Teaching Artist Spotlight: Liza

Liza Fishbone joined Creative Action last fall, teaching After School at Harris Elementary and IDEA Allen. Coming to Austin by way of St. Louis, she sought out a part-time TA position at Creative Action while working at Art Seen Alliance, a local event production and custom fabrication studio. Though she didn’t have much prior teaching experience, she understood the value of dedicated and encouraging arts mentors.

“The most influential teachers I had growing up were my art teachers, who taught me how to follow my own path and stay true to my work. I want to create a safe space for youth to experiment, explore and create.”

In the past, Liza’s professional work focused on satisfying clients and producers, and the shift to youth education proved eye-opening. “My students are constantly learning,” she explains. “They keep me grounded and have just exponentially expanded my space for empathy. I make it a priority to make sure they feel safe and supported, that they’re capable of anything, and to always remember that we’re learning.”

Liza’s Moon Puppies, who are “larger than life whimsical characters, who have traveled to Earth from the Land of Laughter, on a mission to spread joy, wonder, and sweet dance moves.”

Outside of Creative Action, Liza’s passion projects have in the past “focused on spreading positivity, joy, and wonder.” Her “Moon Puppies” project is made up of 7-foot tall ‘wiggly-giggly’ alien costumes and interactive playspaces, where participants are invited to tap into their childlike sense of wonder and playful interaction. “People react like it’s a form of therapy. To experience a moment of complete absurdity can be such a necessary release.”

 

Liza at work on her national mural project, “Walls Are For Painting, Not People”

Liza’s currently focused on more grounded, socially-conscious projects, like her current work titled “Walls Are For Painting, Not People.” This collaborative, cross-timezone mural digitally stitches together painted letters of the aforementioned title from artists in Austin, San Francisco, Boston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Asheville, and kicked off on the day of the “No Ban, No Wall” rally at the Texas State Capitol. “By collaborating with artists in different cities, we’re building connections as opposed to barriers.”

The guiding ethic behind “Walls Are For Painting, Not People” will continue to fuel Liza’s future creative endeavors. She considers herself an art warrior—someone who uses their artistic voice to speak truth.

“People connect with realness. I believe as artists, it is our job to share that with the world. Because we’re also storytellers, historians, commentators, and keepers of culture. If we don’t have art, we have nothing.”

 

Teaching Artist Spotlight: Ana

“I want to be my students’ ally.”

Ana Laura Treviño has been part of Creative Action since the summer of 2016 and has already forged lasting connections with her students at Del Valle Middle School, Ojeda Middle School, and Youth Cinema Collective. Native to the border town of Brownsville, TX and living her formative years in Miami, FL, Ana was always attuned to representations of Mexican-American heritage. Her MFA thesis, El Otro Lado (The Other Side), was a multimedia exploration of the ‘border crossings’ of self-identity and the commodification of Mexican cultural objects.

“My work was fueled and influenced by artists dealing with similar issues like immigration, including Iranian and Middle Eastern artists.”

At a social event in 2008, Ana met a young filmmaker named Barry Jenkins through a mutual friend. The meeting was brief, yet memorable enough that Jenkins emailed Ana two years later asking her to be part of his next film. Though she’d only worked behind-the-scenes in film production, and never as an actress, Jenkins cast Ana as the lead in his short film, “Chlorophyl.” In 2016, Jenkins released his next film: the heavily-praised “Moonlight”, currently nominated for eight Academy Awards. Jenkins is also the first African-American filmmaker to be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.

In a one-week shoot following a loose story with an ad-libbed script, Jenkins allowed Ana to suffuse her character with her own personality and experiences.

Ana Laura Treviño in the short film “Chlorophyl,” written and directed by Barry Jenkins

“I really liked that [Barry Jenkins] let me express my voice in the way of my own personality. He was such a laid-back director and made it so easy for someone, like me, who didn’t necessarily want to be in front of a camera […] He’s really really good at making anything beautiful. He just has this vision.”

That experience of stepping outside of her comfort zone onscreen—and on top of that, watching herself at screenings in front of thousands of strangers—pushed Ana to include performative elements to her artistic work. It also helped her as a teacher to be more perceptive in picking up on students’ subtle cues, then helping them to explore their interests.

Ana helps a Youth Cinema Collective member edit a project

“I’m lucky that I’m always able to find something that I have in common with [a student]. Especially in middle school, because I was super self-conscious and shy at that age, I really like to ask questions without being overbearing and discover things that they’re into and good at. I try to be on their side whenever I can”

After School Wraps Up the Semester!

This month, Creative Action After School sites across Austin wrapped up their semesters by showcasing the exciting art projects they’ve been working on!

Many student groups put on original plays that explored themes like courage, teamwork, and conflict resolution, while some crafted original songs, poems, comics, and dance routines. Some students even worked all semester on a scary movie, and others starred in an hip-hop music video about the importance of unity.

We’re so proud of our students’ work this year, which spanned various mediums all while exploring what it means to be Creative Artists, Courageous Allies, Confident Leaders, and Critical Thinkers!

Chicago, Here We Go!

The Conference for Community Arts Education convenes organizations from across the country that are at the forefront of turning their arts programming into dedicated community service and engagement. Held this year in Chicago, IL, the Conference featured expert speakers, peer roundtables, program showcases, and professional development workshops.

Creative Action senior staff, two Teen Program ambassadors, and Executive Director Karen LaShelle attended this year’s conference to learn from like-minded leaders and share their insights. Not only did the experience provide an outlet for touting our work on a national level, it uncovered new ways to improve Creative Action programming for the future.

CLYTE Teen Ambassadors with Teen Programs Director Noah Martin

CLYTE Teen Ambassadors with Teen Programs Director Noah Martin

Many elements of the Conference, hosted by the National Guild for Community Arts Education, focused on developing and defining the emerging field of Creative Youth Development. Creative Youth Development (CYD) refers to a burgeoning segment of out-of-school time youth arts programming that envisions young people as active agents of their own change, where developing rigorous artistic endeavors and intentional life skills is integral to putting youth on a positive trajectory.

As a member of the Guild’s CYD Steering Committee, Creative Action Executive Director Karen LaShelle took part in a full-day planning meeting where educators from across the country collaborated developing resources and boosting funding to CYD programs. In her role as a Guild Ambassador for the state of Texas, LaShelle then led a conference session detailing the work Creative Action has done in the past year, highlighting a CYD sharing session held at the Center for Creative Action along with with San Antonio nonprofit Say Si and Guild Director of Marketing and Communications Heather Ikemire.

National Guild for Community Arts Education meeting held at the Center for Creative Action with San Antonio nonprofit SAY Sí

National Guild for Community Arts Education meeting held at the Center for Creative Action in May with San Antonio nonprofit SAY Sí

Finally, LaShelle took the helm of a session that examined Creative Action’s earned revenue model as an example of how to leverage organizational values to gain audience and donor support.

Elsewhere, Director of Teen Programs Noah Martin, Senior Director of Community Programs Alberto Mejia, and Director of Out-of-School Time Programs Mitch Bowman forged new professional bonds with likeminded artists and organizations. They attended sessions and interacted with New Orleans’ KID smART and Columbia College’s Teaching Artist Development Studio, who supplied forward-thinking avenues for marketing and teaching artist management.

“This was my second year, and it remains an incredible opportunity to reinvigorate our practices as educators and see the worth of the work Teaching Artists are doing throughout the country,” says Director of Out-of-School Times Programs Mitch Bowman. “By tapping into students’ cultural memory and connecting them to the rich heritage of the arts as a vehicle for both self-expression and community participation, we are helping youth to uncover their innate gifts and put them into service for the benefit of others.”

Our Teen Ambassadors from Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble also made loads of new friends with Chicago youth organizations like Kuumba Lynx and Little Black Pearl Workshop. And amidst it all, the whole group wound up downtown during celebration of the Chicago Cubs’ historic World Series victory!

Changing Lives Flips the Script at Teen Summit

 

cl-food-jam-3

Every teenager who watches TV and movies is used to seeing fictionalized teen lives onscreen, but rarely does what they see ring true. “What does media representation get wrong about us, and what can we do to change it?” This was the question at the center of a session led by members of Changing Lives Youth Theater Ensemble at this year’s Urban Roots Youth Food Jam. This annual “by youth, for youth” event convenes teens from across Austin to celebrate youth leadership, healthy lifestyles, and social justice through interactive workshops and activities.

Entitled “Disrupting Millennial Misconceptions,” the Changing Lives-led session broke out three activities intended to share opinions and perceptions about millennial representation in media, then cultivate ways to effect change. Session attendees first engaged in an open dialogue spurred by basic prompts about whether teen representation in media is positive or accurate. The general consensus: it is neither.

“[The teens I see] are either all about themselves or want to kill themselves; there’s no in-between”

“They’re always broken off into cliques, and cliques aren’t even a real thing.”

“It’s just 29 year old supermodels, they’re skewed images of what we’re supposed to look like.”

cl-food-jam-4

The group condensed their thoughts by writing down 6 Word Stories—six words to describing a time someone had made a judgment about them based on their age. The results revealed a kaleidoscope of misjudged characteristics: antisocial; apathetic; vain; oversensitive.

“You should talk to more people.”

“You’re too sensitive about political issues.”

“Why do you have that attitude?”

Other short stories, however, rebuked these perceptions:

“Technology is not my crutch.”

“We don’t care; except we do.”

After visualizing these stories through posed tableaus, the session concluded by collaborating on ideas for how to change the distorted realities depicted onscreen.cl-food-jam-8

“We need to push for more diverse representation of ethnicity, and especially Q+ populations.”

“How can we establish independent news media that focuses on positive portrayals of youth?”

And though the day ended on a question, the session helped everyone there find some answers to chart a path forward.