#BecauseofArtsEd: My Life at the Intersections
Chances are, if you’ve gotten this far on your click-journey, you’re probably already bought-in on the crucial role of arts education in molding minds. And you’re so right! I mean, look at all this research!
But, as you probably also already know (you savvy supporter you), not all students have access to even the most mediocre of arts education opportunities, in- or out-of-school. Obviously, this is terrible for many reasons, not least of which is the trend of employers looking for workers who are “nimble, curious, and innovative… those who can collaborate widely, think broadly and challenge conventional wisdom,” or, traits that arts education builds: creative thinking, innovative problem-solving, and experimenting new ideas.
But it doesn’t stop there. I believe a well-rounded arts educational experience must incorporate arts-going and arts-reflecting opportunities, providing a young person with the tools to (continue to) engage on their own terms. The best part? The vast majority of arts-presenting organizations already have the resources and capacity to be radically inclusive and profoundly welcoming to young people—not only developing their future audience, but playing a critical role in arts education. Simply put, supplementing creative and arts-integrated learning with quality arts-going and arts-reflecting experiences inspire and motivate tomorrow’s engaged citizens, bright workers, and arts patrons.
That’s exactly what we’re doing at TeenTix in Seattle: empowering young people to take an active role in their arts community by making it possible for ANY teenager to go to ANY arts event at our roster of 64 partner organizations in the greater Seattle area for $5, day-of-show. Our partners include Seattle Symphony, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle International Film Festival, Seattle Repertory Theatre, EMP Museum, 5th Avenue Theatre, ACT Theatre, and dozens more major institutions and small, community-based organizations. One of my favorite organizational values is the implicit understanding that arts attendance is arts education, arts attendance is civic engagement.
Let me back up for a second and properly introduce myself. My name is Ashraf Hasham, director of Partnerships & Programs at TeenTix. I grew up in Seattle, and, like many of the teens we serve, I signed up for TeenTix when I was 15, having never gone to a professional arts event. Enamored with TeenTix's simple, mutually-beneficial, teen-forward model, I went on to take Arts Journalism 101, a free eight-week arts criticism workshop with fellow 11th-and-12th graders back in 2008, and to subsequently join The New Guard: Teen Arts Leadership Society to learn more about the business side of the art I was seeing.
At the same time, I was using all my spare electives to take photography classes at my school, getting hooked on photo developer, and spending hours in the darkroom. Our community has a monthly artwalk, and every spring a month was set aside for student work at all participating locations. The experience of printing, matting, framing, installing, pricing, and selling my work has stayed with me as one of the most powerful in my formative years.
It was then that knew then that I wanted my future to involve the arts, anywhere on the spectrum of devising, creating, presenting, marketing, administering, critiquing, encouraging. Even then, it seemed like an honest, noble cause, good for the soul. But did I have to be an artist? Why couldn’t I simply have a reputable career somehow related to the arts?
My photography practice taught me to value my perspective while being cognizant and commiserative to others. Photography gave me insight into human beings’ capacity to create narratives and tell untold stories. It taught me the the benefits of tenacity and the glory of tangibility. Outside of school, TeenTix’s programs gave me a community of likeminded, nerdy, artsy writers. They taught me to own my ignorance, and the perils of pedantry and pretentiousness. This intersection of arts education and arts access helped inform the rest of my life.
Fast forward. After earning a degree in Arts Administration in NYC with a capstone internship at Aperture Foundation (full circle!), I returned as the self-proclaimed "youngest arts professional in Seattle," securing gigs at the Henry Art Gallery, On the Boards, and the organization that started it all, TeenTix (two full circles!)! And now, I am #blessed to get to lead and mentor the next generation of arts-curious teens right here at the intersection of arts education, civic engagement, and access to high quality arts experiences.
My story is just one of thousands that TeenTix has helped shape. This month, we welcomed the newest cohort of The New Guard: 45 teens from all over the Puget Sound that convenes twice-monthly, with an intersectional focus on arts leadership, “pre-fessional” development, and social justice. Whatever their professional interest or trajectory, these teens are developing their creative thinking, collaborative strategizing, and empathetic leadership skills—not to mention a professional network—that will serve them into adulthood.
Here’s what I know for sure: if it hadn’t been for my access to excellent arts educational opportunities through Seattle Public Schools (continuing to innovate via The Creative Advantage) & TeenTix, my interest in business might have led me down a very different path. Instead, I chose to pursue an arts administration degree that allowed me to study at the intersection of business, public administration, and artistic practice. My gumption, drawn partially from the countless hours spent in my red-lit high school darkroom, planted me on the career trajectory I now enjoy and benefit from—#BecauseofArtsEd.