Reflections on the Life of Maxine Greene and the Forum on the Teaching Artist: Navigation, Innovation, and Sustainability

By Andrew M. Gaines

Last spring’s annual Forum was a spectacular three-day event, drawing renowned presenters from across the globe, newcomers to the field, administrators, researchers, and allied professionals from multiple arts modalities and disciplines.

Our theme spotlighted the Teaching Artist, a term coined by Dr. Maxine Greene during her 36-year term as Philosopher-in-Residence at Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts.  On the opening night of the forum, Maxine fittingly presented our Exemplary Teaching Artist Awards to four outstanding practitioners, following a touching introduction by Dr. Philip Taylor who cited her as the inspiration for his acronym ART (action, reflection, transformation).

Sadly, our attendees had the privilege and honor of witnessing Maxine’s last public appearance that night.  On May 29, only one month following the Forum, Maxine took her last breath at the age of 96.  She had continued to teach until her final days as Professor Emeritus at Columbia University Teacher’s College.  In her plenary address, Maxine’s precious words captured the sublime ephemerality of life, art, and education:

These creative ways to teaching cannot be always predicted or controlled. They are emergent–like our engagement with the changing life, of the golden leaves I see outside the window, with the world. It is always becoming and can never be fully captured.

Our Forum proceeded in the spirit of her noble pursuit, enthusiastically exchanging perspectives and collectively envisioning our shared future. We sought to explore such guiding questions as:

• What is the impact of the Teaching Artist, locally and globally?

• How are Teaching Artists effectively recruiting, cultivating engagement, and fostering    accountability?

• How do Teaching Artists negotiate a commitment to both process and product?

In total, we featured 17 workshops and dialogues, 3 plenary panels, and introduced an alluring new format – PechaKuchawhere presenters had 6 minutes to narrate 20 slides automatically forwarding every 20 seconds.  Sunday morning began with and fabulous performance of Julius Caesar by Shakespeare-to-Go, NYU’s traveling Shakespeare troupe. Community Word Project sustained our momentum by hosting a teaching artist job fair that attracted hundreds of talent and dozens of agencies. Our Forum concluded at the New Victory Theater to enjoy a performance of Fluff: A Story of Lost Toys and a post-show reception, including a brief workshop facilitated by Barbara Ellmann and Ted Sod, two of our Exemplary Teaching Artists.

In sum, our Forum synergized our vibrant community and it’s memory will largely remain a testament to the life of Maxine Greene. Like Dr. Greene, our program bravely sought questions more than answers, and embraced many opportunities to sense more deeply, release the imagination, “internalize new modalities for expression” and bring ourselves into “startling relation to the world.”