Here be Dragons!

A guest post by Rob Levit, founder and Executive Director of Creating Communities

When lacking information on what was known beyond the visible world, ancient maps were inscribed with the words “Here Be Dragons” and frightening images to warn travelers to stay away. To be a creative individual and a master educator however, we must train ourselves to move beyond our own fears, limitations and perceived weaknesses to find the beauty and freedom in what I call “The Undiscovered Country” where our old models of teaching and doing don’t hold up anymore.


A perfect example of this in “real life” is dealing with a difficult student. From our “Here Be Dragons” perspective, we may shut down or, gulp, admit that we don’t like the student. We can even come home after a long day feeling exhausted and depleted and have it affect our personal lives. But what’s the cost – to ourselves and to the student – when our energy is expended on staying away rather than navigating through? Anger or resentment can build up toward ourselves and the student. Why?  Because we care, and because we are human. The problem with this is that it may not be the child – but our own lack of tools, insights, and strategies to reach a child that desperately, and perhaps silently, wants structure – even though their behavior shows otherwise. The master educator recognizes the amazing and at times exasperating avoidance techniques that failing and/or troubled students unknowingly practice. It reminds me of the famous quote: “The child who needs the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.” That’s where personal creativity and arts integration come into play. To navigate successfully into “The Undiscovered Country” we must first have mastery of the conventional, tried and true techniques. This requires personal honesty, assessment, and practice.

Beyond that, we need new approaches like improvisation, creating poems and songs on the fly, being confident and enthusiastic about our hidden talents, and embracing that our most difficult students need new ways of learning that are hands-on and experiential. I thrive on being a guide to “The Undiscovered Country” and equipping teachers with confidence, tools, encouragement, and new skills to reach students. It’s amazing – once teachers grab onto these approaches, breakthrough after breakthrough happens in the classroom and our difficult students, although still struggling, begin to emerge because we have recognized opportunity, freshness, and possibility in them.  What once looked like a frightening dragon turned out to be the harmless shadow of ourselves. 

-Rob Levit

Rob Levit is an acclaimed educator, creative artist and community leader. He has created award-winning, innovative “Life-Skills Through The Arts” programs for hundreds of at-risk youth and adults. Levit is the founder and the current Executive Director of Creating Communities.

Register now to join us for Levit’s workshop and many others at the 2016 Joan Oates Institute, June 27-July 1, 2016.

Plant the seed! Use Sandy time to submit a PIA Award LOI

Do you have any ideas for an arts integration project that you’ve always wanted to do in your classroom? Maybe there’s a little nugget or seed of a thought about bringing in your favorite artist to work with your students and colleagues in the back of your mind? The PIA Awards Letter of Intent(LOI) is a great opportunity to get that seed in the ground, and with 4-5″ of rain being dumped on us by Sandy over the next 24 hours or so, germination chances are high. The LOI deadline is December 7, 2012 and the New & Improved online application form makes it easier than ever to submit your proposal. PIA Awards range from $1500-$10,000 and support professional development, visiting artists, supplies and field trips. You can also schedule a FREE workshop for your school or interested team of teachers, and Liz or I will come out and help you turn that seed into a big ol’ tree of a transformative cross-curricular integrated project. So before you lose power and have to go back to school, check out the link above, get that seed in the ground and watch that tree grow.

Little nut coffee cup

One of my favorite coffee cups

59 Ninjas or Crouching Teacher, Hidden Art Forms

As a parent, I have never been a fan of hiding vegetables in other food to get my kids to eat healthy stuff. Yes it takes lots of work, patience and modeling, but the development of these beneficial lifelong habits is imperative and my job as a parent. The same is true of using the arts to teach core content. Dance, drawing, tableau, music, sculpture, etc., should not be pureed, diluted and sneaked into the curriculum in miniscule portions.

So here’s to the teachers that spent the first week of their summer vacation developing innovative, creative, and not-pureed curricula involving math, science, history and of course, the arts.

Congrats to the Joan Oates Institute class of 2012!
On the last day everyone struck an action pose for the group photo. Look for the movie, “59 Ninjas or Crouching Teacher, Hidden Art Forms,” soon to be posted to a online video site near you.

JOI Class of 2012 + Gerald

It was a great week of hard work, learning and fun. Our mascot became the paper giraffe made by Richmond Montessori School teachers in Noah Scalin’s Creativity workshop. The assignment: fill/use/draw/create something with the 100 circles you were given on ten sheets of 11×17 paper.

Gerald the Circle Giraffe

Wondering what to do with the integrated curriculum you have developed at the institute or on your own? Apply for a PIA Award to implement your ideas and bring in teaching artists to work with students and teachers in collaborative and transformational ways.


Phoetry and what PIA can do for you!

April is poetry month.  Can poetry survive in the 21st century?

I have pasted a paragraph, and provided the link below from a post by a former humanities teacher turned technology integration specialist.  There are many great resources in the link, but I wanted to point out the collaborative project she highlights and how it aligns with what we do at PIA.

Our mission is to integrate the arts across the curriculum.  Simply stated we do two things, provide teacher training and fund projects.

On the teacher training side, we’ll be holding our 17th annual week long, 3-credit summer institute, now the Joan Oates Institute,  June 27-July 1.  This institute is designed to give all educators the skills to use the arts in their classrooms through experiential workshops, field trips and great food.  Our Awards letter of intent deadline for the 2012-2013 school year will be in December.

The model is: Attend the Joan Oates Institute (JOI [joy]) with a team from your school, then take the knowledge you’ve gained and design a project like the one below.  Successful proposals incorporate teacher training, visiting artists and collaboration among a variety of your school’s classroom, art/music, or technology teachers.

This project stems from the vision of middle school teacher Natalie Bernasconi, who explains the steps: "Start with the support of the Central California Writing Project, then mix together a group of middle and high school teachers and students, add one very cool journalist / slam poet guest speaker and the Salinas Public Library to meet in, and you've got Teen Salinas Speaks."

Check out the whole post chock full of great resources at:

We’ll be covering most of the cool stuff she discusses at this year’s JOI in our Art and New Media workshops.  Using Voicethread, Phoetry projects and many more.


Alum of Mighty VCU

Go Rams!

Tomahawk Creek Middle School-thanks and congrats!

Thanks to the team at TCMS for letting me sit in on a Bluescreen in MovieMaker training session for their teachers.  Autumn Nabors, Coordinator for Instructional Leadership, gave me a great tour and Principal Jeff Ellick also was very generous with his time.

I was able to check out the Digital Book Jam prizes which Ms. Parson had just received.  One of her students’ digital book reports, “Yellow Star”, was a finalist.  Congrats on the great use of integrating arts with literature and technology.


CultureWorks President Models for Class

We found the model for the Fish Hat that Liz saw the other day at Greenwood Elementary School.  Turns out it was the president of Richmond CultureWorks, John Bryan, who generously sat for the class.

Greenwood ES Fish HatJohn Bryan Fish Hat

Not only is John a model, painter and avid (I mean avid) fisherman, he is also a great leader in our region’s art and cultural scene, so check out his CultureWorks Blog for all the latest news. And while you’re there, check out CultureWorks’ Fish Market and buy an original or print of one of John’s amazing fish paintings.  All proceeds go to support arts and culture organizations in the greater Richmond area.  


Art + History + Technology + You Participating = Arts Integration

What do you think about the Texas board of education removing Thomas Jefferson from curriculum standards? How is our history generated, revised, taught?  How should we commemorate the Civil War and Emancipation 150th year anniversaries?

Once again all of the hats I wear (Many Hats=Messy Hair) are coming together nicely.  I have always thought of my volunteer work on the board of directors for 1708Gallery as Partners in the Arts (PIA) for grown-ups.  Now my professional work with PIA and other projects at the University of Richmond have freakishly aligned with the exhibition that opens at 1708 this Friday.

Friday AAIC image

Matthew Friday is an educator and transdisciplinary artist who is responding to the first question in this post.  Check out his project “The Liberty of Empire” and participate by filling out the questionnaire which will crunch the answers through some sort of art and technology transmogrifier machine and generate drawings that will be added to the installation throughout the exhibition.

As PIA is a program of the UR School of Continuing Studies we have been able to develop some great New Media workshops for bringing a technical and visual literacy to arts integration.  The visual, history and new media components also parallel the work of The University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.  They have created a History Engine for students “to learn history by doing the work€”researching, writing, and publishing€”of a historian” and “to reach a wide audience by developing projects that integrate thoughtful interpretation in the humanities and social sciences with innovations in new media”.  Well designed graphs, charts, maps, etc. allow you to “read” the research in visual formats.

As an art-maker, gallery volunteer, parent and arts integration professional I have always believed in participation and discourse as the most important outcome of creative expression.  From Jan.7-Feb 12, 2011 you (and your students/kids) can participate in a discourse on a regionally and nationally relevant topic and have your ideas be part of a contemporary art exhibition.

How awesome is that!


From Blank to Bank

A big part of my current work is going through the 16 years’ worth of Summer Institute (register now) Unit Plans and our previous Awards for arts integration projects, then reformatting them as a resource available online.  As technology advances have been rampant over the last 16 years I have an assortment of media formats to deal with and of course the issues that arise with each.  The “Blank” was the CD of images I received from Courtney Howard of Salem Church Middle School.  The Final Report binder was good but I had no images, which as a visual person I really wanted.  A quick e-mail to Ms. Howard and I had a CD full of images within a week.  The “Bank” is my response to the project that they implemented, as in “take it to the bank”.  As far as our mission of using Arts Integration across the curriculum…they nailed it!  Teaching artist Dylan Pritchett provided the professional development for teachers, Poetry Alive! did residencies with classes, George Turman did a performance followed up by workshops, field trips….well anyway here’s some of the visuals.


Salem Church Reliving the Depression

PIA Awards: Swansboro Elementary School

“How did they get the jail underground?” This was the question a fourth grader at Swansboro Elementary asked Selden Richardson last week, following the latter’s presentation about significant sites in Richmond’s history, including the notorious Lumpkin’s Slave Jail. 

The question was excellent in a straightforward way. How did Lumpkin’s Slave Jail end up buried so far under the surface of today’s streets? But it was also a metaphor for how often history, especially history that is uncomfortable to think about, is obscured below the surface of official records, textbooks, and public memory.

Mr. Richardson, an architectural historian and author of the book Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods, is one of the visiting artists working this year with Swansboro teachers Erin Conmy and Mary Ann Gryboski on a project called Studying the Past to Embrace the Future, which explores the history of Richmond and of the students’ own south Richmond community. The project integrates Virginia Studies with an examination of the city’s architecture and monuments, as well as less familiar sites, considering how these may tell varied stories about the past. Working with visiting author Jeannette Drake, students are exploring a range of literary genres as they read and write about Richmond history. Visiting photographer Brian Barker is helping students create images for their journals. Digital cameras for the students were generously provided by Richmond Public Schools.

Dorothy Rice, the Literature and History Resource Teacher at the RPS Arts and Humanities Center, dreamed up this project based on her deep interest in the history of Richmond.  At first she thought it might be best for older students, but Mary Pierce, Swansboro’s principal, suggested it would be perfect for her school’s fourth graders.  And so it has been, as seen by the enthusiasm, curiosity and imagination Swansboro students are bringing to Studying the Past to Embrace the Future.

Yesterday morning, Mr. Richardson led the fourth graders on a walking tour of some of the sites associated with Richmond’s history as a major slave market. We walked through a passage off Main Street to an area — now a parking lot — where slave auctions once took place. “You are walking in the footsteps of the men, women and children who were sold as slaves,” Mr. Richardson told the students. Soon we were at the site of Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, where Mr. Richardson used a box full of sand and some Lego blocks to illustrate exactly how the jail was buried as a result of hill-grading and highway construction.

Fourth grade students from Swansboro Elementary School learn from Selden Richardson how archaeological sites get buried.

There was a lot more to come, including a visit to the African Burial Ground on Broad Street, the Civil Rights Memorial in Capitol Square, and finally the Reconciliation Statue at Main Street. I had to go back to work, but I remembered Mr. Richardson pointing out to students the words at the base of the Reconciliation Statue during his Swansboro presentation.

Acknowledge and forgive the past, embrace the present, shape a future of reconciliation and justice.

“Shaping the future,” Mr. Richardson said to the fourth graders.  “That’s your job.”


More information about the sites on the Slave Trail can be found at the Richmond Slave Trail Commission website.

Arts in Education for Grown-ups too…PARTICIPATE! OCT 22

Video of event and Rob yelling

And yes that is a lampshade on my head.

 Like any tennis coach or pro will tell you, tennis Art is a lifelong sport and it is for everybody.  My path has led me to K-12 arts integration but I also volunteer to work with the cliched “3 to 103 year-old” crowd as well.  My volunteer work is through 1708 Gallery as a Director on the Board, and man do we do some good stuff.  The mission is to present exceptional new art… and to expand the understanding and appreciation of new art for the public. Come immerse yourself in an outdoor exhibition, let me know what was good or if some work got you all fired up – any discourse is valuable and the point of making things for others to view.

Friday night there will be everything from glo-stick-covered people and home-made lanterns to cutting edge technology-based art, so whether you are into low-brow, high-brow or unibrow you should find something interesting.  If you get all a twitter check out #inlight.

So come down to Shockoe Slip to see the 3rd InLight Richmond put together by 1708 Gallery.  This link includes a map (also below) of the exhibition sites and 1708 specials at restaurants in the Slip.  By clicking Lantern Parade you’ll find out how to participate by making your own lantern and joining the kick-off  Parade.  I’ve been assisting Holton ES Art Teacher Sarah Branigan all week in the art studio with her K-1 students, and I know Anne Chamblin at Patrick Henry School for the Sciences and Arts and many other area teachers have been making lanterns with their students.  You may be inspired to submit a Partners in the Arts Award proposal and build a project for your students for next year’s InLight…hmmmm


Juror’s Statement

Inlight Richmond takes as its inspiration Nuit Blanche, Light Night, or White Night events now held in over 125 cities around the world. While borrowing conceptually from the phenomena of midsummer White Nights and Festivals of Light, for Inlight Richmond,1708 Gallery invites artists from around the world to specifically respond to a different geographic location in Richmond, this year, for the third manifestation of InLight Richmond to the historic Shockoe Slip district. Artists were asked to respond to the existing urban infrastructure, bringing art out of the gallery or museum and inserting it into the cultural fabric of the city, inviting artists and audiences alike to explore a specific urban environment in creative, engaging and playful ways.

Shockoe Slip will be transformed by 39 temporary artworks and installations created by 60 artists. Taking as their referent light as a medium but also as an evocation, these works aim to activate the facades, walls, storefronts, doorways, parking lots, and alleyways of Shockoe Slip. While literally lighting up the city, in addition to light artists will employ sound, performance, ceramics, video, electronics, photography, animation, sculpture, and even surveillance technologies to help us re-imagine the urban streetscape in new ways. Inlight Richmond promises to stimulate our senses, as well as guide us in thinking about ways to re-map the city and re-imagine our future in it.

Amanda McDonald Crowley, InLight Richmond 2010 Juror

Exhibition map inlight2010map.pdf

I will be directing, yelling and hopefully helping people find what they need at the Lantern Parade staging area at the James Center.  Please stop by and say hi.