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MALI Teaching Artist Leader Story: Shawna Barnes

February 5, 2019

Teaching Artist – Sculptor

This is one of six blog posts in 2019 that include stories of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 8 Teacher Leaders and Teaching Artist Leaders. This series includes a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about each leader. CLICK HERE  for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE  for more information on the 96 Teacher Leaders and 11 Teaching Artist Leaders. CLICK HERE  for Arts education resources. CLICK HERE for the MALI Resource Bank. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past teacher leader stories. Thank you Shawna for sharing your story!

Shawna N.M. Barnes is a Ceramic Sculptor who has been focused on teaching for three years. Her favorite group to teach is the one full of people who “don’t think they can” because of a disability. Or never gave art a try because of their disabilities. “Problem solving and finding ways to show them they can create and engage in creativity… is amazing.”

What do you like best about being a teaching artist?

I love all the people I have met as a teaching artist. Doors that have been opened, and opportunities presented. It has provided me the ability to share my passions with others who appreciate it.

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

First, allowing for differential interpretations of a topic. Essentially acknowledging that the world is full of gray. And when it comes to art, the spectrum of how art and its concepts are perceived, truly is a spectrum.

Second, the ability to acknowledge that art is a bridge between worlds. Whether that be yours and mine, real and fantasy, or past and future. It allows for difficult conversations to be had, often bridging a divide caused by a lack of understanding. Teaching this concept to our students is vital.

Third, the ability to appreciate content, subject matter and skills needed to complete a work of art without having to like the art itself. The ability to see it with an objective eye.

Have you found assessment to be helpful in your classes, workshops and residencies, and if so, how?

Thus far, assessments have helped guide the evolution of my classes and workshops. By evaluating what is working, what is not; what different ages and abilities respond to; I have been able to fine tune the classes so that the highest number of people fund value and enjoyment from the class.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the Maine Arts Leadership initiative?

The benefits have been innumerable! It has been the push I needed to create the resource center in my website. I have been given the opportunity to grow my speaking career by giving presentations at conferences. It has sparked collaborations between several members for brand music, for upcoming tutorials, and similar applications. It has introduced me to a group of peers that have become my support network. It has given me the confidence in my own set business that my intuition is right and I am on the right path.

What are you most proud of as an artist and/or a teaching artist?

I am most proud of breaking barriers and showing others where barriers exist. As a disabled artist, I often chose to just not participate in events and workshops because it was easier. I’m taking my challenges and helping create solutions that benefit not just me… but hopefully generations of disabled learners and artists so that they can have access to creative outlets.

What gets in the way of doing a better job as a teaching artist?

My health, admittedly. It can cause me to be unreliable and miss deadlines. Another factor is physical accessibility to facilities that may want to host me for workshops or seminars

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

Simply being an artist is hard work and requires determination every day to put the work in. I work through a variety of disabilities just to be able to create; myasthenia gravis,  cervical dystonia,  hypermobility joint syndrome, seizures, chronic pain, peripheral neuropathy and PTSD are the heavy hitters.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a teaching artist or is just starting out?

You will stumble as you find your footing but don’t let that detour you from continuing to put the work in to build the foundation of your career. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  There’s plenty of room for everyone at the top, do not entertain a scarcity mindset. 

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

Build my handicap accessible studio. Give a few grants to local artists and arts organizations looking to make their space accessible by adding ramps or stairlifts to their infrastructure. And spend a few weeks in Paris, soaking up all the amazingness that is the Louvre.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

None.

4 comments

  1. Excellent! Thoughtful, informative answers given. The students are lucky to have her teaching them. Adults, too!!


  2. Hi Gay,
    Thanks for your comment. I hope that you have a chance to meet Shawna in the future. She is one amazing person – along with being an outstanding teaching artist and artist!
    ~Argy


  3. Thank you for such kind words Gay. I appreciate them!

    -Shawna


  4. I hope you and Gay meet someday Shawna! You are both amazing people!
    ~Argy



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