Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sam Weinberg's Improbable Beautiful

Sam's work with recycled material

1. How long have you been a teaching artist?
I consider the beginning of my being an artist around 9 or 10 years old when I would take my dad's camera to document and explore any and all types of events. I started to teach art classes back in high school, but have been doing so professionally since 2011. All in all, approximately 10 years at this point? ... woah.

2. What discipline(s) do you teach?
Drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, paper-making, digital photography, graphic arts, comics, ceramics... just about anything that my students will enjoy and/or aligns with some of their core curriculum.

3. Describe the setting(s) in which you teach. (K-5, after school, university, community center, etc &)
I teach at a K-8 charter school in Oakland. CA. There is a very diverse student population both culturally and socio-economically.

4. Describe the relationship between your personal art practice and your art teaching?
The focus in my own practice involves 2 primary elements: utilizing materials and resources immediately or already available, and creating something useful or functional. This often means a focus on resourcefulness in the form of using recycled and found materials, which is very helpful as a teacher with a limited budget and about 275 students. The functionality element comes into my integration approach where I try to create art lessons that connect directly with what the students are learning about in their core classes. I use art-making as a tool to reveal the connections between our visual, social, historical, scientific and mathematical worlds!

5. How do you sustain your art while teaching?
It has been very difficult. I feel like I have very limited time with the demands of my job (I am also an after school instructor and the facilities coordinator) and very limited space in my tiny apartment that it's hard to make the kind of art I would like. But that's really all excuses, and I have been able to work on smaller things like collage when I make the time for it. I took a drawing class, and found that I was much more productive when given assignments and deadlines and such. Ultimately, it comes down to making the time and doing away with excuses... easier said than done!

6. Who shaped your initial thinking about teaching art?
I'd have to say all the teachers at Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. This is an amazing after-school arts program that is free to all Pittsburgh Public School students. The experience differed so much from the art classes I took at school that I was inspired to become an arts educator just to try to replicate their approach directly in schools. I appreciated the art teachers I had in high school, but most of the time it just felt like arts and crafts. MCG showed me how empowering an arts education could be and I hope to convey that to my own students.

7. What training in the arts and/or education have you had?
I earned my BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2010, and then my MAT from MICA in 2011. I most recently completed the Integrated Learning Specialist Program offered by the Alameda County Office of Education. I have also been taking art classes again at Berkley City College just to stay on my game and keep the art-making going. Fun and cheap, I recommend it to anyone looking for some inspiration and motivation!

8. How do you develop and deepen your teaching practice?
I try to engage in as much PD as possible... the ILSP courses have had a huge impact on my teaching practice and philosophy. I've also tried to reach out to other teaching professionals in the area to observe their classrooms and pick their brains on how they conduct a successful art program.  

9. What are the biggest challenges you face as a teaching artist?
MAKING MY OWN ART!!! I always try to do prototypes of the lessons I teach, which is fun and interesting, but definitely not always what I would make on my own.

10. What are the unexpected rewards of being a teaching artist?
Some of the appreciation that I receive from students who have had a fun or transformative time in my class. Seeing a student all of a sudden "get" something and apply it right away is always inspiring too. I think the best however is when a parent approaches me to tell me about how their child tells them all about art class and how much fun it is, even when the kid never says anything to me! Teaching is not always a thankful profession but it's really nice when it is!

11. What advice do you have for artists interested in teaching?
I think teaching your ideas is one of the best ways for you to really articulate your own thinking. If you are able to effectively communicate your own approach to art making it shows and can often generate a greater understanding of your own practice. You will be amazed at some of the directions your students will take some of your ideas. The process of teaching will enhance and possibly transform your own art practice.

Please share one anecdote of a memorable Teaching Artist experience.

All I'll say is this.... KIDS LOVE PAPER-MAKING! If you get them involved in the process from beginning (recycling and ripping up paper scraps) to end (arranging, pressing and drying the pulp) they will be engaged the entire time! They love getting messy, playing with the slop, and creating interesting patterns with different colored paper. Go for it!

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