Updates from the Road: Professional Development at the Stanley-Whitman House

For the past couple of weeks, I've been working with live history presenters at the Stanley-Whitman House to explore research and various approaches to authentic physicalization of characters from Colonial and Civil War-era New England. We’ve worked on finding the core of the actor versus the character and Laban Movement Analysis; next week we’ll play with Chekhov’s psychological gestures and Boal’s games of physical masks. These workshops are offered by SWH as a way to enrich volunteer staff's existing performance abilities. For most of the participants, who range from approximately fourteen to sixty years old, acting is an enjoyable hobby or a newfound passion but not a subject they have previously studied in this way. It has been very exciting to observe each of the participants’ willingness to take risks. I continuously give them opportunities to “opt out” of exercises that might be too far out of their comfort zones, but everyone keeps pushing their boundaries! Some have expressed that they are beginning to see how they might apply certain techniques in their work. In the process, we are all becoming better acquainted and more comfortable working with each other.

This may seem shortsighted, but when I began my educational theatre career I would not have considered an acting workshop at a museum to fall under the description of “professional development.” I almost always used to associate professional development with a requirement for teachers and teaching artists. As I learned more about arts education and applied theatre, I became more informed about the potential for arts in civic life. More and more, I practiced ways of applying the arts in diverse communities and cultural centers for purposes including and beyond entertainment (education, life-skills development, team-building, dialogue, conflict-resolution, etc.). Throughout my years as a community-based artist, I have encountered many people who do not necessarily consider themselves artists or teachers, but they are lifelong learners nonetheless. These individuals almost always share their interests in maintaining or improving their professional competencies or exploring how the arts can enhance theirs or their community’s abilities and perhaps improve everyone's quality of living. Arts-based professional development projects should be located in traditional locations of learning, but programs should also travel beyond the four walls of an academic classroom and into the non-profit world, the boardroom, hospitals and health centers, law offices, and science laboratories (to name a few).

We hope to reach out to people from all walks of professional and personal life that are interested in exploring how the arts can be utilized to build their body of knowledge, enhance skills, or refresh existing practices through professional development opportunities guided by objectives that are accepted by all. Our professional development models are designed to be continuous and ongoing because we believe learning never stops. We offer ongoing mentorship and continuous assessment not only because we want to ensure that everyone is satisfied, but because we believe that these types of long-term partnerships help to create strong communities and bonds between all of us as we seek to become more informed citizens through arts learning.   

Stay tuned for more updates from the road!

Safe Travels,

Enza

So What Do You Do Again?

wings.jpg

Hello and Welcome to Via Arts!

My name is Kristianna Smith and I am a co-founder of Via Arts LLC. My first blog post will be brief- I just want to introduce myself and help answer the question that most of you reading are asking: so what do you do?

I can say that for the majority of my career, both academic and professional, this has been a constant question. I went to school for Theatre Education and was often asked, "So what will you do with that degree...teach theatre?" Luckily, in what has been some of the worst economic times for my generation, I have found myself gainfully employed in the exact field in which I studied. That's a true blessing.

So what do I do? I do a lot.

I play games with the kid that won't sit still and the kids that never speaks until they find a way to have a conversation with one another. I help give words to the students who only have raw emotion to communicate with and show those students how to channel those emotions into an image, a poem, or just a few words. I find a way to get rooms of educators (each with their very own mind, will, and purpose) to step back for a minute and approach a new problem from the lens of being a student who might not have it all figured out. I'm a facilitator asking the hard questions and waiting to listen to the solutions that are most realistic- not just the ones that sound the best. 

Life is difficult, complex, and intricate. It requires each of us to be present, prepared, and creative.

So what does Via Arts do?

Via Arts partners with community organizations to find creative ways to enhance what they already do through the arts. That could mean we help you put on a play. Or it could mean we come to the office and help your team in their oral presentation skills. We could come to your school and help expand your teachers' knowledge of arts integration. Or we can come to your town hall meeting and provide a more inclusive means of discussion and debate.

We want to take your experience and ours to create innovative partnerships focused on bettering our community. Via Arts. 

-Kristianna

The Streets Where We Live

s200_enza.giannone_hosig.jpg

Hello, I'm Enza, Executive Director and co-founder of Via Arts. I'm pleased to introduce myself here in my first blog post on our brand new page! Among other things, I'm an adventurer who loves to travel and experience new things. I've lived on more Streets, Avenues, and Roads than I can count. In fact, when asked to provide my address on a form or application, I almost always need to take a moment to remember my current zip code. 

A year ago, I finished my doctoral studies and eagerly awaited my little family’s move to the next road, street, or avenue. (Who knows maybe this time it would be a “Drive,” or a “Circle?”)

I put in applications and I waited. And waited. Nothing was happening and I began to feel a little lost. I knew this type of feeling is common after transitioning out of graduate school, but knowing this didn't keep those questions about the worth of my Theatre degree from weighing heavily on my mind. So after a five-year hiatus, I decided it was time to navigate my way back into the Connecticut community arts and arts education scene. It was time to get back to the work that sustains me and reminds me of my purpose in this life.

I was fortunate to meet the directors of Via Arts’s first partner, New Britain Youth Theater (NBYT). I was invited to see one of NBYT’s Home School program share days and was inspired by the young people who performed so confidently and with such exuberance. After weeks and months spent alone in a windowless office writing my dissertation and applying for academic positions, it was just what I needed to get motivated. I wanted, no, I needed to be back in the field again. NBYT then asked if I would facilitate professional development workshops for their teaching artists and direct their summer program for the Consolidated School District of New Britain. They began to call me their “Arts Education Consultant,” and I thought: “Hm, that’s interesting, never thought of myself as a “consultant” before. Isn’t that what professionals in the corporate financial world call themselves and not artists?” I began to do some research and realized that as an expert in my field of applied theatre with youth and communities, I could easily provide advice that would assist arts companies as they worked to deepen the scope of their services. Though, I admit that at first the idea of “consulting” seemed vague or rather temporary. I had some reservations. I didn't want to provide some quick advice, conduct a workshop or two, and then move on to the next client before the work really had a chance to happen.

Then I met Via Arts Director of Strategic Planning, Kristianna Smith, a talented, intelligent, and vibrant person who immediately became a kindred spirit. Over many cups of coffee, we exchanged stories about our life-changing experiences in the field of theatre and we imagined the possibilities. From the start, we shared the same vision for arts in communities and passion for social justice and education through the arts. We discussed what it might be like to establish an arts service organization whose staff provide expert advice a la traditional consultants, but whose mission moves beyond temporary fixes into creating long-term, needs-based, reciprocal partnerships where everyone involved learns, grows, and becomes better humans. We discussed working with arts and non-arts entities such as schools, local community organizations, members of the corporate sector, and government agencies. We shared our mutual hope that all partners would be able to recognize, or at least be open to exploring, the value of enhancing a person’s quality of life through creation, collaboration, dialogue, and arts-based learning. More importantly, we began to design a business venture that would keep us actively working out in the field and deeply rooted in our communities, something we both believe is crucial to our well-being as people and as applied theatre artists. It was over these copious amounts of coffee and animated brainstorming sessions that Via Arts was born.

Why the name Via Arts, you might ask? Well, each time Kristianna and I would meet to dream our dreams, or the universe would somehow validate my decision to become an arts entrepreneur who proactively seeks out opportunities to make a positive impact with what she knows and does best, I felt more grounded and a little less lost. My path became clear again. I began to realize that the road I consistently return to is the one that always makes me feel like I am traveling in the right direction. This is the street where I have always “metaphorically” lived and continue to feel most at home: the street paved with the arts and all they have the power to make. This constant sense of place makes the unknown a lot less scary.

Thank you for visiting our page and learning about our services. We look forward to your feedback and connecting with you along the way. Please check back for new blog posts and updates on our current partnerships to see what we're making with the arts!

Safe travels,

Enza