By Liz Davis and Rebecca Pogue, Alliance Theatre
On Behalf of the Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference Team
Imagine that you are a seventh-grade teacher, and you have just completed your fifth year in the classroom. On the first Tuesday in June — the first Tuesday that you are not contractually obliged to be anywhere — your alarm goes off at 6 AM. You listen to it, rising from your bed, even though every bone in your body is telling you to just sleep in.
Your drive into Atlanta takes longer than you had planned, but as you exit the parking lot elevator, you know you have come to the right place. An enthusiastic group in green shirts welcomes you – they literally cheer — and directs you to check in, where a long line has formed. Like you, hundreds of educators (of all grade levels and all content areas) have carved out this sacred time: two days to explore fine and performing arts instruction, Arts Integration, and STEAM; to broaden your professional learning community; to reconnect with your creative self.
Welcome to the Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference!
Presented by the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and High Museum of Art, the sixth annual Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference: Cultivating Curiosity took place June 4-5, 2019. Since its inception in 2014, this event has welcomed over 2,000 educators and related professionals from Georgia and beyond.
This year’s program opened with a panel discussion featuring local Atlanta artists Jessica Caldas, Yehimi Cambrón, Xie Caomin, Wihro Kim, and Dianna Settles. Facilitated by Jessica Booth, Fine Arts Education Program Manager at the Georgia Department of Education, the conversation focused on the exhibition: Of Origins and Belonging, Drawn from Atlanta at the High Museum of Art. Compelled by the national debate and dialogue around immigration reform, this exhibition features artists whose distinct voices, diverse perspectives, and personal experiences represent worldviews informed and enriched by their cultural heritage and the bond they share as members of a diverse creative community in Atlanta.
Wihro Kim’s former teacher sat in the audience, at first unaware of her former student – now a professional artist – before her on stage. The realization of this connection moved her to tears.
The conference also featured a conversation between Paige Hernandez, Creator of B-FLY ENTERTAINMENT, and Rosemary Newcott, who just recently retired as the Sally G. Tomlinson Artistic Director of Theatre for Youth & Families at the Alliance Theatre. Over the past 30 years, Rosemary Newcott has nurtured the careers of countless artists and directed dozens of plays, including Paige Hernandez’s autobiographical piece, Paige in Full. During the question and answer session, one teacher shared that, upon seeing Paige in Full at the Alliance Theatre in October 2018, her 11-year-old daughter was inspired to write a one-woman play telling her own story. “Paige made me want to get up and dance!” another teacher shared following the event.
Following these opening sessions, educators participated in an array of breakout sessions such as Costume Design on a Budget presented by the Alliance Theatre, Music and Literacy presented by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Creating Digital Art Through Museum Scavenger Hunts presented by the High Museum of Art.
Imagine again that you are that seventh-grade teacher. Over the past two days, you learned about the Alliance Theatre Palefsky Collision Project led by Pearl Cleage and Patrick McColery, identifying strategies to breathe new life into classic texts in your own classroom. You personally connected with representatives from the Dance Educators of GA Society, Georgia Council for the Arts, Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Film Academy, and Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre. You closed your eyes and actively listened to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra rehearse. You considered how to differentiate and scaffold instruction for all learners while visiting the High Museum of Art.
After two days, you head home and towards the remainder of your summer break. “I feel renewed and inspired,” you think. “This experience has filled my void of hope after giving so much all year long to others.”
The Woodruff Arts Center Educator Conference is generously supported by KPMG, the Ford Motor Company Fund, Arby’s, Chick-fil-A, and King of Pops. For more information, visit: www.woodruffcenter.org/programs/educator-conference/
Photo credit: Sara Keith