The STEP signature project I chose was under the study abroad option and I did it through the Art Education department here at The Ohio State University. I chose this because it directly aligns with my major and I wanted to experience an arts culture completely different from what I have experienced in America. During this trip 10 other students, 2 advisors, and myself traveled on a bus throughout Jamaica to experience the historical significance art expression holds throughout Jamaica.
A statement we often heard the art teachers in Jamaica repeat was that they were artists who happen to teach. This is significantly different than what most people expect of art teachers in America. It is expected that an art teacher will solely teach art, and their own artistic expression will no longer exist. I do not know why this is what happens to many artists who go into teaching, but the exact opposite is expected in Jamaica. The art teachers assume the position of the teacher, but they continue to grow and create. This changed the connection I originally held between art and the classroom, and now I want to be able to continue my own personal growth as an artist, while also teaching children to do the same.
Another huge difference between the art of Jamaica and the art of America is the approach towards controversial topics. Art is one of the strongest ways to express feelings towards political, social, racial, and other radical opinions. An issue that is very prevalent in America, race, is not nearly as discussed in Jamaica. A few of the black students on this trip asked some of the student artists how being black affects their art, and the answer shocked them. Jamaica is a Country of mostly black people, and this is just something that they live with, not something they must constantly think about, unlike black americans. While race was not the focus of their pieces, they often addressed other conflicts or cultural differences in their artwork.
Finally, as an art education major, my outlook on my future classroom slightly changed after experiencing the ones in Jamaica. There were radically different classrooms, some were choice based with many mediums available, while others didn’t even have a real classroom. Through the few courses I have taken in my major I have learned that the government has a decent amount of control over what can be discussed in the classrooms. There was one classroom in Jamaica that was unlike any I have ever seen in America. There were posters about safe sex, disagreement with religion, and much more. The teacher claimed, “Since the arts are not important to the government, they often forget that I am here. This is how I can get away with discussing controversial topics with my students. Discussion is vital to the classroom.” This was surprising because arts are so prevalent in Jamaican society, however, the government does not restrict it as much. Hopefully I will be able to change the views of American society when it comes to controversial subjects, and teach them how important it is to be educated, and not sheltered.
My STEP signature project taught me so much about what kind of artist, and what kind of teacher I want to be. The encouragement from the Jamaican art teachers has driven me to embrace controversial concepts and to challenge myself to continue creating even after I graduate. I want to create an environment where my students can feel safe to discuss topics like race, but also a place that can coexist with the restrictions of the government. It will be challenging to find this balance, but I strive to be an art teacher who grows along side her students.