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Philomena Jones

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This was my first time at a National Guild for Community Arts Education conference, and before this year, I had not been exposed to the organization. I was aware that Eric Booth and others involved with Big Thought had roles and involvements within the organization, and it was educational and energizing to meet to many people and listen to so much experience and good thinking about art and philosophies of education across disciplines.

The complex and massive tasks arts organizations face in delivering quality, important experiences to people are being met with what was for me an unexpectedly high degree of creative, intentional work. Within and across disciplines, many of the ideas we heard were actionable and pertinent. For one, the notion of synthesizing all the information on teaching artists within a community and adding uniformity to the systems; creating a "company" mindset and organization in the sense of an organized group of performers and associated personnel... this is somewhat different from the tendency of many organization to organize around functions and lines of business. For example, out-of-school programming may have a different set of rules, practices, pay scales, and strategies for placing artists in assignments.

In another example, the knowledge, lesson plans, and available "kits" are shared across platforms in an organization or community, allowing much freer access to what works, and so increases the quality of the programming while increasing the efficiency and cost effectiveness.

I was also very much taken by the heart and commitment of so many of the speakers, many of whom have very deep roots in child advocacy and educational and social activism. It was sort of a shoulders of giants kind of experience, and I was reminded of Henry Rollins' wonderful expression: My optimism is loud and wears heavy boots. Yes.

Tomorrow, October 28, 2012, the first cohort of the Big Thought Fellowship was to be in New York to spend a week observing highly gifted teaching artists in a variety of settings, in some of the best art education organizations on the planet. People like Margie Reece, Eric Booth, Jennifer Bransom, and Elizabeth Rich have provided the Fellows with information, experiences, and an arts education orientation that puts us in the catbird seat, eagerly anticipating the grand tour of some of New York's hotbeds of arts education.

Unfortunately, there's a big storm brewing, and we are hopeful that it will reverse its course and move on out to sea. We wish our colleagues and all the citizens of the eastern seaboard all the luck and protection in the world this week.

Here in Dallas, the Fellows have spent the past few weeks training at the SMU Meadows Museum on how to integrate all of the good thinking generated by this group for assessing and promoting quality in arts education. We observed teaching artists in the field, and immersed ourselves in the culture and community of West Dallas (a.k.a. the other side of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge). We were prepared to explore the processes and environments of the New York art edcation environment, but that will have to wait. Nothing trumps nature.

The teaching artists who were lucky enough to be included in this first wave of Big Thought Fellows know that the hard work and commitment to our mission has set us on a path of growth that is more rapid and finely tuned than the most aggressive of us had expected.

The storm has dictated the postponement of the next phase of our training and experience. The group is disappointed, but this gives us an unexpected bit of time to digest what we've seen and learned so far, and to refocus on Dallas.

Blog Post Title: Re: What's New With CQ

West Dallas offered up a wealth of hospitality and information to the Big Thought Fellows last week, and the experience was both saddening and encouraging. @Marcello and Sam: the community has so much richness and enthusiasm (and experience!) intermixed with the poverty and oppressive situations.

I was especially struck by the young women at Avance Community Center, the two sisters who were both struggling young mothers. The women were there to learn how to cope with depression and lack of education around the raising of their children. An older woman who had already lived through similar circumstances (and had a daughter at Cornell!) stood in contrast to the frustration of the younger women, and it was amazing to see the seriousness on the part of all of them to raise their children well.

Also striking was the fact that these two sisters have a combined 24 years of public education but are nonetheless stranded without the background or resources to handle small children effectively. It seemed to me that these families did not put much emphasis on or stock in the richness of their own cultures as a resource. -Philomena

Blog Post Title: Re: Big Thought Fellows