Learning something new can happen anytime and in any location. That is part of the ethos guiding faculty who take their students out into the community to reimagine the classroom and discover new ways to infuse their curriculum with real-world knowledge. For our performing and visual arts community, it’s learning about dance, theater, painting and ceramics within the vast artscape of Los Angeles.
For the past eight years, Performing Arts Chair and dance teacher Molly Mattei has been taking her dance students to see performances and partake in master classes.
“I love observing my students in these new settings. I can see what teaching styles and approaches are effective that I may not have thought of, or ways in which another teacher or performer can engage with them and analyze a technique that is working,” Mattei explains, sharing that she also becomes the student herself on these excursions. “I’m constantly looking for new ways to teach material, technique and skills. It is just as much of a learning experience for me as it is for the students. Just getting out of the classroom is stimulating and helpful in boosting my creative juices when it comes to creating themes and choreography for our programs here at Prep.”
Mattei has taken her students to see the nationally acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and local companies like Diavolo. “The idea of getting out of the classroom and out into the greater community, I think, is crucial for not just students in the arts but in general,” shares Mattei. “It is easy to become comfortable and feel safe within the confines of the school. Being able to steer the students briefly into the unknown is so valuable and rewarding. The reacting and problem solving done in those moments is so helpful in preparing them for real world situations they will most likely experience after they leave the [Prep] setting.”
She notes that more Performing Arts faculty are doing the same, inviting guest artists to their classes or attending performances at LA theater venues.
The Visual Arts Department is also keen on showing what is possible in art for their students by bringing artists onto Prep’s campus and taking students out into the city. Ceramics teacher Biliana Popova has invited guest lecturers to her classes before, but when seniors in her fall Advanced Ceramics course wanted to learn more about ceramic lamps—something Popova wasn’t an expert on— she decided to tap into her network.
She reached out to artist Beth Katz, the owner of Mt. Washington Pottery who creates a collection of functional and decorative ceramics, to see if she would guide students through the process of making lamps. Katz warmly agreed, and students spent time learning about Katz’s creative process, touring her workspace and discovering how to turn their craft into a career.
“I really wanted to give them the experience of going out and seeing an artist in their element, in their environment,” Popova says. Being able to sit in an artist’s studio and see “the way they organize things and a larger body of work…was really fascinating for them.”
It also allowed Popova to learn something new—a fact that she acknowledges is part of developing one’s craft. Popova knows this well, having taken part in professional development opportunities, attend ing a summer 2019 sculpture course at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado.
While creativity thrives within Prep’s campus, exposing students to art that’s happening in their own backyard of LA is revitalizing both the students’ and the teachers’ craft.
“After any field trip or guest artist interaction, I usually have the students write a reflection on their experience. I have them tell me how they felt before seeing the performance or taking the class, and then what they learned about themselves through the process,” Mattei says. “They always come away from the experience having learned something about themselves: that they are able to pick up movement faster than they thought, that they really enjoyed a new style, and that it brought out a side of them they didn’t know they had. They walk away feeling empowered and inspired, which is what I hope for.”