September 30th, 2013
altspaceeditor

Listening 101 | Alison Holland

There’s a dirt lot at 101 Forest Avenue West, just down the street from my house in the middle of downtown Mora (a rural community of less than 3,600). There was once a run-down feed mill here that the city purchased to demolish after it was no longer in use. There was talk of building a new library, police station, apartments, etc., but that was in the beginning of the recession. Since then, it’s been used a day or two here or there, but there has been no collective energy to move toward a better utilized space.

So in April, May, and June of 2013 I hosted a series of conversations around what a variety of community members would like to see there. And in our conversations, the motion stopping word “no” wasn’t allowed. As an artist engaged in “placemaking” I had a unique opportunity to foster creative conversations free from logistical constraints and prescribed outcomes. I met with people one-on-one, visited classrooms and coffee hours, engaged with families at a summer lunch program, and I even had the opportunity to host conversations with a few organizations (including the Mora Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kanabec County Art Association) during their regular monthly meetings.

On Saturday, June 22, at 11am during the annual Midsummer Festival in downtown Mora, I shared the community’s ideas with a pop-up art show, the project description, a generated list of ideas displayed, a brief movement/dance performance, and face-to-face conversations in the vacant gravel lot.

Though the future of the site is still unknown, the city’s Park Board has recently expressed interest in considering developing a “green space” or park at the site in the spring of 2014. It is my understanding that this would be an interim use as the city still has a long-term vision for creating a multi-use building potentially including a library, community rooms, retail spaces, and apartments on the site.

Video documentation by McGinley Motion.

This project was funded by Forecast Public Art with support from the East Central Regional Arts Council with funds provided by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

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A rural Minnesota native, Alison Anderson Holland is a processed based teaching artist seeking to connect the dots across disciplines for audiences and learners of all ages. She holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Hamline University, a program often described as a Master of Voracious Curiosity. Spreading her “curious” spirit, Alison aims to share the art forms of dance and writing while teaching a variety of concepts in unique ways; for example, using “Chance Dance” theory to kinesthetically teach fractions and probability to elementary students and using food experiences to explore memoir. Visit her online at www.alisonandersonholland.com.

Also in ALT/space by Allison Holland:
Taking My Daughters to Work
Lesson Learned
So, What is it You Do?
Art in Motion
I Got This

March 4th, 2013
altspaceeditor

Taking My Daughters to Work | Alison Holland

When I was the managing editor for my college newspaper, I remember writing an in-depth story about children in the workplace following a new campus policy on the topic that was met with heated discussion and anger. Work-life balance has long been a hot topic of debate across the country. Today is no different with Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! CEO and new mom, in the news for both building a nursery next to her office and ending telecommuting for all employees.

For as long as I can remember, spending time at my parents’ work places was as natural as brushing my teeth. My earliest memories include making paper dolls with my grandma when she’d work as a secretary at my dad’s insurance office and coloring under my mom’s photo retouching desk in the days when they still painted on the printed photo. Later I spent many afternoons doing 5th and 6th grade math and grammar homework at my mom’s desk while she managed our family’s bicycle and cross country ski store.

When I was in college a few guest artists from the Twin Cities came to our rural Minnesota campus, kids in tow, to teach us hip hop. We were all in awe of the kids putting us to shame as they danced up a storm behind us. But it wasn’t just their talent I remembered. I fell in love with the idea of that kind of work-life balance, not realizing until now that it was precisely what my parents had modeled.

Two years ago when my youngest was an ill-sleeping newborn and my husband was a nursing student, I apologetically brought the baby to an evening gig in which I was choreographing for a high school musical. Sleeping for a while in her infant car seat and then contently hanging out in the carrier as I paced around the auditorium watching the rehearsal, yelling out a few corrections and taking notes on others, she was the perfect helper.

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Still, for the next two years, despite having several dance studio owners encourage the practice for years before I had my first child, I feared appearing unprofessional if I brought a child along to work. No longer holding onto an office job, the dream I’d fallen in love with about ten years ago was within reach but my hesitancy kept it at arm’s length.

Today I marched my two and four year olds down a set of auditorium stairs with a bag of quiet toys, a box of chicken nuggets, and a couple of suckers. We quietly and without apology set up camp at a high school musical rehearsal that had been rescheduled with short notice. It wasn’t perfect, but it went pretty well. I feel good about the example I set for my kids as well as the students I was there to support.

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Celebrating its 20th anniversary in April, the Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work® program believes this experience shows kids “the value of their education, helping them discover the power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life, and providing them an opportunity to share how they envision the future and begin steps toward their end goals in a hands-on and interactive environment.”

I’d love to hear how other teaching artists feel about this type of work-life balance and how to decide if it’s professional or unprofessional to bring your children to the workplace.

A rural Minnesota native, Alison Anderson Holland is a processed based teaching artist seeking to connect the dots across disciplines for audiences and learners of all ages. She holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Hamline University, a program often described as a Master of Voracious Curiosity. Spreading her “curious” spirit, Alison aims to share the art forms of dance and writing while teaching a variety of concepts in unique ways; for example, using “Chance Dance” theory to kinesthetically teach fractions and probability to elementary students and using food experiences to explore memoir. Visit her online at www.alisonandersonholland.com.

Also in ALT/space by Allison Holland:
Lesson Learned
So, What is it You Do?
Art in Motion
I Got This

January 30th, 2013
altspaceeditor

Lesson Learned | Alison Holland

After eight months of planning and few months of dance rehearsals, art making, and composing, L.A.-based Composer Paul Fraser, Visual Artist Mary Johnson of the Twin Cities, and I spent last week in residence at my local rural Minnesota school district.  In addition to working with students across the district that week, we set high artistic goals as a trio experimenting with “Chance Dance” theory, trusting our three separate works, created with the same theme, but in isolation from each other, would come together harmoniously on Friday night.  The performance was to include student-created work, and also planned to conclude with a Q & A session between the audience and artists moderated by Jessica Fiala of the Walker Art Center’s SpeakEasy discussion program in an effort to provide a greater understanding of the artists’ work.  We were sure we’d thought of it all.

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Photo Credit: Trevor Cokley

But Friday came and, after freezing rain sent four different school buses in the ditch on the way to school, the district closed at one o’clock and canceled our evening performance.  With the composer, who had designed many components for the piece to require his on-the-fly sound mixing, heading back to California, we knew we’d never see the piece come together as originally intended.  As we stood together on the stage of the high school that afternoon talking about next steps, someone quite eloquently said, “The students learned a tough lesson: Focus on the journey because the destination isn’t a guarantee.”

It was important lesson for me as well.  I’d known the whole time that our product really wasn’t a guarantee.  It was developed with “chance.”  But I thought, at the very least, we’d have the opportunity to see our final product, to share it, and to explain it.  I spent the next several days assuring everyone it was okay, and that I truly believe everything happens for a reason.  Today I feel I can finally say it: It broke my heart to have the performance within reach and then completely impossible within a matter of minutes. 

While I’d been focusing for the better part of a year on that performance, I’d learned so much along the way.  And that reflection has helped sooth the heartache.  The project grew my confidence as a grant writer, taught me a lot about coordinating the details of a large project with a school district, and allowed me to stretch my wings as a choreographer and teaching artist at the same time. 

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Photo Credit: Trevor Cokley

There were many lessons learned throughout the whole process, but I grew the most while teaching third grade students about chance dance choreography last week.  Surprisingly, I grew more as a choreographer while working with the students than I did as a teacher.  My third graders and I used simple movements to experiment with the many aspects of a movement that can be determine and changed with chance methods.  Playing with movement order, levels, facing, speed, etc. with the most basic (and even silly) movements reminded me of the building blocks that can serve to deepen a piece without fancy or complex dance steps.  This only grew my love of choreographing with chance methods and inspired me to utilize it to greater lengths soon.

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On stage Friday after cancelation: Mora Band Director Linda Parson, Choreographer Alison Holland, Composer Paul Fraser, Visual Artist Mary Johnson, CAPP Director and Mora Art Teacher Judy Broekemeier.  Photo Credit: Trevor Cokley

It’s still unclear how or if we will be able to wrap up our residency and share our work with the community of Mora, Minnesota given the musical score planned is not producible without the L.A.-based composer present.  Coordinating an opportunity for Twin Cities based dancers and local students to come together again has proven challenging enough.  We may simply present the choreography with the costumes and visual art in silence.  If we do, I’ve considered, among other things, recording the silently performed dance and, inspired again by Cunningham’s methods, propose a challenge to composers, musicians and sound designers on SoundCloud to produce a sound score for the length of the dance. Perhaps the silver lining to this experience is the opportunity to expand our chance-inspired collaboration and share the work with a wider audience.

A rural Minnesota native, Alison Anderson Holland is a processed based teaching artist seeking to connect the dots across disciplines for audiences and learners of all ages. She holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Hamline University, a program often described as a Master of Voracious Curiosity. Spreading her “curious” spirit, Alison aims to share the art forms of dance and writing while teaching a variety of concepts in unique ways; for example, using “Chance Dance” theory to kinesthetically teach fractions and probability to elementary students and using food experiences to explore memoir. Visit her online at www.alisonandersonholland.com.

Also in ALT/space by Allison Holland:
So, What is it You Do?
Art in Motion

I Got This

October 16th, 2012
altspaceeditor

So, What is it You Do? | Alison Holland

Earlier this year when it became clear my heart ached for a new career focus, and my temporary position would end sooner than originally anticipated, I began testing the waters as a Teaching Artist with a little vacation time here and there. My heart knew I’d found it. But when the last day of my full-time job came, it wasn’t easy to explain why my newly “unemployed” status was only half-true.

I live in rural Minnesota, so I knew my only opportunity to become a Teaching Artist would require a freelance lifestyle with endless networking, grant writing, and finger crossing (and I had a few projects in the finger crossing stage at the time). My work is self-directed and project-based, so no one has knighted me a Teaching Artist but me.  I “sell” my ideas to potential “partners,” write my grants, and put myself out there. But it’s scary. Especially, I think, scary when it comes to small talk.

You see, next to my friends and family who are classroom teachers, medical professionals, and traditional 9 to 5-ers, I felt, well, weird. So when I stumbled across a December 2011 article on Forbes “Why Weird is Wonderful (and Bankable) by Jessica Hagy, I felt a little boost. Hagy explains that weirdness is valuable because it has less competition, is less painful (than fitting into a cookie cutter), fosters community, creates automatic notoriety, means more freedom, calls for premium pricing, and is nontransferable. She concludes by asserting that weirdness is great for parties because “It’s not small talk when you bring up your big weird thing.  Weird done right (that is honestly and positively) is captivating and attractive.”

I was recently at a young professionals networking-based conference at which most of those I met quickly asked “So, what is it you do?” I gave a slightly different answer each time to test out the best way to keep the conversation from stalling out. Teaching Artist Page McBrier on her website admits her best shot at an “elevator speech” (when someone thinks she’s an “art teacher”) involves providing a simple explanation of a recent residency. This was basically the route I took and, overall, I was surprised how interested those I met seemed to be by my “big weird thing.” That is until I explained to an old college friend that one of my current projects involved teaching math through dance. He, someone who teaches improv techniques to CEOs and created an improv show about public policy, said that idea will give him nightmares. Surely he would dream about being required to solve complex math equations while performing elaborate choreography, which, by the way, is not what what my residencies involve.

Oh geeze, I thought, if an improv artist thinks I’m weird he must be right. After a moment of intense insecurity (palms sweating), I remembered that’s what’s great about this whole “Teaching Artist” thing anyway. If we weren’t unorthodox, if we didn’t look at things differently than classroom teachers, civic leaders, and even other Teaching Artists, there’d be no work for us. Still, it was a wakeup call that I needed a more polished, or at least more confident, elevator speech. So when I got home that night, I quickly went online to see what I should have said. Gigi Rosenberg, a writer and an artist coach, suggests that because many of us do many so many things, it can be difficult to claim a title. She recommends whittling your title down to a maximum of two titles, then preparing two “add-ons” depending on who you’re talking to. (I wish I’d read her advice sooner!) Here’s what I have so far:

Hi! My name is Alison Holland. I’m an interdisciplinary artist and educator working to connect the dots across disciplines for audiences and learners of all ages. I help teachers integrate the arts into core curriculum areas, collaborate with other artists to create community performances, and write about my experiences on the Teaching Artist Journal’s Alt/Space blog.

Add-on #1: In my next residency, I’ll use Merce Cunningham’s Chance Dance theory to teach fractions to third graders. Do you know any teachers who might be interested in having help integrating the arts into a core area curriculum area like math, English, social studies, or science?

Add-on #2: For my next performance, I will choreograph a Cunningham-inspired dance and collaborate with a visual artist and a composer. The evening will include a moderated Q&A between the audience and artists, as the goal of the performance is to increase the acceptance of contemporary art forms through exposure and education. I hope to see you there!

What do you think?  What’s your elevator speech? How do you embrace the “weirdness” of your work and communicate what it is you do to others?

A rural Minnesota native, Alison Anderson Holland is a processed based teaching artist seeking to connect the dots across disciplines for audiences and learners of all ages. She holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Hamline University, a program often described as a Master of Voracious Curiosity. Spreading her “curious” spirit, Alison aims to share the art forms of dance and writing while teaching a variety of concepts in unique ways; for example, using “Chance Dance” theory to kinesthetically teach fractions and probability to elementary students and using food experiences to explore memoir. Visit her online at www.alisonandersonholland.com.

Also in ALT/space by Allison Holland:
Art in Motion
I Got This


August 27th, 2012
altspaceeditor

Art in Motion | Alison Holland


Students pose as “sculptures” while others practice their quick drawing

When I was in elementary school, my art teacher Judy Broekemeier shepherded a group of us young students around our rural town of 3,000 with sketch pads and pencils. We drew a Victorian style home, bicycles at my family’s store, the town’s small lake, and the Swedish folk art sculptures sprinkled around town. The program, called “Drawing Our Community,” [2] is one of my best childhood memories. I even volunteered to assist as an older child. So when I began dreaming up Teaching Artist initiatives I’d like to try, this summer art program quickly came to mind.

However, I wanted to add value if I was going to request to insert myself in a long-standing program. As a choreographer with a strong interest in site-specific work, I suggested adding some “dancing in your community” elements. Unfortunately, with our home base at a school on the edge of town, those downtown exploration elements I had envisioned were no longer an option. But, when I suggested adding movement to the program, the teacher heading up the program this year, Kelly Gams, was not only open to the idea but inspired to suggest the work of visual artist Keith Haring as a way to bring both art forms together. Before I’d thought much about the details, she emailed over several links to his work and the Keith Haring-inspired projects other teachers had done. I was quickly inspired myself to move my focus from site specific studies of art and movement to how movement inspires art (in Keith Haring’s case) and how art inspires movement.


An example of Haring’s work from
http://www.haringkids.com

Keith Haring’s “simple and happy” style, as Kelly described it, was the best way to teach our elementary students about replicating movement with visual art. Experimenting with performance, video, installation, and collage, Haring remained strongly committed to drawing. In 1980, he began creating chalk drawings on blank billboards in the subway system. “Between 1980 and 1985, Haring produced hundreds of these public drawings in rapid rhythmic lines, sometimes creating as many as forty ‘subway drawings’ in one day,” explains the Keith Haring Foundation on their website haring.com.

On Monday, our first day together, Kelly read the students a book called Ish by Peter H. Reynolds so they’d begin to value their work and that of others that wasn’t a mirror image of the work’s inspiration. Then I showed the students some examples of art and movement meeting and taped them up on an inspiration wall. We examined how different lines can be used to illustrate a variety of movement styles. While Keith Haring is known for his vibrant colors and thick bold lines, interdisciplinary artist Lara Hanson, for example calls her work “performance drawing” and typically captures the movement of dancers with fluid black brushstrokes on white canvas.

Then it was time to head outside and give our sketching lines a test-run.  We lead the students in an altered version of “freeze tag” I called “sculpture tag,” dividing the group so some would practice their Keith Haring style “fast sketches” while others were actively involved in the game.  Over the next couple of days students built upon their “fast sketches” to create Keith Haring-inspired works. They transferred their favorite sketched shapes onto brightly colored construction paper that was then cut out and assembled into collages on long lengths of black paper and painted vibrant murals, again using their fast sketches for inspiration.


Teaching assistant Julia Gams helps art students complete a Keith Haring-inspired mural.

After several days of letting movement inspire their work, it was time to let art inspire their movement. Just as we can draw/paint/sketch a line that illustrates the way someone is moving, we can also use a line to inspire the way we move. Students took turns drawing dotted, jagged, wavy, and diagonal lines on a white board and leading each other in movement inspired by their lines; it was an art-inspired follow the leader. (I wish I had a film crew so I could teach and capture these fun moments at the same time!) Using a single line to inspire movement was a tangible way to try on this idea with our elementary students, but I also shared examples of visual artists like Jia-Jen Lin who regularly create sculptures and wearable art and invite dancers, choreographers, and performers to create movement that is inspired by and interacts with the original visual art piece.

My goal for the week was to give a classroom full of small town kids like me not only a peek into the work of one prolific artist from years ago, but, more importantly, a glimpse of a few up and coming contemporary artists of today who I’m certain aren’t included the school’s art curriculum (yet).  It might be a stretch, and it’s not something I could ever measure for a final project report, but if the week sparked something for one of our students, if it put one career (or even hobby) in motion, I would count it a huge success.  So here’s to one of them someday, somewhere making a sculpture her stage or a dancer the subject of his abstract painting. 


Earlier this summer, I danced in a collaborative performance with saxophonist
Nathan Hanson at Franconia Sculpture Park in response to artist Jia-Jen Lin’s site-specific installation “I Hear Your Eyes.”

A rural Minnesota native, Alison Anderson Holland is a processed based teaching artist seeking to connect the dots across disciplines for audiences and learners of all ages. She holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Hamline University, a program often described as a Master of Voracious Curiosity. Spreading her “curious” spirit, Alison aims to share the art forms of dance and writing while teaching a variety of concepts in unique ways; for example, using “Chance Dance” theory to kinesthetically teach fractions and probability to elementary students and using food experiences to explore memoir. Visit her online at www.alisonandersonholland.com.

Also in ALT/space by Allison Holland:
I Got This


In this space, Teaching Artist correspondents from around the U.S. and the world bring you stories of their work at the crossroads of art and learning. ALT/space is a project of the Teaching Artist Journal, a peer reviewed print and online quarterly that serves as a voice, forum and resource for teaching artists and all those working at the intersection of art and learning. Individual online subscriptions of the TAJ print journal gives you access to a very useful, easy to access, 55-issue archive--the only such archive of its kind.