Bridging Art and Identity
"Think like an artist" echoes throughout Lincoln Center Education (LCE), where the arts empower people to think critically, collaborate, and express themselves freely. Each year, LCE programs and initiatives reach thousands of students, educators, teens, and seniors around the world. Placing a work of art at the center of the learning experience, LCE teaching artists and staff work closely with schools and educators to translate the skills from the stage and the artist’s studio to the lives of learners from all backgrounds, equipping them to succeed in our dynamic and changing world.
Locally, LCE provides arts education programs to New York City–area public schools, working with students and educators to stimulate imagination, encourage critical thinking, and support learning across disciplines. The Focus School program, one of LCE's local initiatives, is rooted in collaborations between partner teachers and administrators and LCE staff and teaching artists. LCE's learning framework and inquiry-based approach to teaching are brought to a cohort of K–12 schools through in-classroom workshops and field trips to live performances at Lincoln Center, as well as visits to New York museums and galleries.
Three students from Battery Park City School, a Focus School partner, reflected on their experiences working with an LCE teaching artist in their seventh-grade class. During the fall 2018 semester, LCE dance teaching artist Yvonne Winborne led experiential, in-classroom workshops centered around a field trip to Lincoln Center to see Urban Bush Women's Hair and Other Stories, a multidisciplinary performance exploring disquieting perceptions of beauty, identity, and race through the lens of hair. I reached out to them to find out about their experiences.
What was it like working with a teaching artist and participating in experiential activities?
Nicoline Juliano: I was kind of nervous when Yvonne first came to our class. She did exercises with us that were loud and had us move a lot. It was a different kind of experience.
Liv Tesch: When we first met Yvonne, it was a little hard to participate because we didn't want to go screaming and running around. But after more sessions, we grew a connection with Yvonne and didn't feel as intimidated. Also, we realized we were together as a class, so we should feel comfortable and supported by one another.
Kaciann James: At first, I felt silly doing all of these movement activities. Once we got into it, it was fun. Our class learned a lot of new things.
What is an example of an activity that Yvonne asked you to participate in?
LT: We created tableaus in groups, where we had to show how we feel about our identity in a single pose. I thought that was really cool.
KJ: Similar to the Hair and Other Stories performance, we had to tell our own personal hair stories through movements, music, and sounds. After seeing other students' hair stories, we had to think about what kinds of emotions we thought they were representing.
Did you feel like you were part of a community when you were doing these activities?
LT: Yes. At first, we did activities together in a circle. Everyone had to participate, so no one felt left out. It felt like a comfortable environment.
KJ: A lot of people liked doing those activities when they could be loud. I had a lot of fun with it. There were some people who didn't want to participate because they felt shy, but they grew to really express themselves through the activities.
NJ: The embodying activities helped us get in touch with ourselves. We represented things we maybe weren't thinking of at first.
How was your experience seeing Urban Bush Women's Hair and Other Stories at Lincoln Center?
NJ: It opened my mind to how hair can be shown and expressed. I didn't really think about hair other than as a normal thing that people have. The performance really showed how hair can be represented in so many different ways and cultures.
LT: It really opened my eyes to racism. The show addresses the different perspectives and histories behind hair's different forms and perceptions. Before, I thought that I didn't really express myself through hair—it was something that I would just tie up in a bun. The performance demonstrated how different people can express themselves through hair, what that means, and the history behind it.
KJ: As they said, I didn't really think that hair could represent your identity. When we went to the show, the performers asked all proud black girls with natural hair to stand up. At first, I didn't want to stand up. When I saw other people standing, I was empowered to express who I am and stand up and be with everyone else.
Did your experiential workshops with Yvonne and seeing the performance shape your learning in other subjects?
NJ: Our experiences with a teaching artist and at the performance definitely connected to history. Your hair meant a lot then, and it still does today. It represents where you come from and how you are used to being classified as a person. The performance encouraged girls to embrace our hair and identity, which I think translates in the real world, beyond school.
KJ: Overall, it showed how people change their hair to fit what is considered beautiful. The performances showed that, in reality, it's beautiful to be natural.
Does working with a teaching artist and going to a performance change how you feel about the arts, or help you view the world differently?
NJ: Yes, it encouraged our class to really try the arts. It inspired me to want to do it more. I was like, okay, I'm going to sing when I get home!
LT: I thought it was empowering how you can say something important through dancing, singing, and talking. I'm not sure whether I'll pursue a career in the arts, but it was inspiring.
KJ: It showed that some people are shy and keep their feelings very closed off, but when they get on stage, they feel free and can express their feelings through drama and singing.
NJ: The first five seconds of performing for me are always anxiety-filled, but once I get into it, I spiritually connect with the art.
Laurel Toyofuku is Manager of Global Partnerships at Lincoln Center.
For more information about Lincoln Center Education, visit lincolncentereducation.org.
Major support for LCE Focus Schools is provided by The Barker Welfare Foundation, Rose M. Badgeley Charitable Trust, and Mitsui & Co. (U.S.A.), Inc.