This is the second installment of our new regular feature on the blog: interviews with Dodge staff. We’re going to check in with what they’re learning and thinking about as they visit with nonprofits around the state, and we’ll pepper them with a few fun questions too. We welcome your questions and feedback!
Next up is Wendy Liscow, Program Director, Education.
Is there something that you’re particularly excited about?
I am very excited about and energized by the Dodge Foundation’s new Education guidelines and our board’s commitment to making New Jersey a national leader in arts education. While we have long invested in the arts and supported opportunities for children to be exposed to quality arts experiences, our new guidelines look to strengthen the system that will ultimately create and sustain a sequential and comprehensive approach to arts education and make the arts available to every child in our state.
Our new approach requires the development of working relationships with superintendents in order to achieve more sustainable and systemic results. If we can help districts develop comprehensive arts education strategic plans then maybe arts education programming will be less susceptible to the vagaries of budget cuts, staffing changes, and test-constrained scheduling. I am especially excited about a recent grant to the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership which will help them offer direct support services to school districts (including the development of arts education strategic plans) and strengthen the entire arts education sector.
I am looking forward to working with all our current and future grantees to really move the needle in the arts education arena.
How do you nurture creativity in your job and in your life?
I love this question! In fact, the exploration of this question is one of the reasons that the Dodge Foundation helped establish Creative New Jersey. (Creative NJ’s new website is under construction, but you can still check out their mission and vision…it is inspirational.) Every New Jersey citizen should be asking themselves this question, and if they are coming up with a blank or find they rely on passive creativity injections such as reading or television/movie viewing, I would challenge them to find a way to exercise their creative muscles by making something. It doesn’t have to be art-making. It could be gardening or cooking with an awareness of the creative process involved in the effort instead of doing the act in a state of drudgery and obligation.
When I look for inspiration to get my creative juices flowing I have used three resources: 365: A Daily Creativity Journal and Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing at Home, at Work & in your Studio from Noah Scalin creator of the Skull-A-Day project. Check out his books and blog for artistic jolt. I am also a fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. This book has helped millions of people unlock their creativity in both simple and profound ways.
As often as possible (and not as much as I would like) I attend a writing group under the expert guidance of writing coach and workshop leader, Deb Cooperman. We spend three hours responding to writing prompts and reading our pieces to each other in an atmosphere of pure support and encouragement. This is not a group focused on critique and editing; this is a group dedicated to tickling and nurturing our muses. It is the opposite of the highly self-edited and scrutinized writing I do for work. If you have ever wondered about joining a writing group, Deb’s group is open to all.
The benefits of this group writing experience are similar to the ones I used to get when I was disciplined to write Julia Cameron’s prescribed “morning pages.” Cameron calls them the “bedrock of creative recovery.” Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. Julia is clear that “there is no wrong way to do Morning Pages–they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. “ It is time well spent and it is the first thing I recommend to friends, family, and myself when feeling stuck.
What books / magazines / e-books are on your (real or virtual) nightstand?
I am reading Yes, Yes, Good: the HeART of Teaching by Cheryl Hulteen. It is an important book that every superintendent, principal, teacher and parent should read. Ms. Hulteen is an outstanding teaching artist and trainer of educators. In this book she shares her experience at a Harlem school where she used improvisation techniques to reinvigorate teachers and get disenfranchised students to engage in authentic learning. She teaches the improvisational principles of “Yes, Yes, Good” which in a nutshell are: I say “yes” to your ideas, you say “yes” to my ideas, and above all else, we make each other look good. Imagine the implications of this in a classroom! I have seen her turn around the culture of classrooms and schools with her process. An added bonus: the story Cheryl tells is a page turner.
What are some of your favorite media sites/resources?
It seems like I am injecting more news into my life than ever before. I get the Star Ledger and the New York Times at my doorstep and on all my electronic devices. On my way to and from work, and traveling to grantee site visits, I am listening to NPR on the radio. When I fire up my email every morning I get a curated round-up from the NJ News Commons and WNYC Morning Brief. And because I want to guarantee that I always have a dose of positive news or inspiration to start my day, I subscribe to the DailyGood.org. Then, of course, I use my twitter feed to get recommendations from my twitter experts/friends who have been busy devouring news from hundreds of other sources.
Education Week keeps me up to speed on what is going on in the national education scene and NJ Spotlight.com is a go-to source for local New Jersey education updates.
Regarding creativity resources, I rely on the National Creativity Network’s weekly listing of creativity and innovation quotes, videos, events and articles of interest. I recommend you get on their mailing list. There have been dwindling means to get information about New Jersey’s great arts and arts education happenings, so I am very grateful for NJTV’s wonderful new The Arts Project series anchored by Maddie Orton and Susan Haig’s NJ Arts News.