#37 Learning from writers in education – part 2: rigour

A second significant meeting I had in New York was with Travis Laughlin and Saul Chernick at the Joan Mitchell Foundation.

This organisation is the legacy of the painter Joan Mitchell, artist, known for her generosity to younger artists. JMF has artistic skills programs, gives grants and has programmes to support senior artists and those who may be in need of financial aid (for example artists affected by disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina).

Arts organisations and funders should recognise that teaching is essential for most artists, to make money and expand their skills, said Travis. To support a visual artist to teach well impacts on their entire career.

The JMF professional development program for teaching artists trains 40 artists as educators through 2-year apprenticeships. It’s a mix of mentoring, hands-on experiences, reflection and developing curriculum-based lesson plans.

We had a rich conversation about how the model might be applied to writers working and teaching older people. Mentoring for the writers-in-training would be vital to offer support and feedback.

Mentors might need training too, suggested Saul. There are many artists I can think of in the UK who do wonderful work in the field of creative ageing, but would they be keen to mentor others? What kind of training would allow the new writers to find their own individual styles of work, rather than (only) following a set model?

What I most admired about this organisation is how seriously they took artist support and good teaching. This kind of rigour and dedication to always wanting high quality experiences for participants is excellent.

Travis was kind enough to give me a wonderful book on teaching.

Over the next few days, I read To Teach by William Ayres, which is about the art of teaching and how to be a compassionate educator. From how to layout classrooms to let creativity flow, to always ensuring there are opportunities for students to discover and be surprised, I feel this title will be by my side as I develop my literary projects with elders.