A large group of people in an outdoor setting smiles for the camera.

UA&M Arts Education team hosts national arts education conference

UA&M’s Arts Education program hosted the annual gathering of the National Association of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) arts education managers from across the U.S. and territories, here in Salt Lake City, Nov. 7-9. The gathering was a resounding success, with some colleagues declaring, “We’re still walking on air!” The convening allowed our agency to share several arts organizations and stellar arts education programs. 

We began Tuesday at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Arts (UMOCA), where teaching artist James Rees guided AE managers in creating artist trading cards. Pam Breaux, executive director of NASAA, offered a video welcome and referred to Utah arts education as “exemplary.” Repertory Dance Theatre guided AE managers through a school visit mini-performance. Everyone participated in creating dance within the space at UMOCA, interacting with one another and with works of art in UMOCA’s A Greater Utah exhibition. 

Wednesday brought the AE managers to the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Education Complex and Children’s Dance Theatre (CDT) at the University of Utah. Keynote speaker Eric Booth, author of Making Change: Teaching Artists and Their Role in Shaping a Better World, invigorated the audience and reminded us why arts education is so important to the health and well-being of students, especially during these challenging times. Participants watched dancers in the CDT LEADS program for young adults with disabilities perform, as well as second-graders and teens from CDT.

In the afternoon, teaching artist Tracy Williams; Dr. Miguel Trujillo of our sister agency, Division of Multicultural Affairs (MCA); and Venessa Castagnoli of Ogden Contemporary Arts (OCA) presented a new mural project created with Ogden incarcerated youth. OCA, MCA, and our agency also collaborated on a mural project at the Salt Lake Detention Center. Both mural projects are examples of model projects that offer a creative outlet and hope to juveniles within the justice system. 

Another breakout session featured the Native American Curriculum Initiative, a partnership between our agency, Utah’s eight federally recognized Tribes, and led by the BYU Arts Education Partnership. Now in its third year of funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Utah remains the only state with such an extensive curriculum initiative focused on amplifying the arts and voices of Native Americans. The late afternoon found participants at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, enjoying the permanent collection and the Tatau: Marks of Polynesia exhibition.

Thursday brought the arts ed managers to Spy Hop, our state’s remarkable youth media arts organization. During the visit, participants heard from Peter Christie of Ballet West, Annie Burbidge Ream of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and Jerry Rapier of Plan-B Theatre as they shared the POPS (Professional Outreach Programs in Schools) program. Utah is the only state with such a program supported by the state legislature, which has been supporting the program since the 1960s. POPS takes professional artistic experiences into schools throughout Utah. Administered by the Utah State Board of Education, POPS is the envy of many states — not just because of the funding, but because of the collegial, non-competitive nature of the 15 arts organizations involved. 

Our time together ended with Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin’s a cappella voice filling up the space as she sang everyone home, ending her short concert with “It’s a Wonderful World.” She reminded us that despite the chaos and divisions within our world, our work sustains us and gives us hope for the future of students, families, and artists. 

We all benefited from the presence of the newly appointed director of arts education for the NEA, Michelle Hoffman, and longtime NEA arts education representative Nancy Daugherty. 

We are immensely proud of our convening. Many participants had never been to Utah, and thus had interesting — and sometimes inaccurate — perceptions of our state. Many were stunned at the beauty, the richness of the arts, and everything else, from our agency brochure to Real Salt and Utah chocolates. Many promised to return. 

One colleague stayed to go see Spiral Jetty. Another colleague went to Flaming Gorge to hike and rest for a few days. Another brought her husband and spent a couple of days at Arches National Park. Another wants to bring his baby daughter to dance with CDT. Another couple took their five- and one-year-old boys to the Utah Museum of Natural History. All took TRAX to and from the airport and enjoyed Utah restaurants and the Hotel Monaco and Little America.

Our Arts Education team worked hard, supported by our patient division administrators. We’re tired and relieved but happy.