Building Community Through the Arts: dance highlights from the Nov. 19 conference

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Nov 242014


This November, Bangor HS teacher Angela Domina’s two Junior English classes hosted BCTA dance
residencies with teaching artist Katenia Keller. The two college-preparatory classes had been
studying several texts in medieval British Literature. The dances they created and performed at the Orono conference
explored the universal themes the students saw represented in those texts. The symbolic capacity of dance allowed the students to render the large and abstract themes visible and creating the dance focused the students on shaping them into a narrative story. Performing for an audience gave the classes the opportunity to have
their ideas impact others. The students in one
class aimed to show the audience the essential balance between humans and nature. The second
class attempted to give to the audience a sense that a powerful force, Love, is given to them to
care for and to carry into the world.

For more photos and excerpts from the students’ own description of their dances see
MAAE Programs/BCTA – Latest News. Interested in bringing BCTA residencies to your school? Contact Susan Potters at

Building Community Through the Arts in Bangor and Brewer

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Nov 102014

Students Perform on Nov. 19th.

Students watching a BCTA dance performance last year in Orono

Students watching a BCTA dance performance last year in Orono

Five high school English classes – three creative writing classes in Brewer and two junior English classes in Bangor – have been working with professional Maine performing artists this month. Each class is creating an original drama or dance piece – about either their own self-identified social themes, or themes they draw from their curriculum. The classes will be performing their original works on Wednesday, November 19th at the Church of Universal Fellowship, 82 Main Street in Orono. The performances – each about 15 minutes in length – begin at 9:30 and end at noon. The public is invited to come to any and all of them. Admission is free.

The students’ performances are part of Building Community Through the Arts (BCTA), an MAAE program now in its fifteenth year. Initiated just after the Columbine High School tragedy, BCTA uses group creation in the arts to generate trust and break down social barriers among students. Audience feedback and support is also an important element in the program and time is given for discussion after each performance. We encourage parents and community members to come to Orono on the 19th and see the students’ work.

MAAE is grateful to the Bangor Savings Bank Foundation and Jane’s 1983 Charitable Trust for their help in supporting BCTA this year. If you’re interested in bringing this program to your community contact Susan Potters at

New website page: Arts Enrichment Nuts and Bolts

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Oct 152014

While arts educators are the backbone of a strong school arts education program, students and teachers alike benefit from meaningful contact with professional artists – those who come to the school, those whose art the students may experience in field trips, and those whose art the students may be assisted to experience during non-school hours. The organization, logistics and funding support for all of this enrichment can take considerable time, and it is not always easy. The Arts Enrichment Nuts and Bolts section of our MAAE website will be devoted to helping with those challenges and also to finding the people who have both the willingness to take them on and may have more time than busy teachers.

In the coming weeks we will begin to post this information on the Nuts and Bolts website page. We welcome and will post your ideas and tips as well. Let us know what has worked for you at your school. We also want to hear about your problems and questions. Please send it all to me at For more extended help, MAAE members can call our “help desk”… which is 207 439-3169. We look forward to speaking with you!

Susan Potters to Head Maine Alliance for Arts Education

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Sep 172014

Stephen Wicks, president of the Maine Alliance for Arts Education (MAAE), has announced that Education Director Susan Potters of Kittery has been chosen to head the non-profit as Executive Director, taking over from retiring director, Peter Alexander. “The board is plePhoto on 9-17-14 at 9.44 AMased to have a director of Potters’ experience and we look forward to working with her” said Wicks. Potters, a former teacher from New York City, has been involved with MAAE since the early 1990’s, first serving as a board member from Veazie. After organizing the successful 1997 “Arts in Our Schools K-12” conference in Bangor, Potters was tapped to direct the organization’s first regional office in Greater Bangor, a post that was later expanded to include the two-county Penquis Region. Since becoming MAAE’s statewide Education Director in 2003 Potters has been most closely associated with “Building Community Through the Arts” (BCTA), the creative theater and dance high school residency program she designed in 2000, just after the Columbine High School tragedy, to generate trust and support among students. Outgoing Director Alexander, who helped to promote BCTA during his two-year tenure at MAAE, is enthusiastic about the board’s selection: “I am delighted that the board has chosen Susan Potters to take on the role of Executive Director,” said Alexander. “She has the qualifications, connections, experience, and most importantly the passion to take the organization to the next level in fulfilling its mission.” Potters sees a vital role for the arts in education: “The arts develop and engage all students as motivated and joyful learners, “ she said. “Making the arts a thriving reality in young people’s lives means providing lots of opportunities to be creative – in the home, the school classroom and the community. MAAE is here to help show what those opportunities look like and to help make them happen.”

BCTA Program to Continue in Fall of 2014

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Aug 222014

Students watch a BCTA Dance Performance in Orono

Students watch a BCTA Dance Performance in Orono

Building Community Through the Arts program at MAAE will be continuing this fall at Bangor and Brewer High Schools. Keep posted for updates!

Arts education produces innovative students with critical thinking skills

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Nov 292013

Educators combat “creativity crisis” in art instruction
By: Ilana Kowarski
District Administration, December 2013


IMG_7322In a world of constant technological change, the ability to adapt is priceless. Creativity is a necessary skill in the modern workplace, and in a 2010 survey by IBM, American CEOs identified it as the best predictor of career success. But those same CEOs said they believed that Americans were becoming less innovative.

For years, employers and colleges have asserted that recent high school graduates lack fundamental critical thinking skills, and the data concurs. U.S. scores on the Torrance test, an internationally recognized measure of creativity, have been steadily declining since 1990. Those were the findings of a study conducted by Kyung Hee Kim, a professor at the College of William and Mary, who analyzed the Torrance scores of K12 students and declared that we are in the midst of a “creativity crisis.”

Lori Meadows, executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council, says that educators must respond to the crisis by promoting original thinking in schools, and the best way to do that is through arts education. In September, Meadows organized a “Creativity and Innovation” forum where Kentucky educators and business leaders discussed how arts education prepares students for the working world.

“We wanted people to understand that arts education isn’t just about doing art for art’s sake,” she says. “It’s about developing skills for careers and lifelong learning.”

Exposure to the arts encourages students to think for themselves and gives them a creative outlet that makes them more enthusiastic about school, Meadows says.

Arts education a “must-have”
Research shows that arts education has short- and long-term benefits. For decades, UCLA professor James Catteral has studied the impact of arts education, and he has discovered that students with an arts background have an advantage in the school and work.

In 2009, Catteral released a study called “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art,” which included 12 years of data on a cohort of 25,000 low-income, high school students. The study revealed that students who took classes in music, drama, and visual art averaged higher test scores and attendance rates than those who did not. Students who took art also were more likely to perform well in college and to get a job.

This correlation was statistically significant, and it persisted even after Catteral controlled for other factors, such as race and socioeconomic level.

The potential for arts instruction to improve student outcomes is something that Tom Shelton, Kentucky’s 2011 superintendent of the year, stressed during his keynote address at the Creativity and Innovation forum.

“The arts are an integral part of what we need to provide students,” says Shelton, who won a state prize for his administrative work in Daviess County and serves as superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools. “The arts are not just a nice-to- have. They are a must-have.”

Shelton has started numerous arts programs during his two years at Fayette County. He gave out $1,000 grants to visiting artists in schools, and he hired teachers for music, art, and drama classes.

Shelton also integrated arts education into the curriculum of the county’s newest school, the STEAM Academy, which was originally going to focus exclusively on the traditional STEM subjects. This makes him a notable outlier in Kentucky, where many schools eliminated arts classes in recent years.

Arts education is one of the most effective ways to get students excited about learning, and it is no accident that most of Shelton’s honor-society students are involved in the arts. “The way that you drive student achievement is through student engagement,” he says. “When you improve morale, you improve performance.”

A valuable credential
Businesspeople on a panel at the Creativity and Innovation forum agreed that arts education was important because it helps students practice problem-solving and innovating—two skills necessary to be a desirable employee.

Susan Brewer, a human resources manager at Gray Construction, says that soft skills, like creativity, are “the greatest predictors of job performance.” She says she considers these skills far more important than technical skills, since a smart and inventive person can easily be trained and will ultimately contribute more.

Brewer was not alone. Several of the five panelists said they considered creativity more important than specialized knowledge when hiring, because market conditions change rapidly and they want workers who can adapt to those changes.

Erica Strecker, the creative design manager for a ceiling fan manufacturer, says that hiring well-rounded thinkers is an important part of the philosophy of her company, Big Ass Fans. “My boss always says, ‘Give me an English major, and I can teach them anything.’”

Strecker says that many of her company’s best hires were artistically gifted and capable of contributing ideas that were outside-the-box.

Kris Kimel, the president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, says schools need to focus less on memorization and more on innovation, and that arts education is a crucial part of that.

“We’re providing a standardized education in a world that’s highly unpredictable,” he says. “I don’t know how we let ourselves slip into a school system that is absolutely counter to the way the world actually works. It’s a Newtonian system in a quantum world.”

Ilana Kowarski is a freelance writer based in Annapolis, Md.

Art Makes You Smart — From the New York Times

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Nov 242013

Published: November 23, 2013 The New York Times

For many education advocates, the arts are a panacea: They supposedly increase test scores, generate social responsibility and turn around failing schools. Most of the supporting evidence, though, does little more than establish correlations between exposure to the arts and certain outcomes. Research that demonstrates a causal relationship has been virtually nonexistent.

A few years ago, however, we had a rare opportunity to explore such relationships when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Ark. Through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, we were able to determine that strong causal relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

Crystal Bridges, which opened in November 2011, was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. It is impressive, with 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment of more than $800 million.
Thanks to a generous private gift, the museum has a program that allows school groups to visit at no cost to students or schools.

Before the opening, we were contacted by the museum’s education department. They recognized that the opening of a major museum in an area that had never had one before was an unusual event that ought to be studied. But they also had a problem. Because the school tours were being offered free, in an area where most children had very little prior exposure to cultural institutions, demand for visits far exceeded available slots. In the first year alone, the museum received applications from 525 school groups requesting tours for more than 38,000 students.

As social scientists, we knew exactly how to solve this problem. We partnered with the museum and conducted a lottery to fill the available slots. By randomly assigning school tours, we were able to allocate spots fairly. Doing so also created a natural experiment to study the effects of museum visits on students, the results of which we published in the journals Education Next and Educational Researcher.

Over the course of the following year, nearly 11,000 students and almost 500 teachers participated in our study, roughly half of whom had been selected by lottery to visit the museum. Applicant groups who won the lottery constituted our treatment group, while those who did not win an immediate tour served as our control group.
Several weeks after the students in the treatment group visited the museum, we administered surveys to all of the students. The surveys included multiple items that assessed knowledge about art, as well as measures of tolerance, historical empathy and sustained interest in visiting art museums and other cultural institutions. We also asked them to write an essay in response to a work of art that was unfamiliar to them.

These essays were then coded using a critical-thinking-skills assessment program developed by researchers working with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Further, we directly measured whether students are more likely to return to Crystal Bridges as a result of going on a school tour. Students who participated in the study were given a coupon that gave them and their families free entry to a special exhibit at the museum. The coupons were coded so that we could determine the group to which students belonged. Students in the treatment group were 18 percent more likely to attend the exhibit than students in the control group.

Moreover, most of the benefits we observed are significantly larger for minority students, low-income students and students from rural schools — typically two to three times larger than for white, middle-class, suburban students — owing perhaps to the fact that the tour was the first time they had visited an art museum.

Further research is needed to determine what exactly about the museum-going experience determines the strength of the outcomes. How important is the structure of the tour? The size of the group? The type of art presented?
Clearly, however, we can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition. Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum.

Brian Kisida is a senior research associate and Jay P. Greene is a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. Daniel H. Bowen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Kinder Institute of Rice University.

“Building Community Through the Arts” Comes Roaring Back

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Nov 242013

Students At BCTAI am pleased to report that I attended the “conference” of our Building Community Through The Arts program (BCTA) on Wednesday this week in Orono. It was an extraordinary experience. This is a program with which every one of us should be proud and excited to be involved. In case you aren’t familiar with it, BCTA was designed by Susan Potters in the wake of the Columbine tragedy as a way to engage ALL students in a classroom in a creative process (theater or dance) of their own design. Not only is this often the very first-ever exposure to the performing arts for most of these students–more importantly, the collective creative process breaks down the social barriers, isolation, cliques, and disengagement that can lead to bullying, truancy, and other negative behaviors. On Wednesday the “conference” consisted of four different classes (two each from Bangor HS and Brewer HS) performing their works for each other, then sharing feedback and ideas, and ending with an improvised piece where they all worked together. (I missed this last section due to obligations that afternoon back in the southern part of the state).

I was fortunate to have my video camera with me and I was able to interview most of the four teachers whose classes were participating. Invariably, in response to my question of why they would take two full weeks of class instruction time to put their students through this experience in the performing arts, they replied that the investment pays off many times over! Students become engaged, and the social atmosphere of the classroom dramatically improves, facilitating a better teaching and learning environment. One teacher told me that some of her students were previously routinely skipping classes and whole days at school, but are now perfect in their attendance and completely engaged in learning. Another teacher told me that she is able to utilize the process all year long, getting her students to “act out” or “dance out” something they are studying, thus reinforcing the intellectual learning experience with a very tactile one that gets everyone working together. I also interviewed some students on camera, and they expressed tremendous enthusiasm. These kids were ALIVE, and they universally agreed that the program had helped them connect meaningfully with all the other students in their class. “We’re not necessarily best friends,” said one, “But we all get along now, and no one is left out.” In my estimation, this is the very definition of a successful program!

In the next week or two I will be editing the video clips into a short (you tube style) presentation that we will use for outreach. This program, which had been discontinued just before I took my current position at MAAE, is one of the best things I have ever seen, and it is my firm desire to see it expanded state-wide. If the video comes even close to capturing the enthusiasm and excitement experienced by the participants it should be a very powerful tool–but what I’d REALLY like to do is have you attend a future conference so you can see for yourself. If we could get some of our foundation friends to witness this program in person, I don’t think we would have any trouble finding the funding to take it statewide. EVERY student in Maine should have the opportunity to participate at least once, and with your help we can make this happen!

–Peter Alexander
Executive Director

Building Community Through the Arts (BCTA) up and running again!

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Nov 062013

img_0190Four academic classes from Brewer HS and Bangor HS have been working on original dance and drama pieces for the past several weeks, and will be performing them for the public on Wednesday, November 20 in Orono. The students’ creative work is part of “Building Community Through the Arts,” a program organized annually at these and other area schools by the Maine Alliance for Arts & Education. The artist residency program, now in its fourteenth year, brings professional Maine choreographers and playwrights into academic secondary school classrooms to help students create group works which combine curriculum themes with the social issues the students themselves choose to address. At Bangor HS this year Susannah Owen’s sophomore English class has been creating a dance piece based on its reading of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” and Michele Benoit’s Introductory Chemistry class is creating a dance based on the behavior of elements. Both classes are working with Maine choreographer Katenia Keller. At Brewer HS Michelle MacDonald’s two creative writing classes are creating works of drama with Maine playwright/ director Jeri Pitcher. For most of the students this is their first experience in creative theater and dance. The public is invited to view the performances, which will take place at the Church of Universal Fellowship, 82 State Street in Orono. Admission is free. “Building Community Through the Arts” is funded this year with support from the Maine Humanities Council. Performances will run from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. For more information visit
Contact person:
Susan Potters
Program Director
Maine Alliance for Arts & Education
207 439-3169
PO Box 116
Bath, ME 04530