Scott Noppe-Brandon, Lincoln Center Institute
Transcribed by Lydia Liebman
Dr. Pola Rosen, Publisher (PR): The Lincoln Center Institute has brought the arts into the lives of students and teachers everywhere, and the mantra of the institute is about creativity, vision, enrichment and thinking outside the box. What are some of the specific programs you’ve founded that help teachers do this?
Scott Noppe-Brandon, Lincoln Center Institute Executive Director (SB): We work in the ICI continuum — imagination, creativity, innovation — and how that plays out in education and to make that available for teachers, we want to make sure that teachers from any school have access to the resources of the institute. We’ve helped start schools, we’ve started many charter schools in the city with new visions for public schools, we’ve started traditional public schools, the High School for Arts Imagination and Inquiry. We have a variety of programs for teachers that range from summer and school-year-based professional development. We do consultancies in school districts around the country and world and we provide resources online.
PR: How can teachers get into your summer programs and is there a fee?
SB: This summer we had teachers and educators here from eight countries: Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Pakistan, Australia and others. They were here through our international educators workshop, which is a fee-based workshop, and any educator can sign up to take that weeklong workshop during the summer. We had teachers here locally who participate in schools that we’re involved with throughout the year and there’s no charge for educators that come through that structure.
PR: Do you find that the teachers weave this information into their studies and into their interdisciplinary studies or is it more for teachers who are specializing in the arts?
SB: Historically about 15 percent of the teachers who participate in LCI are arts educators. We very much want to serve the arts ed community, but the goal has always been to go beyond the arts and look at it from an interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary focus. Eighty-five percent of the teachers are classroom teachers, subject specific teachers: math, science and history.
PR: There has been a cut in funding in the arts in the past few years. Has that affected attendance at the LCI?
SB: We’ve definitely seen a cut in the number of schools, the number of teachers, we’ve also seen a cut in the number of teachers in their ability to participate in professional development. I don’t think it’s all money, though.
PR: You mentioned the word “accountability,” which makes me think about all of the testing and the metrics that are going on in the United States. Has that taken a toll as well?
SB: The honest answer is yes. I think it crowds the question of how many subjects and what subjects are in the school day and if you’re not able to teach to it and test it is it really of value? I don’t want to blame it on that because there’s an equal and opposite part of the discussion, which is, have we really shown how important the arts are and how they fit into the school day and their relevance within education?” I don’t raise this to question what’s been done. I raise it to say it’s too easy an answer to just blame everyone else. We have to also look at what we’re doing.
PR: Scott, which of the workshops is most popular and which is most effective and how do you measure it?
SB: Most popular are definitely the workshops that have to do with the capacities for imaginative learning. Teachers are keenly interested in how the capacities relate to learning across the curriculum. Because we’ve also created a series of metrics and learning embassies for them there’s a sense that by learning the capacities and enacting them in the classroom it well help students learn across the curriculum.
PR: Can you expand on your work in New York City schools including the charter schools?
SB: New Visions for Public Schools made the decision two years ago to start a number of charter schools in New York City. Four are now open and all four are in the Bronx. The Institute is the lead educational partner with New Visions. We’re not running the schools; New Visions is.
PR: So do those schools have an extra dose of the arts in the curriculum?
SB: We have a full-time teaching artist assigned to the schools. So in the instance of the first two, the teaching artist is split even and equally between the two sister schools and that will happen in each of the new pairings of schools. There’s literally someone on site on a daily basis from the Institute.
PR: So does that person report back to you? So there’s a communication between the Institute and the school and you?
SB: Absolutely. We also have program staff that interacts with the school. It’s a huge investment time-wise and education-wise from the principals of the schools to the teachers.
PR: Tell us something about your own mentors and how you came to devote your life to the arts.
SB: I always love to talk about mentors. 9th grade English teacher- about 6 to 8 weeks into the school year she called me up after class one day and said “I’m giving you a week of detentions.” I looked her and said, “Mrs. Path, I didn’t do anything.” And she said, “Scott, that’s the point.” She gave me detention, and they were purely there to be motivational. To say: “Here’s what you can do; lets challenge it. Here’s what you’re afraid to do; let’s challenge it. Here’s what I’d like you to think about doing; let’s challenge it.” It was the most constructive moment in education I had ever had because someone took me seriously, someone challenged me and someone said “I’m going to invest in you in the moment and I’m not going to make it easy. I’m not going to make it too hard, but I’m not going to make it easy.”
PR: Where did you attraction to the arts come from?
SB: I was a horticulture and etymology major in college and I was late for signing up for a course. I signed up for a course called “Expanded Arts” [that] was taught by a dance, theater and visual arts professor in college. I had never taken an arts course in my life. I just signed up for it on a whim. Second day of class the dance professor came up and asked me if I would join a Renaissance and Baroque dance company. I thought she was crazy. I had no interest in it. She came back the next day and the next day and I thought, “Scott, you’re going to fail this course unless you at least go look at it.” I went and looked at the rehearsal for this dance company and I changed my major to a dance and visual arts major and education major.
PR: That is such an amazing story, which to me reverberates in the sense that you can take a student and introduce him to something new and that can have a tremendous impact on their life — and that’s exactly what happened to you.
SB: It was totally a surprise. I would never have thought that’s what I was going to end up doing. Now I did have a wrestling coach in high school who taught ‘The Love of Movement’ and to a certain degree I always knew that movement could be fascinating. So when I did become a dancer professionally after that, it made sense for me to pursue that. The other mentors without a doubt are Mark Schubart [Founding Director and Chairman Emeritus of Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education] and Maxine Greene. Mark because I think his amazing instinct and knowledge of how you can create an institution to accomplish a mission, and Maxine because I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Maxine now for 25 years and she’s a rock star in education. … She’s been our philosopher in residence since 1975.
PR: Are there any anecdotes you’d like to share with us about students, teachers, and the Lincoln Center Institute?
SB: I think the Institute’s always been an organization that’s tried to say ‘we’re not trying to teach you to do the perfect plié, we’re not trying to teach you to master the arts, we’re not trying to teach you to be an artist and in fact we’re much more interested in an aesthetically literate society and individual. Someone who’s interested in the arts is probably more from the audiences’ side or the receiver’s side of it. You learn by doing, so our interest is in getting you engaged in the arts and getting you engaged in learning experientially but not trying to say ‘we’re going to teach you to master the arts.’ I have nothing against that for the programs or ideas that want to go that route but I’m much more interested in the kids or the students or adults who really don’t know about the arts, really don’t know why the arts are of interest to them and probably don’t even know how to enter into the discussion — like I didn’t until I was introduced to them. So in a sense, that’s an aesthetically literate experience and I’m very interested in that side of the educational discussion.
PR: Is it fair to say to the public that it’s never too late to start an arts education?
SB: It’s never too late. And quite honestly, my family who loved me and supported me didn’t think it was a series of great decisions. They were confused by it. ‘Why would someone want to give up the sciences and go into the arts and why would you want to dance when you could do other things in the world?’ But they came to understand it over time and they came to realize it was a conscious and deliberate choice and that it made sense and it lead to a great career.
PR: Why do you think the arts are vital in education? And I want you to also think about those people who are cutting the budget in arts.
SB: So let’s stay on this for a little bit because I think it’s an important question. The arts are absolutely vital and just as math and science and English are. And I don’t think anybody disputes that. I don’t think that’s the question or why the arts are not part of the curriculum. I think it’s a different discussion around that. I think we have to start talking more and more about why imagination and creativity are important and the arts are a natural generator of it rather than whether the arts are important. The problem is, if you poll the U.S. public or you’re talking to any education policy person — which I have done a lot of in the last couple of years — nobody is against the arts. Ninety-three percent of the U.S. population will say they think the arts should be part of education. When you ask the question ‘are you willing to pay more, crowd the school day, will they give up something else?’ it drops to 20-some percent. The point being it’s not an anti-arts statement necessarily. If you talk to people about the role of creativity and innovation as it relates to economic parameters, human development parameters, to how we think and act as a society, then people aren’t against it. Those are not subject-based discussions; they’re learning and economic based discussions. If we could change the question and the whole template of the argument to not, “are the arts are important?” but, “if we’re interested in innovation, how do we get there?” We have to backward map it to imagination and then look at how imagination, creativity and innovation come together. Like I said, nobody’s against that. It’s a question then of how to restructure the school day to accommodate it, looking at it cross-curricular.
PR: As you were speaking I was thinking about Albert Schweitzer who to me is the essential combination of science, medicine and the arts. After he founded the clinic in Africa, he would come to the US and play the organ all over the country to raise money for the clinic. I’m sure the arts were a great part of his imagination in his life and if people would consider it that way that that framework is invaluable.
SB: There’s a huge, important relationship between scientific inquiry and aesthetic inquiry, scientific literacy and aesthetic literacy. We shouldn’t be separating them. We should be looking at them as cross current questions- which I think once again by looking at it through [an] imagination, creativity, and innovation lens allows us to open that up. If we look at it as math, science history, the arts, it’s a more difficult discussion to get into just because we have to get back to the question are we teaching knowledge alone or are we teaching how to learn or the combination? #