Blog Posts for Pennsylvania

Arts Research: Fuel for Policy and Advocacy?

Posted by Mr. David B. Pankratz, Sep 23, 2013 2 comments

David Pankratz David Pankratz

What do musical chairs, speed dating, and crowd sourcing have to do with arts research? Well, on Day 2 of Americans for the Arts’ National Convention in June, co-hosted by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC), Randy Cohen, AFTA’s Vice-President for Research and Policy, and I, found out.

Context:  We knew that arts researchers and policy wonks from arts service organizations, academia, consultancies, and foundations would be among the 1,000 convention attendees coming to Pittsburgh. Randy and I also knew that opportunities for researchers and wonks (and geeks, too!) to gather in one place and explore issues connecting research, policy, and advocacy were, at best, rare. So we invited 40 such folks to do just that!

Format:  In the lobby of Bricolage, a small, progressive theater in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, four groups of 10 chairs each were divided by topic--Producing Arts Research, Evaluating Policies, Disseminating Research, and Leveraging Research for Advocacy. As participants arrived at 8:00 am, they scoured the room and chose, on a first-come, first-served basis, which group to sit in (the Musical Chairs portion of the program). Each participant then engaged in five animated, 5-minute conversations with others in their group (i.e., Speed Dating). According to Randy’s phone, the decibel level in the room rivaled that of a rowdy night club. Leaders of each group then shared highlights of those conversations with all the convening’s participants (Crowd Sourcing).

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Kindergartners, Stage Fright, and Educator Effectiveness

Posted by Jamie Kasper, Sep 12, 2013 0 comments

Kasper headshot_small Jamie Kasper

Here in Pennsylvania, we are currently mired in educator effectiveness. Before I left the elementary music classroom in 2007, my effectiveness as a teacher was measured by variations on these steps:

1. Around May 1, I would meet my principal accidentally in the hall. That person would inform me that he/she had forgotten to observe my class that year and said our spring performance would serve as my evaluation.

2. In mid-May, I would herd approximately 100 kindergarten students into our gymatorium. In between tears, loud exclamations of “Hi, Mommy!” accompanied by violent waving, dresses pulled over faces to hide from the audience, and other manifestations of 5-year-olds’ stage fright, we managed to sing, play instruments, and move. I may or may not have noticed my principal standing in the back of the room.

3. A few days later, I was called into the office, told everything was great, and asked to sign a paper saying just that. Then I went back to my classroom.

Two significant events in the accountability landscape have occurred in Pennsylvania since then. In 2010, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Pennsylvania an $800,000 Momentum Grant. The purpose of the grant was to develop an evaluation system that included student achievement as one significant part. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), working with other stakeholders, closely examined Charlotte Danielson’s revised 2011 Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument and piloted it in 2010-2011 with three school districts and one intermediate unit. This measurement tool included four domains on which teachers would assess themselves and also be assessed by their supervisor:

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Student Achievement: No longer “A little bit of Technical Skills and a lot of Inspiration”

Posted by David Dietz, Sep 10, 2013 0 comments


O.David Dietz
O.David Dietz

In an ARTSblog post by Erin Gough on July 23, 2013, teachers are encouraged to be champions for the arts in ways that are often not a part of college preparatory curriculum. Erin notes that “too often, teachers believe that as long as their students leave their class with a little bit of technical skills and a lot of inspiration, they've done all they can to prove their value.” She then continues to connect the role of student achievement in the arts, in the form of student performances, plays, musicals and visual art presentations, to the role of teachers as advocates for student achievement in the arena of public policy makers.As a retired music educator (one of Erin’s teachers, I’m proud to say!) I would concur that my experience with arts teachers would support the premise that these teachers shy away from the very people and decision-making opportunities that ultimately affect both their art and their ability to be employed. Advocacy for advocacy’s sake is not the realm in which these teachers thrive and provide leadership. However, arts teachers do thrive and provide leadership in a realm that is important to public policy makers at all levels: student achievement.

Current trends in educator effectiveness systems require that evidence of student achievement be attributed to teacher evaluation, often in equal proportion with teacher observation. Arts teachers have long known that student achievement is the primary focus of instruction, and they have provided evidences of that achievement in the ways that Erin describes: student performances, plays, musicals and visual art presentations. However, student achievement must now be examined from the perspective of each individual student that a teacher instructs, and not from the conglomerate success achieved by an art show or a music/theatre/dance performance.

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Follow Along at the 2013 Annual Convention

Posted by Ms. Caitlin Holland, Jun 15, 2013 0 comments

8619_10151402651177805_379340572_nNot everyone can join us here in Pittsburgh at the 2013 Annual Convention and preconferences, but we've tried to make it as easy as possible to follow all the action online. The best place to take part "virtually" is the Convention Homepage.

You'll find links to the three livestreamed general sessions, our Flickr photo feed, ARTSblog posts written about the Convention, and the Twitter feed. You can also follow everything on Twitter directly by searching with the #afta13 hashtag.

Check back often for new photos and content!

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Public Art Projects from Concecption to Installation

Posted by Nadine Wasserman, Jun 15, 2013 1 comment

Nadine Wasserman Nadine Wasserman

As part of the Annual 2013 Americans for the Arts National Conference, the Public Art Network (PAN) Preconference, presents the opportunity for public art professionals to explore all aspects of their field from invigorating communities to behind-the-scenes negotiations such as planning, fund raising, and working collaboratively with artists, architects, engineers, fabricators, city planners, and so on.

Like any worthwhile artistic production, good public art requires delicate negotiations, collaborations, and most importantly flexibility and adaptability. One of the many panels at PAN this year took a look at how the end result can often be very different from the initial prospectus. The panel, titled “Between the Lip and the Cup: How Projects Change from Initial Process to Final Installation,” was made up of four different professionals: Cath Brunner, Director, Public Art 4Culture, Seattle, WA; Stacy Levy, artist, Sere, Ltd., Spring Mills, PA; Natalie Plecity, Landscape Architect, Pittsburgh, PA; and Janet Zweig, artist, Brooklyn, NY.

The panel used examples to demonstrate how changes and unpredictable circumstances are inevitable at all phases of a project but they can be successfully managed in order to create the “best” outcomes for all stakeholders.
Ms. Zweig talked about two of her projects. One was for Maplewood, a neighborhood in St. Louis.  Her first proposal to create a digital sign proved cost prohibitive so she revised her plan. In the end her signs were made of recycled materials taken from bungalows that were scheduled for demolition in the neighborhood. One of the signs was intentionally installed backwards so that drivers passing by could read it in their rearview mirrors. Serendipitously, it was this aspect of the project that created a buzz and got the neighborhood the recognition it was seeking.

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Envisioning a City of Artists with “Soulful Stakes”

Posted by Kyle Bostian, May 31, 2013 2 comments

Kyle Bostian Kyle Bostian

Pittsburgh is widely – and deservedly – touted for its transformation from declining industrial center to post-industrial success story, with much attention devoted to the role played by the arts in that (ongoing) process. The site of the 2013 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, downtown’s Cultural District, represents a shining example of how artistic activity can help drive an economic recovery.

But in many neighborhoods the transition isn’t quite as far along; in some, it’s barely begun. And, for me and plenty of other Pittsburgh residents, that raises questions about how artists – often among the “avant-garde” (regardless of the style of their work) in terms of moving into and restoring “blighted” areas – might strive to make the most of the opportunities presented to them there. In my case (and I’m by no means alone in this respect), these questions go beyond the relationship between artistic activity and economic revitalization to encompass broader aspects of community building, accessibility, and social justice.

As a citizen-artist-activist, I appreciate the feeling of community that the arts often generate among participants. I’m particularly interested in and devote some of my own creative energy to projects that address issues (social, economic, political) with direct relevance to local populations. I’m passionate about the work I do along those lines. At the same time, I wonder if there are ways I could use my creativity to engage more deeply with my communities and have a greater impact. That’s why I was struck so powerfully by the words of one panelist at a recent Pittsburgh Emerging Arts Leaders Network forum on “Arts as Urban Renewal.”

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