When art students are considering career paths, becoming a teaching artist may not come to mind. But for one Norfolk State student, that’s now a viable career option, thanks to Arts for Learning’s new Emerging Teaching Artist program.
Asiko-oluwa Aderin is a junior who’s majoring in fine arts with a concentration in graphic design. She’s a visual artist who works in digital and acrylic mediums, using geometric, abstract motifs that explore themes of Black excellence and empowerment.
Last summer, Asiko guided children at A4L’s STEAM camp at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. She was then invited to join A4L’s new Emerging Teaching Artist program, helping children create nature-inspired picture frames in special workshops at Norfolk Botanical Garden while working with an experienced mentor, teaching artist Cindy Aitken. That’s the whole idea of the program—pairing up college students with professional artists and A4L staff who can guide them on essential elements of being a teaching artist, from developing professional programming to reading a business contract.
A4L Chief Operations Officer Anna Green, along with other members of the Education and Program team, designed the program for college students with less than one or two years of teaching experience. Although Asiko is a visual artist, students working in all art forms are welcome to apply for the program.
“Through the program they’ll receive professional development that will contribute to their working knowledge of classroom management, program development with curriculum preparation, and arts administration practices,” Anna says. “Our goal in working with these emerging artists is to cultivate them on to our teaching artist roster with one to two signature programs, or to help them advance throughout their profession.”
Asiko also taught high school students graphic design and comic book making in a ten-week residency for Norfolk nonprofit Next Step to Success. Through that experience, she discovered the joy of making a positive impact. On the last day of the residency, she asked students to tell her what they were taking away from the experience.
“One student in particular—who had presented a few challenges in terms of staying engaged and staying interested—he actually said that through the course of the program he had a love for art sparked,” Asiko says. “I think that was so cool, because as I went through the residency, one of my goals became to facilitate creativity within each individual child, however that may look like. To go from a kid who was like, ‘No, I’m not interested in art’ to ‘Okay, maybe this is something I can explore in the future’—it was really nice to be able to spark that in somebody.”
Drew Lusher, A4L’s Artist and Programming Manager, says Asiko came to Arts for Learning with some key attributes of effective teaching, such as a calm and reassuring presence and the ability to engage authentically with students. He’s seen strong growth in her in the months she’s spent in the Emerging Artist program.
“Once we worked with Asiko to unpack the content of her art form and align it with the interests and needs of her students, she grew into an amazing teacher,” Drew says. “I enjoyed the opportunity to observe her in the last week of the Graphic Novels program. The impact of her teaching on the students and the classroom environment was palpable.”
As for Asiko, she says arts education is an avenue she may want to pursue professionally, thanks to her experience in the Emerging Artist program. “I’ve been reaffirmed in my ability to teach and work with different age groups.” And at age 21, she may have one advantage over much older teachers. “While maintaining a professional demeanor and authority, I’m able to really connect with the students in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating and that they’ll still listen and have fun.”
Asiko has an exciting challenge ahead of her this spring when she moves on to the next phase of the program—she’s been selected to serve as the teaching artist in an after-school residency at Portsmouth’s Westhaven Elementary School, one of three schools participating in the first phase of the IDEAL (Intentional Designs of Expression in Artistic Languages) program. During the course of the ten-week residency, fifth graders will create mixed media works of art as they explore various aspects of self-identity through dance, written and spoken poetry, and visual art. Students from schools in Norfolk and Virginia Beach are also participating and will have opportunities to collaborate with one another.
“A lot of the residency is based off of trying to help these students figure out their own identities and where they fit into their communities,” Asiko says. “That conceptually is so in line with the work that I’m trying to do artistically that’s it’s going to be really neat to explore these concepts.”
We’re thankful for the sponsorship of #BankofAmerica that helped underwrite the launch of the Emerging Artist Teaching program. Their support is helping create new opportunities in the workforce for artists.
Students or colleges interested in participating in the program may contact Molly Stanley, Learning and Community Engagement Manager, at learning@Arts4LearningVA.org.