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Written by Ladonna Edwards   
Published on Wednesday, 02 March 2016 10:30

 

Lela Aisha Jones speaks about what inspires her to be a teaching artist

Movement artist Lela Aisha Jones was recently awarded a 2015 Leeway Transformation Award, which honors women & trans artists creating art for social change. Lela spoke with LiveConnections and touched on what motivates her to create and educate.

 

What motivates you to be a teaching artist? What do you hope to give/instill in the children you work with?
My grandmother and my mother are both educators. As public school teachers they've served a diverse population of students. They taught me the importance of being responsible for the community. I also have family members who are military veterans. They instilled social responsibility values in me at a young age. Advocacy and education were also encouraged by my family.
 
When I was in high school I was involved with a program called Public Agenda where I was a part of a teen advocacy program that pushed teens to engage in the community and to be advocates. There's always been an element of social justice, advocacy, and restorative activism in my work.
 
I am a creator before anything. I write in different capacities. I am a vocalist. I am a movement artist. The work of artistry is a really special place to think about trauma or challenges - it's a restorative place. Artistry is a way to transform negative energy into something that is viable, productive, and useful. Creating these transformative practices is what drives me. 
 
A big part of Bridge Sessions is to interactively explore culture - how do you bridge the gap between urban youth (most of whom are Philadelphia natives) and distant cultures? How do you go about creating transformative spaces for them?
The limited funding in Philadelphia leads to a lack of access for the arts and transformative spaces. When I was younger, I attended a school that showed me what was out there. Once I saw opportunities for myself I was better able to figure out where to go. For the students to transform, you have to bring up what they don't know.
 
A tactic I use in the classroom is to establish what their cultural orientation is. I ask them, "What is your way of life?" Imani Uzuri created an activity called First Person Exchange that pushes a person to reflect on their own culture. You tell your story of your culture to one person and that person has to retell your story to the rest of the class. In this way it makes the first person's culture the second person's story. It forces you to properly honor the other person's culture. It creates empathy and respect when you have to tell someone's story as if it's your own.
 
I feel that in many ways cultural respect is missing nowadays. We can't smother everybody in sameness, but we can't focus so much on differences that we isolate ourselves. The hope is to build leadership and agency so students are better able to speak about their problems. If you can get a child to be vulnerable and feel safe enough to expose themselves to their peers, the world opens up to them. If just for a second others felt empathy, they can better process and make better options - it gives them some options - and the arts naturally do this. When you're singing in a choir, all of your focus is on performing with and for others, not criticizing or judging. The process of making is restorative.

 

 

You can catch Lela in action on April 23 and 24 as she performs with her company FlyGround in their show Native Portals with Intercultural Journeys. She returns to LiveConnections for her Bridge Session "Voices and Bodies in Social Action" on May 9.

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ABOUT LIVECONNECTIONS: LiveConnections inspires learning and builds community through collaborative music-making. Since our founding in 2008, LiveConnections has re-imagined the landscape of live music and music education through unique collaborations that join artists from different genres to highlight how music crosses cultures and creates bridges of understanding. Our programs reach people who would not normally experience this kind of music—such as youth from urban schools and people with disabilities—as well as musically adventurous audiences. We offer three signature programs, all based out of our partner venue World Cafe Live.


•    Bridge Sessions are interactive, educational performances for urban youth and special needs populations, along with in-depth residencies and workshops.
•    LiveConnections Presents features six collaborative concerts designed for adventurous music-lovers.
•    LiveStudio offers live video streaming for underserved audiences unable to travel to the venue.
For more information, visit http://liveconnections.org.

LiveConnections Presents is supported in part by the Presser Foundation and the Kal & Lucille Rudman Foundation.

PLEASE NOTE: LiveConnections is a nonprofit organization in residence at venue World Cafe Live. All programs are created, presented and funded entirely by LiveConnections and should not be attributed to World Cafe Live.

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