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WNY art teachers draw some conclusions in Falls About 200 discover the scope of the field has broadened

What is art?

About 200 teachers from across Western New York spent a week at Niagara Falls High School last week finding out about it.

They discovered that the scope of art has broadened from the traditional poetry, painting, plays, song and dance.

Today, art may include any of those forms, or can become a unique variation or combination of all of them.

The teachers attended an annual professional development session, watching and studying a wide variety of professional stage performances, many of them nontraditional.

The people who attended "became the students, and the artists became the teachers," said Margaret Kaiser, executive director of Arts in Education of Western New York, which sponsored the program.

"They saw works of art performed and then studied them," Kaiser said. "Each work of art was like a text. And at the end of the week, they were able to select a work of art -- or several works -- that were most inspiring to them. Now they can return to their school districts and decide to have one or more of these performers and performances come to their schools."

Kaiser said each professional performance produced in a district is preceded by an artist with expertise in a specialized field who works in the classrooms to help children understand the work and give them the ability to appreciate the performance.

"They [become] an educated audience that has some understanding of what the performance is about," she said.

The teachers saw and studied everything from the Robert Post Comedy Theatre's "one-man show featuring a host of unforgettable characters," to the premiere of "Needed: More Than the Basics." The latter is a work where many art forms are used to consider what troubled or traumatized children and adolescents need to become a viable part of a community.

"Needed" is a combination play-musical-poem-drama-dance, where tap dancer Jimmy Tate became a percussion instrument to the music of jazz bassist Rodney Appleby and guitarist-musician Monette Sudler Honesty and the poetry of Trapeta Mayson.

Kaiser brought the four artists together, and the performance was commissioned through the New York State Music Fund.

Teachers said they benefit from the annual professional development conference, which has been held at various locations for 26 years, and at Niagara Falls High School since 2000.

"I get a lot out of it," said Cindy Calandra, a third-grade teacher from the Barker Central School District in northeastern Niagara County. "We learn a lot of encouraging ways to bring cultural diversity to a district that's otherwise incredibly rural."

Calandra said the conference helped her think of ways of "introducing poetry that deals with uncomfortable themes for younger children who traditionally want to write about subjects such as kittens or a favorite food."

"I'd like to bring in some real topics," she said, mentioning the play "Kindertransport" written by Diane Samuels and produced by the Jewish Repertory Theatre.

"Kindertransport" tells of a German mother who sends her young daughter away on a train in 1939 to escape the Nazis and to live on the charity of others. Kaiser said about 10,000 Jewish children were placed on trains and sent off on their own to save their lives.

Other performances included the Theatre of Youth's stage adaptation of Katherine Paterson's novel "The Great Gilly Hopkins" and Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond's children's book "If You Give a Pig a Pancake," a variety of musical and dance performances, and workshops and offerings in many other fields including architecture.


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