Access and Community Based Arts Education – Building a Bridge
“We dance, sing, and tell stories too, you know? And we are pretty good at it,” Merlene age 12 at the time, informed me as I was finishing up my theatre and dance class with the middle school boys. From that point on, the Theatre and Dance Education Program at the Hartland Partnership Center took off.
My name is Kelby McIntyre-Martinez and I am the Director of the Theatre and Dance Education Program at the University of Utah Hartland Partnership Center in Salt Lake City. Since 2008, I have had the privilege of working with an amazingly diverse population that encompasses non-native English speaking youth from immigrant and refugee backgrounds.
The Hartland Partnership Center is part of an expanded effort by the University of Utah toward civic engagement—a recognition that active collaboration between University and community groups can enhance learning, teaching, and research. In addition, University/community partnerships bring the strength of combined resources to bear on urban issues. The key to Hartland Partnership Center’s success is sustainability and reciprocity. This model works because the resources fit the reality and a culture of reciprocal sharing and learning permeates the center. The mission of the Hartland Partnership Center provides space for a broad range of campus-community partnership activities. Bringing these activities to Hartland residents helps equip them with all the tools and resources needed to more fully participate in the broader Salt Lake community, including the performing arts.
My colleagues and friends in the arts education field from time to time ask me, “How do you engage in this work?” The answer is I DO what they like to DO; dance, act, create and share. Dance and theatre are the vehicles I utilize to promote dialogue, interest, empowerment, and - at times - change.
From dancing at a community event to performing for government officials and departments at the University of Utah, my students and I are constantly co-creating spoken word pieces, monologues, duologues, original scripts, and dances that are relevant and pertinent to them. This creative process has built trust and given them a platform to share their perspectives, thoughts, and feelings through performance art. An example of this happened just this month at the Utah State Capitol. The city and partner organizations reached out to me and asked if the youth would perform at the One World Utah event, a community enrichment program that seeks to break down cultural barriers and stop further marginalization. As with any invitation, I asked the youth if this was something we wanted to be part of. I have found that this reciprocal conversation allows them opportunities to genuinely engage in each event we are asked to be part of. They are able to understand, on a deeper level, the greater entity to which we are contributing.
As it turned out, they felt it was incredibly important that we were part of this amazing event. They performed three pieces fused together to honor traditional dances as well as American inspired movements that celebrate where they live now. Other performance pieces we have created over the years include: spoken words about self-image and identity, the meaning of home, air quality and inversion that is so prevalent in Salt Lake City, anti-bully scripts that included built in “talk back” sessions, and anti-war moving tableaux images. With each collaborative performance piece that is created, the youth are provided opportunities to research a topic that they are passionate about, as well as build upon and enhance their artistic strengths.
Access and empowerment are central to this small Theatre and Dance Education Program. They drive what I strive to achieve each week as I work year round with 50 youth. Whether it is access to youth arts programs across Salt Lake City, higher education, or the expensive water park located across the street from the Hartland center, I want the youth to know that anything is possible and their voice, talents, and experiences are valued.
In the spirit of being “cutting edge” or innovative, I find myself at a loss, but refreshed by the simple realization that the arts are a powerful force and incredibly essential to who we are as human beings, no matter where we come from. Thank you for reading. I appreciate the opportunity to share a snap shot of the community engaged work I am so honored to be part of:
Self-Identity Duologue written, devised, and created in the Hartland Theatre and Dance Education Program
Chicano, by Bryant Martinez (10 years old) and Jonathan Martinez (7 years old)
Mixed, Biracial, Chicano, so many labels.
It is hard to know “what we are,” but our Dad calls us Chicano.
The urban dictionary says that Chicano is someone of Mexican descent where one or both parents were born in Mexico. We are half-white, half Mexican.
For the longest time we didn’t know what a cucumber was, we knew it as pepino, we still call it that!
Dad tries to teach us Spanish, but it is hard.
Jonnie is lighter than me, but I don’t mind.
Mixed, Biracial, Chicano or something else. So we decided to make our own label…….
We call ourselves, AWESOME!