Recycle Runway Blog

Art Experiences in Classrooms and Equity Trainings Published: 12.18.2018 at 5:09 pm by Nancy Judd

Upcycled insect – Kindergarten class at Metropolitan Leaning Center in Portland, OR

I feel fortunate to call myself an artist, an environmental advocate, and more recently a teaching artist. As the name implies, this pursuit is the intersection between one’s personal art practice and teaching in a classroom. For some teaching artists the focus is skill-based training, teaching how to make art. However, for me it is primarily focused on providing arts integration (or creative experiences) to help people learn, explore, or experience other subject matter. The art experience can be visual, literary, performance, or movement based; the subject matter it connects to can be almost anything; and the audience can be students in schools or adults in trainings.

I love this work! Becoming a teaching artist has deepened my personal art practice, how I approach environmental education, my advocacy and activism, how I communicate, and it shapes my perceptions of the world.

I recently had the good fortune to take the Teaching Artist Studio, a professional development program offered through Young Audiences, a non-profit organization in Portland, OR. We are trained in using a variety of creative strategies, not just our personal art practice, which is both challenging and invigorating for me personally.


I work with an organization called the Right Brain Initiative in Portland that connects me with schools in the region to give artist residencies that are usually about a month long. I am finishing up a residency right now at Lincoln Street Elementary and have four additional residencies coming up next year. We always start the planning process with a “big idea”, for Lincoln Street it is: “Students will develop communication and problem-solving skills through small group and hands-on projects creating 3-D sculptures from up-cycled materials.” This becomes more specific as I plan the details for each grade band:

  • Kindergarten – 2nd grades: Students will create 3D hanging “Symbols of Kindness” (the theme for December)
  • 3rd-4th grades: Students will create puppets from upcycled materials that connect with the theme of kindness and connect to literacy and health standards.
  • 5th-6th grades: Students will create mobiles from upcycled materials that show the 4 parts of the water cycle.

In this residency creating the upcycled sculptures is actually secondary to using the small group work to experience kindness, communication and problem solving as well as learning about the water cycle and connecting to literacy and health education standards.

Working in groups at Lincoln Street Elementary
Making symbols of kindness
The water cycle

One reason that I love being a teaching artist is because I know first-hand how important this work is for students who have any number of learning challenges. As a child I had dyslexia and though I went to a great school, having more of these kinds of arts experiences would have been very helpful to me because they would have:

  • given me different ways to learn beyond reading and lecture;
  • given me several ways to be successful beyond writing and taking tests; and
  • engaged me through social relationships and having fun!


I must admit that this was actually the second time that I took the Teaching Artist Studio. Not because I flunked the first time, as I like to joke, but because I wanted to sharpen my teaching artist tools for a special opportunity.

I was very honored to be invited by Dr. Deana Dartt to provide creative experiences for her trainings, Beyond Equity and Inclusion: Acknowledging the Legacy of Native American Genocide. Deana is Coastal Chumash and Mestiza, descending from the indigenous people of the Californias. In her work consulting with museums around the U.S. Deana strives to address the incongruities between public understanding, representation and true acknowledgement of Native peoples, their cultures, histories and contemporary lives.

Deana asked me to provide arts experiences to help people experience and reflect upon her important and sometimes challenging content. Inspired by theater of the oppressed, Deana and I lead participants in exploring common myths and misunderstandings about Native Americans through role-playing experiences. In another exercise, I provide the participants with natural and metal materials to reflect upon the challenging information Deana shares about the impacts of genocide on local native peoples specific to the places that we are visiting.

This new application of arts integration work is very exciting to me and I look forward to continuing these trainings with Deana in the coming years.

Reflecting with materials in equity trainings

If you are an artist, I highly recommend exploring teaching artistry, here in Portland check out: Young Audiences and the Right Brain Initiative. Nationally, I recommend: The Lincoln Center EducationThe Teaching Artistry Podcast, and  EDUTOPIA

If you are not an artist but are curious how art experiences could assist in your work with children or adults please contact me. I’d love to help you bring dynamic creativity to your organization!


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