Graphic Novels On Stage

Showcase 2011

I couldn’t blame my students for being nervous. Being young “graphic novelists”, they’re naturally introverts (for the most part). They sit at tables in a classroom two days a week and design characters, think up stories, and draw comics. The most contact they expected to have with the public was maybe somebody reading their printed comic book. And here I was asking them to stand on stage at the Broadway Performance Hall and show their work to a live audience at Arts Corps’ Showcase event for 2011. And it was a packed house!

How did we show off the work of young graphic novelists at a performance event? Thanks to a program called Powerpoint (which is usually thought of as projecting endless pie charts to bored executives), we were able to project images of the students’ art, bigger than life, on the screen. My students gathered on stage (with no little anxiety) and we talked about what was being shown.

I gave them the option of talking into the handheld mic, or letting me talk about their work. Out of six students, two were willing to talk to the audience, which was really quite brave. Keep in mind that these are third, fourth, and fifth graders.

The most talkative of the students not only talked about his comics (an adventure story set in WWII), but told the audience how much he looked forward to the after-school graphic novel class because it was the one time during the week when he was able to draw. I was not expecting to hear this. I assured the audience, with a smile, that he had not been coaxed into saying it. And inside I felt really glad that I’m a teaching artist.

See a selection of my students’ work here:

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The Art of Silly

I’m so excited to announce my first official video project for Arts Corps! While I’ve been doing some personal video documentaries on community minded musicians and world travel, this is my first mini documentary showcasing other Arts Corps teaching artists. This is an ongoing project that I hope will continue nurturing a deeper understanding and appreciation for the importance of arts education. It’s also a testament to the plethora of opportunities presented when a student’s creative power is unleashed!

Our first featured teaching artist is actor and visual artist, Geoffrey Garza. Enjoy

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Rise UP!

It’s always great to observe fellow Arts Corps colleagues. There’s so much to learn about their artistry, pedagogical practices, and personal relationship with their students. Just a few weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to do just that–observe fellow teaching artist, Stephany Hazelrigg at Aki Kurose.

What an awesome experience for me!

Besides the usual teaching of concepts, in this case, hip-hop vocabulary and dance moves, I found that Stephany was teaching an old and familiar concept in a whole new way.


I know I’ve written on this subject before and while I thought I had “community” well defined in my head, I now enjoy a much deeper understanding of this word than ever before.

You see, what caught my attention was her use of words and phrases that nurtured the idea of community and therefore were reflected in her actions.

For example, when two younger students began arguing, an older student jumped in and defended her friend. Instead of allowing the older student to take control of the situation, Stephany said- “will you be the older sister and mentor and step back?” This provided an opportunity for the two younger students to problem solve on their own and learn to communicate. As for the older girl, it allowed her to reflect and respond appropriately and maturely rather than to react defensively.

In another instance, as a young boy struggled teaching several dance moves to the class, Stephany reminded him, “remember, the goal as a leader is to not trick your community. Show them moves they can all follow.” As a result, the young boy chose simpler steps and taught them slowly so that all the students felt successful.

“Reset, Rewind, Recommit!”

“Rise up!”

“Celebrate and Elevate!”

Words and actions embracing and nurturing the true meaning of community.

It may seem basic and remedial, but in today’s world and with today’s generation, community is a hard concept to grasp. It’s not just about neighbors and neighborhoods. It’s about interacting with the people around us each and every day. Much of our youth today doesn’t know how to get along and communicate positively and effectively. We as teachers  have to tackle this problem and so much more in our classes. We’re not just teaching our artistry anymore, we’re teaching life long skills necessary to co-exist in our world. The fact is that we can’t really make an impact in our work until we’ve built a safe environment around us. We must all feel loved, accepted, and a significant part of a functioning community.

I left the class renewed, reinvigorated and eager to apply these ideas to my own students. I’ve always felt that even as a seasoned educator there is always room to learn new and old things.

After all, the key to perfecting our craft is to always remain life long students!

Thanks Stephany!

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Got Mummies?

Our class had been exploring ancient Egyptian art before all the chaos in Cairo started, so how timely that our cardboard sarcophagus mummies we just finished would be ready for replacements if any become missing.

Also I just heard that the Philadelphia Art Museum is having a show of Chinese mummies but they couldn’t get them in time for the opening so instead they made cardboard ones as stand ins.

I love it when the collective unconscious seems to be working in sync sometimes.

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Rewards of Practicing Ritual

Ever since I learned the “Brain Dance,” a wake up exercise for mind and body, I have used it successfully in all my classes with great results.

The Brain Dance is an all over body tapping & patting plus I have added some Qi Gong energy opening exercises; using their hot hands to generate a ball of energy that can be moved around.

I find this ritual to be such a great way to focus the class energy as well as center them individually. The returns from this have been so wonderful.

Today one of the parents told me her daughter was feeling her “Energy Ball” in bed last night. And then another student during our quiet drawing time told me she could still feel her energy ball.

It is  such a thrill to see that some of what we give really does sink in.

Developed by Anne Green Gilbert, the BrainDance is a series of exercises comprised of eight fundamental movement patterns that people move through in the first year of life. This “dance” is an excellent full body and brain warm-up for children and adults in all settings. Find out more here.

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