Maine Arts Leadership Initiative - MALI

     Just over two months ago, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a three day long professional development event called MALI.  MALI stands for Maine Arts Leadership Initiative.  It is my invitation only, and is comprised of MOSTLY arts educators. A few years ago they started bringing in teaching artists.  There were three new teaching artists included this year – me being one of them.  So now, out of about 120 members, there are 10 teaching artists.  To say it was an honor to be invited to apply and then to be selected was humbling…and was the start of some amazing changes in my art practice.

What I Learned

     This was the second event I have attended that was hosted in part by the Maine Arts Commission / Maine Arts Education. The first one was only a single day workshop back in July where I learned about being a teaching artist. That single day workshop was an exercise in me putting myself out there and stepping out of my comfort zone. I knew I wanted to grow my art business, and I wanted to branch out into more teaching opportunities.  And branch out I have!  

     One of the key take aways from the summer institute (31 July – 2 August 2018) for me…was that it’s definitely worth the discomfort to grow…both personally and professionally.  The days were long, and there was a lot of information to digest, but the people in attendance were amazing.  The first two days I used my wheelchair to help conserve leg strength and make sure I could MAKE IT all three days.  This was the first time I had ventured out on my own without my husband around to help me if my health flared up. By the third day, my hand weakness started to exacerbate and i could no longer safely use my chair – I couldn’t grip the wheels tight enough to stop myself while going down a hill/ramp.  So I was forced to use my forearm crutches on that third day.  I was concerned my legs would give out and I’d really be up shit creek… But the people who were there – both facilitators and attendees – really stepped up and helped with whatever I needed.  They went from strangers to friends in those 72 hours. It was amazing to know that I COULD DO IT!

Breakout Sessions

     The way the MALI summer institute was set up was much like any other conference.  We all came together for a morning meeting, lunch, and the day’s closing remarks. But in between those times, there were break out sessions.  As a first year teaching artist leader,  there were a few sessions that were mandatory, and a few that were optional.  I was able to make it to John Morri’s discussion on creativity as well as Lindsay Pinchbeck & Jake Sturtevant’s talk about story telling. Both were enlightening and interactive.  It was a great break from the more scholastic reason we were there – which was arts assessment and logic models.

     The logic model was quite interesting.  It’s a helpful tool that allows – and encourages – you to think big and to plan for that big thing. Whether it be for a lesson/unit plan, a year long project, an event..the logic model presented is something that can be used and applied to a wide variety of tasks.

     The topic I chose to tackle for the 2018-2019 year as a teaching artist leader… was to teach the teachers creative ways to make their classrooms inclusive and accessible. What I mean by this.. is that adaptive tools and equipment can get expensive.  While yes, I understand, that if it states in a student’s IEP that the must accommodate and purchase adaptive tools, it can be a time consuming and expensive process. What I aim to do is help teachers think outside of the box with simple, economical, and effective solutions that allow the student to participate right then and there. I plan to accomplish this by publishing more blog posts, adaptive tool tutorials, creating a podcast, teaching workshops/seminars, etc. 

     The way we got feedback on our logic models at the end of the third day, was we created a larger than life replica on poster paper. See all those sticky notes? People walked around the auditorium where we’d hung them up, and left their input, thoughts, questions, and critiques. It was incredibly eye opening and insightful – especially with most of the insight coming from educators who use lesson plans and logic models on a regular basis.

What's Next

     MALI is just the start for me. I am working on getting my name listed on the Maine Arts Commission website as a teaching artist. Once this happens, it is my hope that I will become an artist in residence at schools across the state. It is becoming more and more common place for school districts to supplement their arts education with teaching artists. There is grant money available for this very thing. 

     I want to continue to broaden my horizons and apply/submit proposals to be a speaker at various conferences – especially NON art related… like the Brain Injury Association of America Maine state conference I just spoke at…more on that in future posts.

     MALI was an amazing experience! I met some incredibly devoted arts educators, some of whom I’m now lucky enough to call friends. I learned a lot about how I am able to overcome my own disabilities to continue to grow my art business. And I learned a lot about arts education in general. The next 10-12 months are going to kick ass! So stay tuned… I can’t wait to take you on this journey with me!

     Shawna is a ceramic sculptor and mixed media artist who loves sharing her passion with others. She is a teaching artist and a strong advocate for the arts being accessible to all. Check out her Patreon page HERE for exclusive content, sculpting tips and fun times!

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