Arts are Basic Workshop in Crete, Nebraska

Teachers and Teaching Artists at Arts are Basic Workshop, Crete, Nebraska

I had a tremendous time in Crete, Nebraska leading a workshop as part of Arts are Basic.   This program sends teaching artists into schools throughout the state to partner with classroom teachers to create an experiential unit of study for students around a work of art.  The photo above was taken by participants taking part in the visual component of the workshop led by my colleague, artist and teaching artist extraordinaire Barbara Ellman.

I’m so grateful to Barbara for recommending me to Rhea Gill, director of Arts are Basic and this tremendous community of artists and educators in Nebraska.  The two days we spent together were truly magical.

Sunset in Lincoln, Nebraska


Our focus of study was a music/drama/poetry performance piece inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and performed by members of Soul Lyrical, a Kansas City based group, represented by vocalist Angela Hagenbach and pianist/composer/vocalist Pamela Baskin-Watson.  They brought a treasure trove of music, spoken word and narrative.   It was my task to lead teachers, and teaching artists teaching towards this work ideas about how to structure a unit of study that students can sink their teeth into.  On the first day, we focused on Bessie Smith, Langston Hughes and Fats Waller.  We explored how to follow the contours of Bessie Smith’s blues line, to more fully appreciate the range and subtleties of her emotional expression.

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We set Langston Hughes poem “Negro Speaks of Rivers” to music and we experienced swing as a rhythm, a time period and as an incredibly challenging thing people do by staying in sync with another.  For this we jumped some rope in trios and compared the experience to Fats Waller and his Rhythm performing “The Joint is Jumpin'”.

I've Known Rivers by Langston Hughes

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
     went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy 
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Jumping Rope to understand how “The Joint is Jumpin'”


On the morning of the second day, I asked if anyone had any dreams or reflections.

Storyteller, Rita Paskowitz, offered the following poem she had written overnight.  It knocks me out!


I met

Fats Waller

in my living room

in the fall of 1977.


I put my key into the lock

opened my front door

and heard his magic fingers


those eighty-eights


jaunty and sly

inviting me in

like he was going to share

my dirtiest secret

with the world

if I lingered

too long

in that hallway


So in I came

like a jitterbuggin’ fool


my blue-eyed

kinky head

in full agreement with the beat


anything else

he had in mind.


I had no idea


I was getting myself



those forty-odd years ago

but when I heard his name


just yesterday morning

it wasn’t just the joint

that was jumpin’…


It was also my heart.


Building on the work from the day before, participants created and scored stories of their own personal heroes, people in their life who, like artists of the Harlem Renaissance, had overcome major obstacles to achieve excellence.  Final performances cut to the core of the of why we make art.  Inspired by the artists of the period and performers from Soul Lyrical, creativity flowed with phenomenal focus and strong intention.  Personal stake in the art was unshakable.


Huge thank-you’s to everyone involved in Arts are Basic including Doane College in Crete where the workshop took place.  Thanks to Rhea’s terrific assistant Petrina Arneson and Rhea who, between her own dance studio, teaching at the college and directing Arts are Basic, is truly a pillar of the arts community.  It’s always a treat to meet like minded folks throughout the globe.  We are everywhere and especially in Nebraska!

Arts are Basic 2011, Doane College, Crete, Nebraska






















House in Lincoln, Nebraska

One response to “Arts are Basic Workshop in Crete, Nebraska”

  1. Dear Eli,
    You captured the excitement of the workshop and our Nebraska experience so beautifully. It was an honor to work with you. xxBarbara

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