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Arts Beat: Monterey County arts organization adapts to distance learning

Since the early 1980s, the Arts Council for Monterey County has been on a mission to “improve the quality of life for everyone in the region through the arts.” That includes the council usually providing in-person arts education for school districts across the county. It’s now faced with adapting that program for distance learning.

The Arts Council usually brings in teacher artists, who provide arts education alongside the credentialed teacher.

Now that interaction will take place over a screen, with the teacher artist attending the class live, as well as providing pre-recorded videos for the students to watch outside of class time. The students will receive an arts kit with basic supplies like construction paper, crayons, scissors and glue.

Jacquie Atchison, executive director of the Arts Council, said that while she’s confident in the program, it’s not the ideal way to be teaching the arts.

“We have teachers who are used to working one on one with students and now they’re going to be doing it through a screen,” Atchison said. “You’re just not gonna have the same connection.”

However, teacher artist Kenji Tanner said she’s not daunted by the prospect of teaching online. Tanner previously taught through Google Meet when schools shut down in March. She said the tools at her disposal still allow her to keep the students engaged despite the distance.

In fact, she argues the art lessons are a welcome respite from the rest of the kids’ classes, and they’re often excited to get to do something creative.

“Art is inspiring and because of that students are excited to have art no matter where they are, so that’s a plus for us,” Tanner said.

Tanner said she does recommend students have a dedicated space at home to be in the classroom and avoid distractions.

At this time, the arts council is offering the visual arts classes that Tanner teaches and dance lessons through their “Professional Artists in the Schools” program, reaching about 25,000 Monterey County public school students.

The dance lessons lead the kids through a warmup, then teach them small movements one at a time until they eventually create their own sequence.

“Dance will be a little different than visual arts because the dance video actually can go deeper into creating choreography,” said Karyn Lee-Garcia, programs director for the Arts Council.

Lee-Garcia said the pre-recorded video aspect of the distance learning program actually might work better for the kids, as they can slow down, pause and rewind the video to learn the moves.

The council hopes to add music and theater classes to the program in the future, as well as provide an expansion to the basic arts kit given to each student.

So far, the council is providing arts classes to elementary school students in Salinas and Monterey.

The council expects to add more schools as the semester gets started, but some of them are behind in signing on to the program given the pandemic.

Lee-Garcia said all schools need to recognize the need for arts education, even when classes are online.

“Arts education is not supplemental, it’s actually a required part of the California curriculum,” Lee-Garcia said. “They need to be sure that art is embedded in the plan for distance learning.”

The program will begin in October for Salinas students.

Sean Flannelly is a journalist and student at University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He previously reported for KPFA Radio in Berkeley, California, and served as his student newspaper's sole podcast editor. Outside of the newsroom, he can be found hiking, climbing and camping his way around California.
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