Inspired Integration From New Orleans

Arts integration has become a major part of my life. I wanted to share how a trip to New Orleans sparked my own creativity. What should a school look like that is implementing an arts integrated approach to education?  When members of the staff for one school I work at were asked that question they said things like “Walls dripping with art” or “Walking down the halls and hearing music and seeing acting, dancing and visual art going on in every classroom.”

During my spring break this year, I decided to visit New Orleans. What I discovered walking down the city streets is that very atmosphere my colleagues described in that dream school.  Everywhere I turned there was visual art, music, dancing and a whole lot of theatre.  I think anyone who wants to embrace arts integration in a school needs to come to New Orleans.  If you can capture what this city has within the walls of your school, you will have a magical place of learning and art making.

Exposure To Art

It’s ironic that I had just written about how important exposure to art is because I just placed myself in a city that is all about that exposure.  You can’t walk 2 blocks without encountering art in one form or another.  I was here on Easter Sunday so people were decked out in their Easter bonnets – men and women alike.  Some were stylish, others were outlandish but all reflected an artistry and a playfulness that I can only dream to have students discover in their own art work.

As I made my way down Royal Street, I had to stop again and again to step into the art galleries that showcased both local talent and painters from all over the world.  Then there was the hat shop filled with dresses and hats that I can imagine Kate Middleton having a ball trying on or the lighting shop containing brilliant chandeliers for both the traditionalist, and the more modern interior decorator.  Outside the galleries were artists peddling their wares and creating new works of art right before your eyes.

And then there is the music.  I am accustomed to walking down the streets in major cities and finding musicians playing on the street or in the subway stations but never entire brass bands.  I am also accustomed to certain areas that have an active night life and seeing strings of clubs with live bands but I have never experienced a city where I could find that same thing during the day or deciding where to have my lunch based on the band playing at that restaurant.

One street market I browsed on a warm and breezy evening found me in deep conversation with a visual artist who used to be in a band and involved in various aspects of sound production but has gotten back into visual art.  The music seeped out of his artwork.  He was originally from the east coast but talked about how it feels to be an artist in New Orleans – how freeing it is, how you really can do anything and find a place to sell and an audience to appreciate.

What Makes It Important?

That sense of freedom, that experience of support, that culture of art-making, that is what arts call integration should look and feel like.  It should be in the very air our students breathe.  It should just be the way that things are done and the way that everyone expresses him/herself.  If you hang around with people for whom art is a way of life, you get to feeling that is the norm.  Our goal is not to have every child pursue some form of art as a career but rather, to take Art out of the hands of the few and give it back to the many where it belongs.  If your school is beginning to resemble New Orleans, you must be doing something right!