Arts Education: Next Gen Leaders and “Breaking In” to the Field
I often get questions from up and coming leaders about what it takes to “break in” to the arts education field. I can relate—I love the career path that I’ve taken and yes, arts education can feel like a specific field that no one really envisions themselves doing from a young age. I fell into the profession with no set path but a vision of wanting to do good and contribute to a more just and equitable society. While I have a background in multicultural education, and was able to eventually blend my academic training and my interest in visual arts to impact communities that do not have access to formal and experiential programs in the arts, for many like myself the path is far from being clear cut. What’s more, the arts landscape has changed dramatically in just the last few years alone.
To bridge that gap and to offer readers a recent example of a person who has transitioned into informal arts education, I had the opportunity to interview my colleague Anna Lisa Caraveo Flores, Director of Pablove Shutterbugs, about her journey by way of The Pablove Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles that approaches childhood cancer through art and science.
What was your career path and how did you transition into community-based arts education?
My path into education started 10 years ago in Houston, Texas where I taught bilingual education. After teaching for a few years, I worked in the Rio Grande Valley and Phoenix as an instructional coach, and before transitioning over to Pablove, I led efforts to centralize culturally responsive pedagogy in teacher education and training in Phoenix. I recently received my Masters in Social and Cultural Pedagogy, which is a social justice focused program grounded in the belief that social change is community based and happens through the learning and growing we do both inside and outside of a traditional school setting. Last year, I moved back to Los Angeles and decided to take a step back from K-12 education to explore other avenues of community-based education to learn from others engaging in transformative work. In searching for my new professional home, I came across Pablove and was instantly drawn to the mission and the Shutterbugs Program. I now have the great honor of leading Pablove’s Shutterbugs as Program Director.
What did learning look like for you as you transitioned into arts education?
Learning for me was and still is all about listening and immersing myself into the work we are doing as much as possible. I took the first couple months to listen and learn from what was already in place so that I could understand the strengths and contexts surrounding our program. Essentially, how things were done, why past decisions had been made, and what the current needs and priorities of our program were. Attending Americans for the Arts’ Annual Convention this past June was also pivotal to my transition, as it allowed me to meet and talk to others doing similar work and make connections to our Shutterbugs program. As a department head, it was also important for me to get to know my team so that I could be able to speak to how they work, what intrapersonal styles look like, what people’s strengths look like. This was important to me so that I could ensure that the way in which I support people aligns to how they work best.
What was the most surprising thing about the transition?
While I was thoughtful and intentional in looking for organizations that shared my values and beliefs in being student or community centered, it was surprising for me to see how much of my previous work intersected with my new role as Shutterbugs Program Director. Learning about Creative Youth Development was exciting to me as I saw clear overlaps in the work I did to create student-centered learning through a culturally responsive lens in K-12 classrooms. While I am learning about new frameworks and paradigms, I’ve realized that the heart of my work remains the same.
What advice would you give to those wanting to “break in” to the field?
Look for organizations whose missions are in direct alignment with your values and aspirations. Once you’re in contact with them, learn all you can about who they are, what they do, and the driving force behind their work. Take the time to genuinely listen to the community you work with to understand what your work means to them and to deepen your own understanding of the organization’s impact. Ask all the questions, and network with like-minded people as much as you possibly can!
What do the arts mean to you personally? How do you incorporate it into your line of work?
I see art as a powerful tool that individuals can utilize or experience to generate change. I know that when we combine art with community, it becomes an even more powerful tool that can change people which in turn can change lives. Social change requires imagination, as the worlds we aspire to may not currently exist. To me, art is a critical tool for us, both to critically analyze our current world by raising awareness about injustices and, on the flip side, to dream and communicate with others visions of a more just and compassionate world.
Pablove Shutterbugs is an arts education program that encourages children who are living with cancer to participate in a learning community, where the Beginners class’s primary objective is to develop students’ creative voices through the art of photography. In the advanced class, which is an extension of Shutterbugs Beginners class, students learn storytelling through photography—empowering teens and young adults to share their cancer experience with their personal community as they launch a social advocacy campaign. The purpose of the advocacy campaign is to raise awareness and funding for pediatric cancer research. Through their campaign, they sell their prints to fund a $50,000 childhood cancer research grant. With this goal in mind, Pablove’s mission comes full circle and Shutterbugs become advocates for other kids living with cancer. To see the current advanced class student collection, or to support their campaign, click here.
Anna Lisa Caraveo Flores joined The Pablove Foundation in 2018 as Program Director. Anna Lisa comes to Pablove with over 10 years of experience working in underserved communities with a focus on critical pedagogy through her work as a bilingual elementary teacher in Houston and through her work as a teacher educator in McAllen, TX and Phoenix, AZ. When she isn’t working, Anna Lisa enjoys carne asada Saturdays with family and showing her almost 2-year-old son everything that the great City of Angels has to offer.