The Uncomfortable Truth about the Arts in Schools

Following is a guest blog by artist HK, who is an artist in the way she writes, plays piano, dances, and expresses all aspects of life.  Following is a critical essay she shared with me about the relationship between arts and education, two aspects of life she is most passionate about.  I asked her to share her writing with The Artist Lens.  ~ Molina Speaks

Guest Blog: “The Uncomfortable Truth about Arts and Schools”
by HK
Artist and Educator


The arts have always been used during times of protest to tell a suppressed story. The arts are provocative and raise questions from even the most disengaged and timid. There is more to the story than budget cuts when it comes to the arts being removed from our schools.  In search of the full story, we must be willing to be uncomfortable. We must be willing to seek out and listen to long-silenced voices within our system of education.  Artists and underserved students know discomfort well.  I say we must be willing to be uncomfortable because when we are uncomfortable we instinctively begin to seek relief. When the environment is right, this leads to questioning, collaboration, and eventually the creation of a new possibility.

I’ve coordinated, participated in and observed many artist residencies in schools.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these experiences and the tension that often exists between the visiting teaching artist and the classroom teacher. I’ve seen residencies arranged with little to no planning, teaching artists placed in a room insufficiently sized for what they are trying to create with students, and artists left alone with very large groups of students they don’t know. During some incredible assemblies and performances in schools, I have found myself as the only adult (outside of the artist) in an auditorium of students. In these moments I wonder: Where did all the teachers go? Where is school leadership? Why isn’t anyone concerned that there might arise an issue that the teaching artist cannot manage alone?  Most importantly perhaps, I wonder why none of the adults are interested enough to prioritize the time and/or stick with their students through a fresh, creative experience.  (And yes, as someone who has always worked in schools, I understand that opportunities to “get work done” [without students] can feel few and far between).

Continue reading

The Art of Massage

Following is a guest blog by Elena Davis, owner and massage therapist at Peace of Mind Massage in south Denver.  I met Elena at my “poetry burial” for dias de los muertos (Days of the Dead) in November 2012.  I retired five poems from performance.  Elena then came to the community“poetry burial” I hosted for winter solstice that year.  I was inspired by the way she spoke about the healing art of massage therapy.  I experienced injury from a car accident in August 2013.  Elena and the therapists at her practice have been extremely helpful to my healing process.  They have also taught me a lot about the art that is inherent in our bodies and basic movements.  I asked Elena to write about her art for The Artist Lens.  ~ Molina Speaks

“The Art of Massage”
by Elena Davis, LMT, NCTMB, Owner
Peace of Mind Massage, INC.

Elena Davis - Art of MassageI could say that I found the healing arts when I was 18 years old and went to Massage Therapy school. But, that would imply that one can not be born with the healing arts as an innate talent like other traditional art forms. As a child I naturally rubbed my parents feet and hands. As a teenager I comforted friends with shoulder rubs. It was a natural gift that took me 18 years to comprehend as something I could actually do for a living. Massage Therapy is often a second career for people as I discovered when I was one of the youngest in my class. The slogan for the school I attended (Central Florida School of Massage Therapy) was “A life evolving experience”. And, it truly was for me and many of my classmates. The technical application, anatomy and physiology, and pathology education is very important to building a strong knowledgeable foundation. However, the third eye opening, spiritual experience that one can go through in Massage school is what really helps form the healing art portion of bodywork. A therapist who does not go through spiritual and artistic growth during their career may deliver a technically precise massage but it will lack in creativity.

The creative aspect of Massage is similar to painting, writing, and playing an instrument in many ways.

Continue reading

A Rebirth for Aztlan

NACCS-Logo-web1I was booked to perform for Cultural Night at the conference for National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS), held at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 2014.   I wrote this with two literary perspectives in mind: 1) documentary prose based on my participation in the conference; 2) a poetic call to action inspired by historical Chicano/Chicano poetry.  I am a Chicano artist and a teacher of Chicano Studies.  I am also outside the canon and institutions of Chicana/Chicano Studies and Ethnic Studies.  I almost always find myself at the intersections of identity and experience, refusing to conform to any particular scene or way of being.   This constant Insider/Outsider quality to all aspects of my identity complicates and enriches all that I do.  It makes me feel fractured, and it makes me feel whole. 

I completed this poem at 6AM the final morning of the conference.  I printed 125 copies at the UPS store around the corner of the hotel.  I passed copies out at random to the conference attendees (i.e. NACCSistas), before eating lunch at Red Iguana Mexican restaurant and boarding a plane back home to Denver, Colorado. 

Some scholars see Chicana and Chicano Studies as a dying academic field, being replaced by the broader and more politically correct “Latino Studies” or Latin-American Studies.  The theme of the 2014 national conference was: Fragmented Landscapes in Chicana and Chicano Studies: Deliberation, Innovation or Extinction?


A Rebirth for Aztlán
By Molina Speaks

I do not speak fluent Spanish, but

I had a dream I rode a burro under el Quinto Sol
all the way to la conferencia nacional
de Chicana y Chicano Studies

It was in el barrio under spring sun
in a struggling school
that sings jaded songs of blue hummingbirds
odes to the days
that once claimed Aztlan

All the fancy raza
in their fancy clothes
with their fancy degrees, J.D.s and Ph.D.s
me incluyo
gathered to breathe new life
into a decaying field of dinosaur bones

Black ink from far reaching hyphens and extravagant palabras
like “Institutionalization”
like the students of Sal Castro
walked off their white pages
out into the gray streets
as post-institutional post-sovereign post-conscious post-neocolonial
globalized fragmented representational transformational intersectional
crawled off the computer screen and out the banquet facilities
into the community
of chavalitos, abuelitas, activistas, artistas, so on and so forth

The transnational corporate hotel chain had lost the year’s bid
and each NACCSista shared a dinner with a host familia
interested in reconnecting with their own
Chicano past, present and future

NACCS fees and moneys did not line the account books
of colonial hotel tycoons
Those tens of thousands of dollars                         
to la host escuela
to fund the reinstitution of arts and music for the youth

The barrio café that went green
to the mystification of gente at large
catered world class lunches and dinners with local produce
and the scholars drank organic fair trade Mexican coffee
roasted and brewed locally
catered also by the independistas of local commerce

There was more dialogue with strangers from strange schools
I witnessed extraordinary focus, inquiry and outcome driven activities
Sessions sat in circles not rows, less tribalism and invisible phones

Praxis through process-driven learning supplemented Power Point
as community graf writers and muralists collaborated with NACCSistas
to tell a new story
on an old wall
and NACCSistas created a hall                                  
of poetry
alive and evolving day one to day four

Youth scholars from all over la host ciudad came to “Cultural Night”
y los Chicanos Picassos del barrio were commissioned
to create live art throughout time and space
and there was no talk                                                   
of “Post-Chicano Art”

The city’s celebrated poetas were even bussed in on public transit
to pop bottle caps off cervezas
pull corks off botellas de vino
and mix drinks right there in the school commons
(porque why not, they gained propinas?)
Los profesionales did not miss their coveted happy hour
after long and grueling discussions of White Privilege
and everybody was happy
In a display of cross-cultural Intersectionality
the poets even read bilingual haiku
and with each pour of spirits
bled their souls from mouths to ears to glass
I must say the coin margaritas were of fine character
and the fiesta carried the roar of calaveras
dancing through the night

At the conclusion of la conferencia the village curandera
walked out into el parque with her sage y copal
to bless all the conference quetzalcoatls
for their long journeys “home”
The plenaries on spirituality and indigeneity came alive
as spirals of ancient smoke kissed La Virgin sky

Rudolfos Anaya y Acuna y Corky y Cesar nodded in approval
Huitzilopochli tipped his hat
Tezcatlipoca offered his toothy grin
and shook hands with Milagro and El Muerte
Tonanzin y Frida shared a sensual embrace
(Ana Castillo glanced sideways with a smirk and slight hint of jealousy)
Anzaldúa penned a poema to mark the occasion
Roberto y Patricia joined hands once more
raising them high up to the heavens
towards the great salt lake and the seven caves
and the ancient Chicano clap commenced

The spirits were quite pleased                
and I, like you, like them
disappeared into the sunset on mi burro
all the pinche wey                                       
back home
in and out of days
stopping for water                                      
only once

Perhaps it was only a dream
like it was 1968
but it was more like 2015
Beyond Fragmentation
Sneering aggressively                                
at the prospect of Extinction
A Rebirth for Aztlán.