Teaching Artists at Work for NYCHA Partnership

Last Wednesday a group of 10 Teaching Artists (TAs)who make up the core of the GO partnership between the Brooklyn Museum and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) sat down for their final meeting before the open studio weekend. The group has been working on creating “art walks,” guided visits to multiple studios that depart from each of five NYCHA community centers three times a day on September 8 and 9.

It’s one type of experience to stroll through open studios and let artwork catch your eye, and quite another to plan out the logistics of an engaging and rich experience, with a time cap. The teaching artists merged research on the GO website with on-the-ground visits and detective work. The goal was to craft walks that include a variety of styles and media, are nearby each other (so more time is spent in the studios than on the sidewalk), and make the whole experience take no more than 2 hours.

In our first meeting the TAs also expressed how important it was not to over-plan, to allow for that ever-important moment of the artwork that catches your eye and you just have to look at closer. So how do you create something that is both structured and flexible? You hire a Teaching Artist (ask any TA, this is exactly the combination one needs to teach studio art well).

Here’s what they did:

Step 1: Learn about your neighborhood. Our ten Teaching Artists formed five teams (one BM educator paired with one from NYCHA), each pair focused on a specific neighborhood, and a specific NYCHA community center as a home base for the walks. It takes some serious research, both online and in person, to get to know a Brooklyn neighborhood (ever seen neighbohoodies? we’re a bit neighborhood proud around here), so starting with that was crucial.

Step 2: Select your studios. GO is all about seeing more than one or two studios, and we wanted walk participants to be able to vote, which means seeing at least five. 5 studios multiplied by 3 walks each for 2 days equals 30 studios. Building in flexibility (say you get a group who are all interested in seeing painting but not so much sculpture), makes that 35 or 40. Because of step three, each team actually came up with more than 35 studios, then narrowed it down. Props to the GO website, this was actually way faster and easier than I imagined it would be.

Step 3: Edit. Are some of the studios too far a walk, eating up your precious studio time (remember, in order to do three walks per day they can only last max 2 hours)? Is the artwork diverse enough to appeal to a range of interests (of people you will only have known for about 5-10 minutes when you set off)? If someone on your walk is in a wheel chair or stroller, can they get into the space? Considerations like this actually played a large part in the selection process. To all those studios nearby community centers in buildings with elevators or ramps: THANK YOU.

Step 4: Grieve a little. Because of logistics, TAs often had to give up on visiting some of the studios they were super interested in seeing. To all those folks who live a 20 minute walk from the community center in a five-story walk up: we’re sorry, and we still think you rock.

Step 5: Continue learning about your neighborhood, and help the folks in it learn about you. This is where we are at now. We have our plans, and our back up plans, and our ability to make connections between the artwork in front of us and the people looking at it with us. This is what we do for a living. But it all falls apart if no one knows we’re there. So if you know someone who lives in NYCHA housing or hangs out at the community center, spread the word? We’ll be in Wycoff Gardens, Cooper Park, Red Hook East, Bushwick/Hylan, and Lafayette Gardens all weekend. Join us?