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Exclusive Interview with Russell Granet, Executive Director, Lincoln Center Education: A Year of Firsts

Interview by Dr. Pola Rosen, Transcription By Yehuda Bayme


Dr. Pola Rosen (PR): What have you accomplished in the last fifteen months since we’ve last been here? What’s new?

Russell GranetRussell Granet (RG): For me, the question has been, since the first day I started, what should the largest, greatest, performing arts center in the world be doing in education? Initially, my impulse was to say that it’s a challenge to work in schools and communities that are in poverty and that have very little because it requires a certain amount of training and expertise. My background is in school improvement through the arts. When I got here, I thought Lincoln Center has the resources to be able to reach out to the poorest socioeconomic neighborhoods. We can do that on paper but what does that mean in regards to being welcomed into a community, being able to program appropriately so it doesn’t seem like Lincoln Center is doing them a favor but in fact we are working with them to make sure we are providing the highest quality arts into all neighborhoods. Lincoln Center is going to be a destination for a lot of people but there a lot of people in New York who will never come here for lots of reasons. We need to investigate what those reasons are and figure where we can fill the gap. As an example, Lincoln Center Institute became Lincoln Center Education(LCE). The thought here is around giving kids the skills to think like an artist. This phrase is something we believe very strongly in. It comes from listening to educators and to future employers in corporate America, who say that it is not that there aren’t jobs available, it’s that young people aren’t qualified. They are not great at collaboration, teamwork, holding a divergent thought, and most importantly, they are not particularly skilled at taking risks and failing and learning from failing. The arts give kids the opportunity to try something to be bold to fail and recover and learn from failure. Perseverance and grit are essential to a kid’s life and the arts are a place where you can begin to obtain those skills.

LCE has never been a skills-based operation. We don’t teach the violin or dance but what we do is we help non-arts teachers incorporate the arts into their curriculum. We primarily work with science, math and history teachers as a way to engage learners in different modalities. The right piece of art being infused into the curriculum may engage a child in a different way. It’s what our founder, Maxine Green, would say is a disruption. How can we use art to be disruptive or to engage people in different ways. Disruption is a very powerful term. We think of disruption as a negative but disruption can be an amazingly positive thing if done correctly.

Our five core values are engagement, creativity, integrity, equity and joy and we take them very seriously.

PR: What do you mean by equity?

RG: Equity means that everyone in the five boroughs will have access to arts education even if they don’t have the resources. We want to make sure that arts education is equitable across the boroughs. One thing to keep in mind is equity doesn’t mean equal. We are not looking for every kid to have the same hours in arts education. It’s about looking to see what’s fair and equitable across the city.

We work in five discrete ways. We work in pre-K to 12th grade and it includes everything from kids coming on a field trip to our working in a school with an artist everyday all year long. We have partnership schools, focus schools and lab schools. Lab schools is a program that identifies middle schools. Middle school is the most troubling time and it’s the time when kids decide whether they are going to engage in school. We’ve identified 6 middle schools with low to no arts education whatsoever and we have fundraised to fully subsidize the arts piece as long as they hire a full time arts teacher. This work is a research project. We have a third party researcher, Metis Associates, working on that project. So we are looking at what treatments are necessary to turn a low performing school into a high performing school. We are looking at things like attendance, teacher retention, parent involvement, and high school selection. We believe the arts will be incredibly impactful in those four areas. In our pre-K through 12 work, for the last two years we have instituted a highly successful program, the Lincoln Education Art Teacher of the Year award. Last year we awarded it to a music teacher, and this year to a visual arts teacher. It is the first time in the history of the Department of Education that we ever honored arts teachers.

PR: I would love to profile those people, because we honor outstanding educators every year at the Harvard Club.

RG: Sure.  The pre- through 12 work is robust. We work with lots of schools. We work across all systems; primarily public, some private schools as well. And then the next area, and this is really big news for us and we are very excited about it, for the last fifteen years we have had a very strong partnership with higher education. We work on ten college campuses. We are in teacher certification programs. So if a teacher is being certified he or she would be taking a course with us, getting comfortable incorporating the arts with the core academic subjects.

What is new is that we are the first arts organization in the United States to offer teacher certification. We are now certifying teachers in dance, music, theater and visual art. That is in partnership with Hunter Graduate School of Education. We are rolling out music and dance this year and all four art forms the following spring. The thing that is tremendous about this is that it is at the Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Center, putting a stake in the ground and saying that if we are serious about arts education, teaching artists are incredibly valuable. We are saying that it is the combination of teaching artists and certified arts teachers that sustain arts education. We can’t have teaching artists be the de-facto arts educator. Teaching kids is not the focus of the teaching artist. What we need is the scope and focus of all four art forms.

PR: Just last year, the American Museum of Natural History started giving their own PhD degrees and it is recognized as a PhD program.  How do you compare with that?

RG: We met with Lisa Guggenheim and Ellen Futter, the President. We did all our homework. The Museum of Natural History is the only other non-academic institution offering certification for science teachers. They are different in that the state has said that they can be the certifier. We are allowed to certify because we are in partnership with Hunter.

PR: So the degree will come from Hunter?

RG: No it will be a joint degree with Hunter College.

PR: Will that be a degree or a certification?

RG: It will be a Masters in Education, which will include certification. The student first has to apply to Hunter and get accepted. Then the student must apply to our program and if he gets in, we will pay for the whole Masters.

PR: Did you publicize that?

RG: This just happened. It is literally hot off the press.

PR: Who will these teachers be? Will they be performing arts teachers or will they be teachers who already have degrees and are familiar with the curriculum?

RG: Somebody came into my office yesterday who I thought was an ideal candidate. She has her undergraduate degree, which you would have to have for a Master’s, in dance. She has been a teaching artist for us for at least ten years. She wants her life to be different; she has kids; she wants to be at one school, not 50 schools; she wants health insurance; she wants a steady paycheck. She in my mind is the ideal candidate. She has had some experience in the classroom; she is a qualified and very talented artist herself; and she wants to make this transition. I think that is exactly who this program is for. Truthfully, Scott Stringer’s report came out saying that there are four hundred and twenty schools without any arts teachers. I feel like we need to fill the need.

RG: Right now we have the United Federation of Teachers, the Department of Education, the Department of Consumer Affairs, and the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Tom Finkelpearl all on board.

What we are trying to do is turn out the highest quality arts teachers in the city, and we would love to have on board all the key players. There is a need. We have hundreds of schools without arts specialists. Truthfully, sometimes even there is a school that has one arts specialist for a thousand kids. So there would be a need to have a second arts specialist.

PR: That’s great. So who is providing the funding?

RG: The Illumination Fund.

PR: Okay so that’s Laurie (Tisch). You worked for the Center for Arts Education, the CAE.

RG: Right. I have known Laurie for fifteen years. She was our board chair when I was working at CAE for a long time.

PR: Absolutely. I have known her for a long time. She is fabulous.

RG: As much as teacher certification is something that we are incredibly proud of, I am also incredibly proud of the community work we are doing. Here is Lincoln Center, this very historic and impressive arts institution. We now have programs in libraries, in shelter systems, in incarcerated youth programs and in senior centers. So we are making every step in saying that the arts are a right and not a privilege. If we have to, we will subsidize this work. If you are in a homeless shelter, or in a senior center or in prison, that is no excuse for not having the right to be exposed to the arts.#



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