Each month, Erie Arts & Culture highlights one or more of our Teaching Artists. The goal of these monthly posts is to share the wonderful work our TA’s accomplish and their impact in our community. Teaching artists work in a variety of settings with many different individuals. What many don’t realize is that teaching artists aren’t limited to working only with school children in classrooms, but also work with communities and individuals at all life stages. The existence of and subsequent work of teaching artists help to enforce the fact that the arts are an important part of human development at all life stages.
The following dialogue comes from correspondence between teaching artist Annie Schmidt and the Erie Arts & Culture programs and creative teams during the month of June 2021. The story is centered around Schmidts’ recent digital arts residency at three Titusville elementary schools. It has been edited and reformatted for ease of reading.
Hello Annie! Could you tell us more about your background, specialties, training, and experience? As an educator, what informs your work? How do these things tie into the focus of your residencies?
My name is Annie Schmitt. I am an educator fascinated by the intersection of different disciplines and the joy of guiding youth to engage their imaginations. A Rostered Teaching Artist since 2014, I am also a PA certified Technology Education and Science teacher and professional Robotics and AI (Artificial Intelligence) Instructor. As a Teaching Artist, I work with K-12 youth in media arts, visual arts, and environmental arts. My residencies incorporate a variety of media such as stop-motion animation, film, painting & drawing, coding, and robotics. Local foods and environmental issues are close to my heart as well - I have run a small vegetable farm in the past and I love when I can bring my work to school gardens.
It is amazing that you pull from so many different areas to create this unique experience! With that being said, how would you describe your teaching process and philosophy? What role do the students play in the aforementioned? When the residency concludes, what do you want to leave the students with?
I always start with my students - what will interest them? What will engage them so they can start to see their own creative power? How do I create a safe space for us to explore and play? I want students to construct their own knowledge from experience, so I provide those experiences - small at first, and then bigger. Both science and the arts rely on the senses and observation to gain knowledge, which is one reason I am attracted to both. I also find the individual experience and the group experience of a class to be equally important in my teaching. I want students to work and struggle within their own individual creative space so that they can grow and have those "aha!" moments, and I want us to work and struggle productively as a group to build community. The residency process allows each class as a group to walk away feeling like they were part of something and that "big world" connection to something larger than themselves.
What a wonderful perspective, I know I would want to be a student in your classroom! It really takes a special motivation and thoughtfulness to fill the role of a teaching artist. How did you become interested in this process? Was there a specific event that led you to becoming a teaching artist with Erie Arts & Culture?
I tagged along with another teaching artist and I saw the power of an artist residency in action - the students were honed in, the teachers were engaged, and it was bringing new resources and energy to the classroom.
It is so special to see the youth engaged in something like that! I can see why that would draw you in. For your own residency could you tell us more about where it’s taking place, the demographics of individuals who you serve, the duration, and the process of developing and leading your residency?
One-hundred fifty 3rd-5th graders at three Titusville Elementary schools (Main Street, Pleasantville, and Hydetown) participated in the digital arts residency. As a completely remote digital arts residency, the format was different than is typical for my residency process. I learned that Titusville students had done stop-motion animation in art class and wanted to build on that in a way that would utilize the digital tools available. I created instructional videos for two projects: Digital Animation using Google Slides and Pixel Art using Google Sheets. In the past, students have really enjoyed these projects and no supplies are needed other than a Gmail account. Art Teachers Sabrina VanTine and Casey Feiereisen then took those lessons into their classrooms and led students through the digital arts process. Students were able to watch the videos and work at their own pace, pausing as needed to complete the next step.
This is such an innovative process and very fitting for the times! Speaking of, did your residency address any social issues? Were there any learning outcomes you were hoping to achieve?
It provides access to digital arts in a form these students have not experienced before. During COVID-19, Students who were learning at home were able to participate as much as those students learning at school. As far as learning outcomes, students were able to examine and create patterns with pixel art, learn a bit of coding (conditional formatting) in Google sheets, play with the sense of timing in a digital animation, learn to construct digital characters in Google slides, create their own original animation, and share their projects with the rest of their class.
With the challenges COVID-19 has brought, it's truly wonderful that you could provide the same experience to students both in person and at home! Is there anything you would like to share that you found particularly valuable and/or surprising about your residency?
Like many people, I have upped my game in creating videos and digital lessons over the past year. Students are so digitally savvy, and they are used to learning things on YouTube or watching Twitch, so I might as well use that to my advantage by creating content in the formats that make sense to them. Also, I am always surprised when I have remote students that we still build strong connections and we still have a memorable group experience without being together in the same space! As long as learning is active and students are creating, I don't think that online learning is as big a barrier as it used to be.
With being so fiercely dedicated to all of your undertakings how do you go about striking a balance between your work as an artist and as an educator?
I am an educator at heart so my art practice is really integral to working with my students. My students are my motivation for creating something new. I go into the process with some general ideas (who am I kidding? I usually come in with a long list of ideas!) - but the important part to me is that I leave it open to see where the group of students and where the process takes us. If we are creating a finished piece where we want the quality to be high, I look for those steps where students can succeed in creating, and the steps where I can come in with a more practiced hand and elevate and amplify what they are doing. I think one of the more frustrating parts about being a kid is that you have ideas but not the experience to necessarily bring those ideas to life. I make sure that the artistic quality and the practicalities are in place so we can bring the group's ideas to life.
The students are truly lucky to share this experience with you! What is your favorite part of being a Teaching Artist with Erie Arts and Culture? Has it had any long-term impact on you?
I love that I can just be with my students and make art together. Their ideas spark me to change what I'm doing, and my ideas spark them to come up with something different. It's really a symbiotic relationship. Residencies really allow something special to happen - when I see students years later they remember what they made during our time together!
It’s incredible that you remember students years after your residency with them! It seems like there is a mutual impression left on everyone involved and it's beautiful to see!
In a quote from the Titusville School District newsletter art teacher and collaborator in this residency Sabrina VanTine states “ Our students really enjoyed creating the stop motion and pixel art. The students enjoyed learning a different way to make art and learning more about computer art making. The students also learned a different way to create stop motion animation”.
Thank you for making time to speak more about yourself and your residency Annie! How can individuals follow you or learn more about your work?