To not only be present, but to also be a presence.
Sometime at the beginning of this school year I remember seeing paperwork that I had to fill out for teaching art in the public schools. That paperwork had my title listed as Artist In Residence. I have filled this role for a few years now, but this is the first time I caught sight of that title, and it really impacted me. Instead of being called an Art Teacher, the position I fill is one of an Artist.
What does that mean exactly?
What am I bringing to my students? To the teachers? To the school?
What does my presence bring with it?
I have thought about it from time to time since school started. Absentmindedly tossing the phrase around in my mind like a pair of dice in my hand.
It came to the forefront again earlier this year when a friend of mine was brought on as an Artist in Resident at the Skirvin Hilton in OKC.
"There's that phrase again," I thought.
Most recently I've been reading a book called The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life. It is a series of essays by different artists and again and again that phrase "Artist in Residence" is used. My favorite essay so far included an Artist in Residence at a recycling plant. It opened my eyes to the potential an artist has to really impact their environment, no matter what that environment might be. It also made me realize how common it is for an artist to take his or her work out into another arena outside of his or her studio (not to mention outside of his or her person).
This new found knowledge allowed me to take the word art, heat it in a fire, make it glow bright orange and then pound away at it like a blacksmith. Art can be more freely explored if it is allowed to get out, see the sites, grab some fresh air, change up the routine.
One day after my last class of the day had finished, a few students lingered in the classroom to help me clean up. Noticing some liquid watercolors dripped on the table, I took my finger and started moving the drips together. One of my student's noticed and said, "Look! Mrs. Steward is painting on the table!" They gathered around to see what I was making, trying to guess the word before it was finished. "Art!" They said in unison.
This is the perfect example of a moment we get to experience because I'm an artist who is present in the school. Artists get to play, and the medium changes and the art is never the same two days in a row. What I want them to see is that an artist is doing far more than assignments. An artist has to show up to work and then watch for opportunities. See what sparks the imagination. Risk trying something new and see where it goes.
I am rising up to this title now. Seeing entirely how much responsibility I carry to show my very best version of an artist to those I come in contact with. And not just at school where the title is handed to me on a contract I have signed off on. But also at Wholeshot. At The Bike Lab. On group rides. In conversations with people I interact with. I get to show how an artist steps into an environment and alters it to suit her enjoyment. It's a traveling title and it is calling me to step up my game. To not only be present, but to also be a presence.