including how the relationship with her mother could have been repaired, so that she felt more comfortable at home.
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Augusta Boys and Girls Club Director Darren Joyce is hoping that the Club’s partnership with MAAE will continue:   “Thanks to the Maine Alliance for Arts Education, the Augusta Boys and Girls Club had an incredible highlight to our school year with the opportunity to have a drama residency with Jeri Pitcher.  Our Club is a teen center and our staff can only provide a handful of options and maintain the safe atmosphere needed.  Having a partnership with MAAE allowed our program to offer youth who were always interested in drama but often lacked the confidence to give it a try.  Jeri encouraged their voice and choice in creating a piece to present.  The youth were absolutely beaming after being able to perform in front of their peers and in front of an audience of college students.  Many for the first time felt like they were rock stars, and thanks to Jeri’s encouragement, they really were!  I hope a collaboration between the Club and MAAE continues for many years, as the value for kids is immense!”
Mar 272016
 
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If anyone doubted that students who love the arts aren’t a joyous and dedicated bunch, they needed only to stop in at Thursday’s Arts Education Advocacy Day at the State House. Over 200 students of mostly high school age, but also younger, brought their enthusiasm and energy to the Statehouse. The students – brought by teachers, parents and chaperones and in some cases community arts organizations – came from every county in the state and in some cases every senate and house district, to speak about their passion for the arts with their legislators. They held up signs with their legislators’ names on them to connect with them in the third floor hallway…dsc_2144_std  dsc_2125_std
and connect they did!
dsc_2183_thm ..including with Representative Ryan Fecteau (above),
dsc_2145_std         … Representative Craig Hickman (above),
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dsc_2351_std         …Representative Erik Jorgensen (above),
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                                                                   … and with Representative Stanley Short.
Some groups were even shown into the Chambers themselves -
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One group was shown into Senate President Michael Thibodeau’s office.
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The Hall of Flags itself, full of students, student art, and exhibits from arts organizations, never looked more beautiful.
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County signs made by the Westbrook High School art team led by Deb Bickford served not only to define the exhibits, but were great for a photo shoot of each county’s delegation.
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Tarah Waters, photographer and Eastport Arts Center Fellow, said on Facebook: “Celebrating Arts Education at the Maine state house. Representing Washington County with 4 brilliant students and art work from all over the county. Feeling a great vibe here today!!”
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Kristy Cyr: “Hannah Peacock and Makaila Bailey representing Somerset County at the Maine Arts in Education Advocacy Day!”
A jazz combo from SAD 4, directed by teacher Paavo Carey, set a festive mood.
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Once all the students returned from their meetings, teaching artist Katenia Keller led the whole group in a mass dance workshop.dsc_2280_thm
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Then the students cheerfully squeezed onto the broad main staircase for a group photo shoot, behind the colorful banner that had been created by ARRT, the Artist Rapid Response Team, for this occasion, with MAAE’s mission emblazoned on it: “All the Arts for All Maine Students!”

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The students stayed on the staircase to watch a reading of original poems by a student group from Edward Little High School in Auburn. dsc_2318_thm(1)
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The Auburn students also posted a photo of themselves outside the State House!
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After the legislators themselves came downstairs a formal program included remarks by Acting Commissioner of the Department of Education, William Beardsley; Maine Arts Commission Arts Education Director, Argy Nestor; Farnsworth Museum Education Director, Roger Dell; Maine Resilience Building Network Co-facilitator, Sue Mackey Andrews; and Arts Education Program Manager at Americans for the Arts, Jeff Poulin.
There were also student performances: by the Biddeford Intermediate School Select Chorus, conducted by Andrea Wollstadt;
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by a Bangor High School English class, working with teaching artist Katenia Keller, which had choreographed a dance collaboratively;
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and by SLAM! a group of students from SAD 33 in Aroostook County advised by Theresa Cerceo, which performed an art advocacy group speaking piece.
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It was a full day! But this Advocacy Day’s significance as a day of firsts was in the students themselves… not only in their sheer number (a first for the State House), but also as a statewide gathering of students involved in all art forms – visual art, music, dance, theater and poetry – meeting each other and feeling empowered. So this day was a first, but it wasn’t the last! We hope to have more opportunities like this one – stay tuned!
Feb 292016
 

A big Thanks! to Deb Bickford, president of the MAEA, her Westbrook HS colleague Matt Johnson and their National Art Honor Society students Abby St. Clair, Jenessa Corbett and President Trina Sayed. All five have been hard at work designing and creating the 16 county signs that will be up on 8-foot posts behind each table at the Hall of Flags on March 24th.

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 Trina Sayed, 2016 Westbrook High School NAHS President

The beautiful signs show each county’s distinctive shape enlarged against a handpainted background, and also its place within the shape of the state.

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 The county by county organization of the tables at this year’s Advocacy Day is only one part of MAAE’s focus on arts education for students in the whole state. The length and breadth of the state will also be represented by student lobbyists coming to speak one-on-one with their legislators from every county, and in some cases from every house and senate district in that county. If you haven’t yet registered, join us, and if you’re an arts teacher let us know about a student who might want to attend! The form for registering your interest is http://eepurl.com/bLE54n

The student lobbying begins at 9:30 am. Our program of speakers and student performances in the Hall of Flags will take place between noon and 1 pm. We look forward to seeing you there!

For more information contact Susan Potters at spotters@maineartsed.org.

Jan 112016
 

Registration for MAAE Arts Education Advocacy Day, Thursday, March 24th, is now open! And attending yourself is only one of the ways you can register your interest and support.

In this year of increased statewide attention to arts education generated by the Arts Commission’s Census of arts ed in all Maine schools, MAAE’s Advocacy Day will be sending a message to all of the state’s legislators that every Maine student deserves access to quality arts education at school. Our lobbying at the Statehouse in Augusta this year will be a full court press! We’re inviting our best advocates… young people… to come to Augusta from every senate and house district in the state…..first to tell their legislators how the arts have been important to them in one-on-one lobbying outside the senate and house chambers between 9:30 and 11 a.m. then to invite their legislators to come downstairs to the Hall of Flags to meet more of their constituents at the tables, which will be organized this year by counties and hosted by delegations from the whole community. All are invited to be at their county’s table to talk to their legislators when they come downstairs.

Register at http://eepurl.com/bLE54n if you plan to attend on March 24th yourself, if you can help us to identify a student who can attend, or if you just want to be kept in the loop about all the excitement!

And feel free to contact me at spotters@maineartsed.org if you have any questions.

Thanks for your support!

Dec 162015
 
Save the date! Thursday, March 24th, is Maine Alliance for Arts Education Advocacy Day! This year’s Advocacy Day coincides with the Maine Arts Commission’s initiative of completing the Arts Education Census begun by MAAE in 2009 to find out the status of arts education in all of the schools in Maine. That includes those that are severely underserved in the arts.The Census work gives a new statewide focus and urgency to our arts education advocacy, not only to help make sure we get all of that information, which is due in April, but that we begin the work of advocating for arts education in those districts that are underserved. We won’t learn exactly which districts those are until next summer, but our work must begin now.MAAE’s Arts Education Advocacy Day at the Capital this year will reflect that new statewide focus. Our goal is to get as many of our state legislators as we can to meet one-on-one with arts lobbyists from their districts, first outside of the senate and house chambers and then at our event in the Hall of Flags. 

Our most persuasive arts lobbyists are the students. So this year we are inviting our alliance of adults around the state – that is educators, parents, artists, and leaders of arts organizations – to help us identify those students who would be able and willing to come to Augusta to meet and talk about what the arts have meant to them with their legislators outside the chambers in the morning of March 24th, and to invite the legislators to meet with them and more of their constituents at noon at the tables in the Hall of Flags. The tables will be set up this year by counties, not organizations, so that the Hall itself will reflect the state geographically, with large signs above each table displaying the county names.

As the day gets closer we will be asking you to register, so that we can keep track of which legislative districts our lobbyists represent, and which remain to be covered. In the meantime, we hope that you can set the day aside to come to Augusta and also find some student advocates to join you!  If you can’t take the day off, perhaps you can find a parent or other adult to bring the students.

If you have questions feel free to contact me by email spotters@maineartsed.org or phone 207 439-3169

We look forward to seeing you on the 24th!

Dec 132015
 

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which has amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, gives states and local education agencies greater autonomy in setting curricula and standards. The National Association of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) has pointed out the positives for the arts in the new legislation, including its encouragement to integrate the arts into STEM programs. But in eliminating the eight Core Academic Subjects, one of which was the arts, the new law has eliminated an important basis for requiring the arts to be included in school during the school day… not as extra-curricular.The legislation, which eliminates all “Core Academic Subjects,” in their place creates a definition for a “well-rounded education” as “courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.” (bolding mine).

As included in the subjects listed in a well-rounded education the arts are eligible for Title I funds, which are the largest pool of federal resources dedicated to ensuring equitable access to a complete education for all students. However, the states can now choose among those allowable subjects.

Our advocacy for arts education is more important than ever. We hope you can join us in Augusta for Arts Education Advocacy Day on March 24th.

Stay tuned for more details.

Nov 142015
 
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Two English classes in Piscataquis Community Secondary School in Guilford and one English class and one drama class in Penquis Valley High School in Milo created theater pieces during Building Community Through the Arts residencies (see our most recent website post) and performed their works at the Center Theatre in Dover Foxcroft on October 27th and November 3rd. Parents and members of the community also attended, and all had an opportunity to watch compelling works of original theater, each exploring social themes that the students had chosen.
Teacher Joseph Hennessey’s two senior English classes from PCSS in Guilford, working with theater artist Jeri Pitcher, had each selected a different theme in the novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, to relate to a social issue in their own lives. One class chose the theme of the “demon child” from the novel, and in a piece that included powerful theatrical group chanting effects, showed the “demon child” as a high school student who is socially ostracized. The other PCSS class addressed the novel’s theme of a hoped for “week of peace” that never materializes because “things fall apart.” Using the structure of a television newscast, the students showed the incidents that would be Guilford’s version of “things falling apart.”
Penquis HS teacher Chad Emery’s two classes worked with artist Beverly Mann. Mr. Emery’s College Prep 10 English class, discussing the issue of socio-economic disparity in The Great Gatsby, created a powerful play about poverty’s social stigma in their own community. The plot focused on what happens when a student spreads a negative rumor about another student’s family, but the fact that the rumor is that the student’s family is poor shows how poverty affects youth socially in the community.
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Beverly Mann brings her specialty of mask theater to her residencies, and the students in Mr. Emery’s drama class wore half masks in the piece they created about the interplay of parent child relationships and the safety risks young people are willing to take. In this case the strict rules imposed by a mother not sensitive to her daughter’s anguish at feeling unpopular, becomes the impetus for the daughter breaking rules and injuring herself… an outcome that ultimately brings a realization by both mother and daughter about how much each means to the other.
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For the three English classes this was the students’ first time on a stage, and even for the drama class it was the students’ first attempt at creating theater.  The students in all four classes talked about the program’s creative process through group improvisation as giving them a new sense of closeness with one another. Teacher Chad Emery spoke about his admiration for the students’ work and about the combined impact of the program: “The program helps bring students closer together as evolving 21st century problem solvers…. teachers are able to witness these future leaders’ dynamic flexibility, creativity, and innate inspiration.  In seeing our students on stage, we see ourselves and all that the future has in store.”
Building Community Through the Arts in Piscataquis County was supported by funding from the Piscataquis County Fund of the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission.
Oct 232015
 
This is a busy month for Building Community Through the Arts! For the past two weeks all the ninth grade students in Bethel’s Telstar High School, who are participating in a morning experiential learning program at nearby Bryant Pond, have been doing a BCTA creative theater residency as part of that morning program. The students have been creating tableaux and learning improvisation skills with BCTA theater artist Libby Marcus, who is also linking their creative work to their reading of Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck.

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 (photos are from previous BCTA residencies)

Meanwhile in Piscataquis County BCTA theater residencies are also in full swing at two classes in Penquis Valley HS in Milo and two classes in Piscataquis County Secondary School in Guilford. The students of Joseph Hennessey’s two senior English classes in PCSS are working with artist Jeri Pitcher to creatively engage with their reading of Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. At Penquis Valley HS artist Beverly Mann is working with Chad Emery’s College Prep 10 English class as well as with Mr. Emery’s small (but very enthusiastic!) drama class. One of the PCSS groups and both Penquis classes will be gathering on Tuesday, October 27th at a performance conference at the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft (www.centertheatre.org). The three performances will run from 9:45 to 10:45 am and the public is invited. Admission is free. There will be a second set of performances at the Center Theatre at 7 pm on the following Tuesday, November 3rd. The evening performances, by the other PCSS group and the Penquis Valley drama class, will be an opportunity also for the community to learn more about and support the BCTA program at these schools. Admission is by donation, with all donations going toward the program’s continuation at PCSS and Penquis Valley in 2016.

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For the program at Bryant Pond MAAE is grateful for the support of the Robbins-de Beaumont Foundation and the Jane B. Cook 1983 Charitable Trust. For the program in Piscataquis County we are also very grateful to the Piscataquis County Fund of the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission for their generous support, as well as to the Center Theatre in Dover Foxcroft, whose active partnership has helped us bring this student project to the whole community.
Jul 272015
 

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Youth in the Parkside area of Portland performed an original theater piece on the evening of July 21st that they had created as part of MAAE’s Building Community Through the Arts (BCTA) program. The group of mostly immigrant and minority youth meet as part of OPEN (Organization for Partnership and Engagement with Neighborhoods), an after school and week-end program in Portland’s Parkside area that empowers diverse youth to take an active role in the decision making and dialogue around social justice issues affecting their community. The play, the result of a partnership between OPEN and MAAE, was the first time that the OPEN program had incorporated theater.

During a three-week residency with BCTA theater artist Jeri Pitcher the group created “Amy’s First Day,” a play exploring the social problems faced in school by the title character Amy, an African girl newly arrived in Portland. The play also explored the social problems in school facing minority and immigrant youth in general. These included rejection of African immigrant students by black students born in America, teachers expressing surprise at the academic accomplishments of their black students, and Muslim youth being made to feel uncomfortable about their custom of daily prayer, while also being looked at with suspicion by white students.

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Part of the tension that the play explored was the question the students faced in all of these situations of whether to accept and work around the daily indignities and obstacles or to try to confront them, and if so, how.

The powerful and compelling play, performed for the Parkside community, included monologues when the characters spoke directly to the audience about their motivations. In a facilitated discussion with the audience afterward, many in the audience commented on how true to life the situations were and how insightful the monologues were as well.

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For BCTA this represents an important new phase.  So far the program has been operating only in school classrooms, and in areas of the state where social issues are based on socio-economic rather than racial and religious diversity.  We will be working with OPEN and with the youth themselves on ways that we might take the BCTA program into the Portland schools, and the best way to do that to effect change.  We’d welcome your input as well. To contribute to this discussion and/or for more information contact MAAE director Susan Potters either by email (s.potters@maineartsed.org) or by phone 207 439-3169.

Amy and Sharon