Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reflections on my week-long artist residency at El Centro College in Dallas

I spent this past week at El Centro college in downtown Dallas, TX, teaching some 20 classes, plus performances, discussions and more. While this is the kind of work I do all the time, El Centro was my first opportunity to combine the more in-depth, week-long residency work I generally do in high schools with the kind of arts-and-activism material I do with college students. And it ended up being one of the best experiences of my career.

The theme of the week was using hip hop and spoken-word to encourage critical thinking. I worked with philosophy, ethics, government, theater, arts appreciation, history classes and others. Classes/workshops included:
  • A couple of all-purpose intro to spoken-word sessions, where we discussed the history of the form and what makes a given piece effective in context. We also discussed structural parallels between slam poetry, essays and other kinds of writing, as well as the cultural impact and importance of the spoken-word movement.
  • A lot of "how art can impact social movements" sessions, where we looked at the history of mass movements and how change happens. These were basically intro-to-organizing classes, but with an emphasis on what kinds of roles the arts have historically played in movements.
  • A few classes used my poems as jumping off points for facilitated discussions around power, privilege and identity. My background is in social justice education, so it was great to really get to dig into that material.
  • A few other classes focused specifically on gender and masculinity, with more poems and discussions based around media, allyship and bystanderism.
I also got to perform at a big local hip hop showcase/panel discussion, meet with professors and student organizations, perform in the final spoken-word theater student performance and more.

I could talk all day about the inspiring work I saw, the amazing people and the campus itself, but one of the big takeaways for me is that I think multi-day residencies at colleges is really the way to go. With most of the shows I play, I just show up, facilitate a workshop and perform, and it's all done in a matter of hours. It's great, and I love it, but there's something uniquely powerful about being able to stay at a single institution for a full week, build stronger relationships, and ideally have more of an impact.

And because of the nature of my work (mixing spoken-word, hip hop, social justice education and critical thinking), it's the kind of thing that fits in very naturally with what a lot of professors are already doing. If YOU are currently in college (or are faculty or staff at one) and want to discuss some options, definitely get in touch:


MJ Hargis said...

This residency was the best week I have ever had on that campus. Period. I had in-depth conversations with strangers about topics I hardly even raise with my friends.

Vanessa Mercado Taylor said...

This residency is the best week of teaching I have ever had! The students were engaged, the instructors were pushed to make connections between seemingly unconnected disciplines and our college community was able to discuss issues of social justice while exploring hip hop as a musical genre and social movement. Let's start working on next year!!

Barbara Armstrong said...

You gave my students a new appreciation for the art of today. While our class is focused on visual art, the discussions of the sources, inspirations and the activist possibilities of art of all types opened their eyes to the art of the world around them. My students were deeply engaged and really enjoyed the whole week.