“The role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible” – Toni Cade Bambara
Class is open! Enroll for credit or show up and join us for Saturday workshops spread over the semester. For more about what ABR is, you can listen to me ramble on about it here.
ABR Class of 2021 Show!
The group this year had to contend with being online–and believe me, teaching arts methods, combined with the up-close-and-personal-nothing-is-like-really-being-there feeling of qualitative and ethnographic methods, was tough to work around in this COVIDland of zooming zooming zooming. But the students came through. Our “show” will be online (like so much of our lives these days!) but we hope to be back in the Hub “Gallery” in the College of Education sometime next year. So, without further ado, please find the following artists and the beautiful pieces they have produced.
Begin your journey here with an introduction from the talented Anam Shah. Then browse through the class works. Artist’s statements accompanying these works can be found here. While the pieces speak on their own, these statements provide grounding in context, the research methodology, backstory, and even the process each artist used to create the work. I highly recommend reading them to get deeper into the meaning in each of the pieces.
Storm’s performance piece on the Corbin Hill Food Project (still image above) can be viewed here.
Yokaira’s complete performance piece can be viewed here.
Camille Collins Lovell
Camille’s original musical composition, “I Knew That Student Well,” can be heard below.
Anam’s beautiful animated short tells a story of education, language and power. You can watch and listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpAVAX8ribk
ZINES for beginners in ABR
Part of what I do in workshops with researchers and students and others is making zines. It’s always so fun to teach, drawing from my background as a creative writer and cartoonist AND arts-based researcher, and it’s accessible for lots of different people who have a story to tell—and even people who may not think they have a story to tell (spoiler: they do).
I also teach zine-making as a tool for creative nonfiction writers and researchers who are interested in coming together to learn from each other in the form of first forays into arts-based research. One student, a poet, who learned from a classmate about participant observation, constructed the below zine. In it, she draws from the experience of doing participant observation at a Quaker meeting. You can see how she seamlessly brings her poetic sensibility and training to the fore in presenting this compelling work.
This year’s advanced methods in ABR seminar invite you to explore their final pieces of arts-based work here.
Arts based research (ABR):
- Recognizes art has always been able to convey truth(s) or bring about awareness (both knowledge of the self and knowledge of others).
- Recognizes the use of arts is critical in achieving self/other knowledge.
- Values preverbal ways of knowing
- Includes multiple ways of knowing such as sensory, kinesthetic, and imaginary. (Gerber et al, 2012, p. 41 as cited in Leavey, 2015)
“Acknowledging art’s place in qualitative research methodologies is, for some, long overdue–the argument unassailable, a “no-brainer.” For others, the union of art and research is nothing short of paradoxical. Regardless, the alliance cannot be taken lightly. To welcome the arts into social science research, not as a subject or object of study but as a mode of inquiry, requires deep consideration. Seeing methodology through an artful eye reflects a way of being in the world as a researcher that is paradigmatically different from other ways of thinking about and designing research . . . The idea that art can be regarded as a form of knowledge does not have a secure history in contemporary philosophical thought. The arts traditionally have been regarded as ornamental or emotional in character. Their connection to epistemological issues, at least in the modern day, has not been a strong one. Art the arts merely ornamental aspects of human production and experience of do they have a more significant role to play in enlarging human understanding?” (Eisner, 2008, p. 2-3).
“The idea that research can be conducted using nondiscursive means such as pictures, or music, or dance, or all of those in combination, is not an idea that is widely practiced in American research centers or in American schools. We tend to think about research as being formulated exclusively–and of necessity–in words the more literal, the better. The idea that research reports and sections thereof can be crafted in a way not dissimilar from the way in which great novelists write and great painters paint is even rarer. Thus, the idea that we advance is that matters of meaning are shaped–that is, enhanced and constrained–by the tools we use. When those tools limit what is expressible or representational, a certain price is paid for the neglect of what has been omitted . . . the contribution of arts-based research is not that it leads to claims in propositional form about states of affairs but that it addresses complex and often subtle interactions and that it provides an image of those interactions in a way that makes them noticeable. In a sense, arts-based research is a heuristic through which we deepen and make more complex our understanding of some aspect of the world” (Barone & Eisner, 2012, p. 3).
“But let us do more than hope. Let us embark on those studies of human action that reveal aspects of human experience and behavior that intuitively are difficult to deny. This is all to say that the quality of work done under the banner of research through the arts will be the most critical feature affecting its future. Let’s hope we are up to the task” (Eisner, 2008, p. 11)
Porntip Israsena Twishime
Redaction is mysterious, violent, sacred, curious. And, for me, it is a poetic strategy. It is a strategy that allows me to perform the unknown, the unspoken, the discreet, and the lies we tell to ourselves and to others.
As a mixedrace second-generation Thai American woman, I grew up longing for home. Feeling like I could never belong in the United States, I had imagined that I would belong in Thailand. I was 21 when I traveled to Thailand for the first time. I went alone and painfully learned that belonging was not a given, that it was not something determined by nations though nations use policy, war, and language to try to determine belongings. Belonging, rather, is crafted by oneself and is always in fluctuating. Belonging and home are not static.
“Returning Still” is a redacted found poems from a conversation that I had with a Korean American woman named Sangha during a semi-structured qualitative interview about Asian American heritage seeking—the practice of studying abroad in a country of one’s heritage. The central question of this found poem is: what is home? I wonder, Is home a place? An imagination? A memory, scent, ritual, or gesture? This poem seeks to interrogate the notion of home and decouple it from a fantasy of normative belonging. I suggest reframing home as a process of un/belonging, where non/normativity is negotiated and always becoming.
The Faces of Aminata
This series of four drawings of Aminata are based on qualitative interviews and focus group discussions conducted during an evaluation of a girls’ scholarships program in Sierra Leone. The original photograph (taken by staff of the organization) upon which the first drawing is based shows a young scholar, smiling, face tilted down, avoiding eye contact with the camera. To me, her image represents myriad emotions observed by many girls who participated in the study—happiness, shame, embarrassment, pride, sadness. The four pictures unpack the layers of these emotions which are simultaneously present for the girls. The first image is a realistic drawing of the original photograph, capturing the complexity of these multiple emotions. The second image is a sketch of the original, meant to represent the simultaneous happiness of being back in school and timidness which lingers in many of the girls, who had otherwise been excluded from educational opportunity and who were living lives viewed by society as shameful, including hawking on the streets, engaging in sexual activities for money and goods, and married and/or pregnant. The third image introduces some of the sadness hidden beneath girls’ playful exterior, as indicated by their statements about being glad to be out of their past situations and worry about whether they will be able to continue their education once the scholarship is finished. The final image is one of hope and pride, demonstrated by the accomplishments girls shared with us—such as becoming head girl in her school—and their dreams for the future—like being the First Lady of Sierra Leone.
Reflection on the Process and Product
As stated above, my piece, The Faces of Aminata, is based on interviews and focus groups with adolescent girls in Sierra Leone who participated in a girls’ scholarships program I was hired to evaluate. The evaluation’s purpose was to support organizational and community learning in order to provide guidance for future programming. The evaluation also aimed to demonstrate accountability to girl scholars, organizational partners, and donors. The objectives of the evaluation were: (1) to critically evaluate the impact of the Scholarships Program; (2) to identify opportunities to enhance or expand the program beyond its current parameters to achieve the organization’s goals and mission; and (3) to engage community-level stakeholders and encourage them to develop their own vision of change, which will influence future program development. In this reflection, I consider the usefulness of this piece in relation to this purpose and these objectives (of course, I do this retrospectively and hypothetically, having done these drawings after the evaluation was complete), particularly in relation to its usefulness for analysis and data presentation, as well as practical issues.
First, the process of drawing this piece was very useful in helping me to think critically about the data. To me, that is because the prompt—to draw four drawings, each slightly different from the one before it—required me to focus on one “object” (a theme, a moment, a quotation) and portray it four different ways. Doing so required looking for the nuance, complexity, and contradiction in that object. I wasn’t able to verbally identify the layers of emotion I articulated in the artist’s statement before doing the drawings—in fact, it was only when I decided to draw the photograph that I was prompted to think about the girl’s expression, the meaning behind it, and relate that to the meaning behind the girls’ words during the interviews and focus groups. Only in doing the drawing was I able to bring to awareness the complexity of emotions I witnessed.
Next, I also consider the usefulness of this piece in representing the data. According to the first objective, the evaluation was intended to critically evaluate the impact of the scholarships program for girls, families, and communities. Likewise, the second objective was to identify ways to enhance or expand programming. I believe that this piece complements traditional analyses to achieve these objectives. It is important to consider that this piece does not convey any Truth or set of truths. Instead, it illuminates nuances and complexities. This is a challenge of this particular piece in terms of the stated objectives of the evaluation. Perhaps the value of this piece is not in meeting, at least entirely, any of the stated objectives, but complicating people’s understandings of the answers they get when those objectives are met. In other words, when they learn that the program has impacted girls by allowing them to get back into school, they may also learn from these drawings that scholars’ experiences are not one dimensional. They are nuanced, complicated, and mixed. Girls feel pride for being back in school, but they also still feel embarrassment for being significantly older than their peers or for lacking basic skills. They may work very hard to get good grades, but they struggle to maintain those grades because they don’t have a light to study with at night. They feel hope for their future and view education as the key, but they also feel fear and sadness knowing they likely won’t be able to continue their studies once the scholarship ends.
Finally, I reflect on the practical
issues of using drawing for analysis and representation of findings in the
context of an evaluation. For analysis, this process was valuable but also
quite time consuming. However, I could see how nightly memoing using a set of
drawing prompts (or creative writing prompts) could be very worthwhile during
fieldwork. Drawing is also quite feasible because it requires little experience
and few materials. Just some scrap paper, a writing utensil, and a prompt are
all I need! In terms of presentation of data, I also think that drawing comics
could be a particularly useful way to share the results of the evaluation. The
organization whose program I evaluated created a communications piece from the
evaluation report, which could benefit tremendously from sketches or comic
strips to highlight the important themes or issues. Lastly, what I feel would
be most useful would be participatory drawing activities. The organization was
keen to use drawing, collage, and participatory photography for data
collection. Photos of the art pieces produced were used in the evaluation
report, and in the case of the participatory photography we had a share-out
with teachers and parents of the girls who participated. I feel that for a
program evaluation, what is most valuable for presenting the data are the
girls’ art pieces themselves.
 Name changed for privacy.
Arts-Based Research Methods: Showpiece
Instead of serving up this plate of
serve the community.
Never had to fight because I’m a Black person
until I had
Can’t let my guard down.
Didn’t know I’d be charged with making sure
my children are not treated like shit.
Making sure they feel safe.
But if you don’t fight for your children,
No one else is going to do it.
I had to start talking to him about the color of his skin
You can’t do those things that you see the white kid doing
I know it feels unfair
It is unfair
Just going to the bathroom
Two boys of color can’t walk together
Without you thinking they’re going to do something?
Swastikas in the bathroom and nigger on the wall
It’s the same cornbread
People who have power don’t know how to deal with people experiencing racism.
As a child my whole world was white;
I was raised as a white kid.
My parents never took effort to teach –
about my culture,
where my people are from.
When YOU are the only person in your whole life
that you see,
you tend to be leery of everyone else.
People come to me:
Oh, you’re too white.
You’re not Black enough.
What is my Blackness?
Am I too Black?
Am I not Black enough?
Oreo, Brown Sugar. You name it. It happened
You want to fit
And everybody in school is white.
So…adjust to the people around you.
Their racism is not in the forefront –
But they make jokes about Blacks and Puerto Ricans and Mexicans
Out grocery shopping, see another Black person,
Oh my god, there’s more than just me out here!
Parenting and Schooling
School system’s in denial about racism
Kids don’t have anybody they can sit and look at, say,
Hey I can identify with you, with your struggle.
Principal segregates him
He was by himself.
You’re running a racist operation here.
I was standing my ground.
And for him to use the words
You’re too hostile
There’s a school to prison pipeline
and you’re punishing kids of color harder.
Oh well, I’m sorry if I make you feel uncomfortable
You can’t force a kid to apologize when he’s feeling humiliated
When he doesn’t feel he’s in the wrong.
Black History Month.
We’re going to talk about how everybody is the same
Except he feels like he and another friend are being followed
in the morning
and not allowed to go into the bathrooms.
You can’t tell kids they cannot go to the bathroom in the morning.
More so because they’re kids of Color.
Explaining the same thing
I’m voicing my opinion,
I’m standing up for my kids.
If I was white, I could say this.
Nobody would bat an eye.
I don’t want special privilege,
or to be treated differently.
Just an even playing field for my kids.
respect the way I feel,
my kids’ feelings.
Don’t diminish my kid’s feelings.
When it comes to our kids in school,
the reactions we get?
Not always the greatest.
If you aren’t aggressive enough,
they will walk all over you,
walk all over your kid,
or your kids needs are totally ignored.
And I don’t want kids graduating that can’t read and write
because I wasn’t forceful enough expressing their needs
Sometimes I wonder…
Did I do enough?
Did I say enough?
Am I doing too much?
Saying too much?
Being a parent?
It’s not an easy job.
Am I doing it right?
Throw on having kids of Color
it adds like a whole nother layer
Am I really doing this right?
You’ve got to pick and choose your battles.
HANK and FRANCIS
Parenting and pivoting in the direction of dreams
I hope for safety in the world.
in every sense of the word.
The key to survival
is the ability to
If this doesn’t stay a place
where black men
and the gay men
raising them can live safely –
to someplace else.
I want my son to feel safe.
To move in the circles
where he will be safer.
To feel he has every right
to walk into a store.
To walk the streets.
To be conscious
of his appearance,
the way he carries himself,
the image he puts out there in the world
and how people will read that image,
about how to interact with him
based on who they think they see.
And interacting with police…
Trayvon might be alive
if he hadn’t been Black.
with Black men’s bodies
and women’s bodies.
The more strong women
our son knows,
the more he knows their stories –
of how they got there,
struggles they fought to overcome,
the less likely he is to be taken
by stupid feminism memes.
The more poor people
our son interacts with
the more he’s able to understand
negative images of poverty.
The more our son interacts with
folks who’ve struggled with addiction,
the better he understands
the importance of staying away from drugs
showing compassion to those trying to quit.
If he sees his blackness as something not good,
if he sees his being as adopted as something not good…
the more you think you’re not good,
the more likely you are to self-harm.
He doesn’t like to talk about it always,
but I make sure time doesn’t go by
without us talking –
about who he is,
how he sees himself,
how he feels about himself,
how he sees other people.
You don’t have to try to be Black
you just are.
There’s as many ways to be Black
as there are people who are Black.
He needs conversations about boundaries.
what it means to be part of a group of boys –
a group of boys should not turn into a wolf pack.
And here’s how we do it.
Here’s how we take care of each other
and we protect our boys.
But we also protect our female friends
and girls we don’t even know.
See beyond ourselves,
get out of the smallness of our lives,
connect in different ways,
have more experiences.
The more reality you see,
the more you’re able to detect
and unpack the memes.
Become more trusting and vulnerable.
Learn to relax and take it easier on himself.
Take it easier on others.
Learn to strive for success,
but not be afraid of failure.
It all remains to be seen.
HANK and FRANCIS
You never stop coming out
As gay folks we know,
Oh when did you come out?
Well he came out yesterday,
to the new teacher.
It’s not something that happens once.
It’s every time you meet new people.
You never stop coming out.
You never stop having to tell people.
Every time he makes new friends.
Every time he’s with somebody different.
Every time he’s on a different soccer team,
wiffleball team –
He has to come out to them.
He has to come out all the time:
’Is that your dad?’
But he’s white.
‘Wait is that your dad?’
‘But that’s not the same guy who picked you up the other day.’
Yea, that’s my other dad.
‘You have two dads?’
Everybody assumes that you’re straight,
or married to a woman.
You get used to it.
if you’re more private,
then having to come out:
as trans racial adopted,
as having gay dads.
It’s made him angry.
These differences, other people can’t see.
Most are smart enough
not to say anything racist.
but they can’t see
So, if Black kids
say something about white folks,
because they think
no white folks are around?
They don’t realize
they’re talking about
And if they say something
about gay folks,
they don’t realize
they’re talking about
He would defend us
to the earth’s end,
like most people would
defend their parents.
Can you let that kid who just said faggot go?
Or does he have to say something?
He doesn’t always feel
like rocking the boat.
Researcher’s statement: These found poems reflect the words and perspectives of four of the five parents in a recent study which attempts to answer two primary research questions: What are the lived experiences of youth of color (k-12 context) and their families living and attending school in predominantly white, predominantly rural communities? To what extent do participants utilize cultural capital to navigate personal and academic experiences? The words selected for these poems are the participants’ original words, taken out of transcripts and rearranged to communicate a powerful story that I felt the data was telling. These words represent the external conflict that participants experience and navigate, their internal thoughts and conflicts, as well as the sources and forms of personal, familial and cultural capital that they possess. My status as insider/outsider allows me to share and relate to their experiences of parenting children of color, but our differing social locations has raised several ethical questions about how and to what extent I, as a white, cis-hetero woman, can responsibly communicate the stories of others. Therefore, it was very important to me that their voice, words and experiences be centered through this approach. In utilizing the found poem technique, I was able to communicate how they perceive these experiences, strengths and what they value through a more authentic approach that included their original voice and words. Finally, given the ways in which my participants often invoked the term “only” to describe themselves, their children, and perceptions of their experiences, representing their experiences in a collective, unified way underscores the notion that we are not alone, we are not the only, and that these stories – individually and collectively – are powerful and deserve inclusion in our conversations about culturally sustaining approaches to teaching and learning that seek to understand and listen to the experiences, perspectives, and many strengths that youth of color and their families possess.
How the process and pieces exemplify high quality ABR
This collection of found poetry represents my attempt to meet high-quality ABR standards in several ways. First, these participant-voiced poems, draw on the interview transcripts and aim to honor and center participants’ voice, language and speaking styles (Leavy, 2015). I relied on member-checking throughout by sharing these poems with my participants who approved of their construction. Mary even shared that she “felt honored” to see her words rendered in this way. Writing these poems invited me to “open a space to represent data in ways that …are attentive to multiple meanings, identity work, and accessing subjugated perspectives” (p. 78). Woven throughout these founds poems are the multiple meanings that participants across varying social identities make about their lived experiences, their parenting experiences, and their experiences as sentinels of their children’s schooling experiences. As a collection, these poems are intended to tell a broader story and communicate perspectives not often heard or invited in conversations about effective schooling practices for youth of color. I wanted these poems to speak back to the deficit discourse that exists and which I have so often born witness to in both my parenting and teaching life. Rather than grouping parents into one demographic that paints them with a singular brush, I wanted these poems to convey the strength, wisdom, and rich diversity of the families in my study.
Next, these pieces reflect what I consider to be my beginning attempts at critical arts-based research that aim to draw attention to a “cultural borderland” that exists “between poetry and prose” (Maynard & Cahnmann-Taylor, 2010, p.4). These cultural borderlands also exist for the participants in my study who straddle multiple cultural borderlands in their everyday lives and draw on these bordering perspectives to advise, raise, and advocate for their children. I set out on this study to try to gain a deeper understanding of how others experience their social world. Engaging with found poetry allowed me to create what I consider social realist poetry (Maynard & Cahnmann-Taylor, 2010) that is both attentive to and representative of these social worlds that both converge and diverge as they work to tell a collective story. By taking this approach, I draw on the idea put forth by Donald Blumenfeld-Jones, who posits that ABR has great potential “to address that human experience and address power” (Cahnmann-Taylor & Siegesmund, 2018, p. 48). This poetry attempts a critical aim to situate these experiences within a broader system of power and the painful carelessness of privilege. It is my hope that these found poems allow the words of my participants to name and represent their experiences of navigating a majority-white, heteronormative society.
Finally, the creation of these poems helped me to grapple with the conflict of my own positionality and the many identities that I hold. Engaging with my participants’ words and perspectives in this way ultimately afforded me the space to wrestle with the “magnitude of entanglement” (p.4) that I constantly feel. These entanglements are complicated not only by my positionality as a white, cis-hetero researcher, but also in my role as community member, educator, friend, and parent. The magnitude of my entanglements has been the source of great reflexivity, where I am always stepping back to move forward as I attempt to situate my perspective alongside those of my participants. Poetry has given me a vehicle to stay true to their words and (hopefully) avoid the risk of co-opting or misrepresenting the message that their words communicate. Though the ordering and selection of their words were manipulated by me, the thread that holds and connects the words of Mary, Jeanne, Hank and Francis is wholly theirs. I simply had to keep my open eyes open to locate the thread. My hope is that these poems respectfully convey this thread and honor and amplify their voices.
Cahnmann-Taylor, M., & Siegesmund, R. (Eds.). (2017). Arts-based research in education:
Foundations for practice. Routledge.
Leavy, P. (2015). Method meets art: Arts-based research practice. Guilford Publications.
Maynard, K.& Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2010). Anthropology at the edge of words : Where poetry and ethnography meet. Anthropology and Humanism, 35(1), 2–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1409.2010.01049.x.Maynard
The research I am working with this semester is the relationship between a Masters in Education and its productivity in preparing teachers to work in urban schools.
Some of the questions I have been asking are, does a Master in Education adequately prepare teachers to face the many facets of teaching in a low income environment? And what teaching qualities, potentially such as classroom experience, personal understanding and cultural awareness, might contribute to the success of a teacher outside of a Master’s degree. Based in inner city public schools, my question revolved around non-white students and teachers, who make up the majority of the population in the Springfield School District where I conducted my research, and in inner city schools in general.
I found, in many cases, experience – in and outside of the classroom – is just as important as degrees. Some things cannot be taught and in that, many teachers who come from similar backgrounds to their students create more positive and fruitful relationship than teachers without working experience and/or cultural experience.
My collage illustrates how school in a traditional sense (orange), the culture created around educational theory based out of one demographic, can be accented by experiences. The pink, yellows and blues of the teachers and students experiences are integrated, albeit slowly, and never overpowering the orange, which is always the base of the institution and its knowledge.
Through integration and appreciation a door is created, allowing for more diverse and dissonant voices to be heard. Although it is rough and crooked, it is there, open toward students and teachers.
Being a PhD student is a privilege in so many ways, and it is not easy. The conversations happening around graduate student mental health are complicated. We hear over and over again that there is a crisis happening, that rates of anxiety and depression among PhD students around the world are up to six times higher than the general population (Evans, Bira, Gastelum, Weiss, & Vanderford, 2018; Flaherty, 2018). There are numerous implications for the future of the academic profession, but what does that mean for those of us who embody this reality on a day-to-day basis? This piece is an attempt to articulate the experience of anxiety and depression as a PhD student.
The mask is not meant to be worn. Instead, it is a representation of what we might see if we were able to turn ourselves inside out and show our inner worlds to others. Our feelings are fluid, but this is that phase.
On the outside, we still appear human enough to get by. We pass each other in the hallways, avoiding eye contact so we do not have to participate in the same old “Hey, how are you?” (smile) “Oh, you know. It’s that time of year!!” ritual, unable to say how we really feel. There are only so many times you can do that before you are tempted to say “I am hurting.” But that would mean we are not strong enough to handle this, that we are not cut out for academia. So we hide. We bury ourselves in our work or in self-medication or in a cave where no one can find us. Too often, we do not talk to each other about that phase. The loudest silence amidst this mental health crisis.
The inside is different. This is where it is safe enough to fall apart. There is chaos and confusion and pieces that are broken or out of place. But there is also creativity and empathy and joy and inspiration and a longing to share with others. This is also the place where it is safe enough to begin our rebuilding.
Right now, we become stronger despite so much of what we go through in graduate school. Imagine what it would be like to feel as if we became stronger because of graduate school. Not because of the relationships we build with the people who help us through. Not because of the satisfaction we get from pouring our hearts and souls into our work. Not because of the knowledge that our contributions can make the world a better place. But because of graduate school itself. How would that mask look?
Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a
mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature Biotechnology, 36, 282–284.
Flaherty, C. (2018, March 6). New study says graduate students’ mental health is a “crisis.”
Megan Bergeron DiSciscio
This project is the culmination of three different artistic explorations centered around my work with an existing body of survey data of Virtual Choir participants. Virtual Choir is a concept originated by composer Eric Whitacre. The first Virtual Choir in 2010 involved 185 singers. Participants recorded and submitted video of themselves singing one of the vocal parts of Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque”. The videos were then edited into a single performance of the choral piece. The most recent project, Virtual Choir 5, is described as having “thousands” of participants from over 120 countries (Whitacre, 2019).
The data for this project comes from a previous, unpublished survey of Virtual Choir participants by UMass music education faculty, Dr. Stephen Paparo. During analysis, I focused on the participants who expressed negative emotions related to their voice, appearance, or overall experience. I am curious about the difference between traditional choral singing, which is communal and emphasises uniformity of appearance, and the Virtual Choir which is individualistic and requires the participant to film and watch themselves perform.
The first element of this project I created was the mask. I am interested in the relationship between the voice and the face. While most musicians can clearly delineate between their instrument and self, singer-identity is more closely tied to physical appearance, especially with video-performance (Cayari, 2017). The role of the vocal fold mask is to create a physical representation of the voice that replaces the face so that the performer can focus solely on singing.
The next element I created is the poem, “Unaccompanied”. The poem uses two excerpts from participants who expressed mostly negative views of participation in the Virtual choir. The middle stanzas use words that appeared frequently in participant responses, regardless of the overall experience described. The music consists of three layered vocal lines and a vocal percussion part with no text and is inspired by the themes of isolation and uncertainty.
I couldn’t watch my own video past the first few seconds
I don’t like
The sound of my voice all alone
How to blend with silence
What to listen for
How to hear
I can’t hide
I felt distant by the end, I knew I had been scrubbed.
The final product uses the masks, poem text and musical composition to create a multitrack video similar to the virtual choir. While the composition has no text, the text of the poem can be seen around the outer edges of the mask. Each part is independent but complimentary to the other three parts. The first part, which also features text that emphasizes vocal isolation, is the only part that is heard entirely alone.
I felt that as a researcher, it would help me to better understand the perspective of the participants if I also made a video. The concept of the mask was theoretical at first, but I found that I loved having something to hide behind. Filming this project truly helped me empathize with my participants. Making something like this is completely out of my comfort zone and as I worked on it, I found myself feeling many of the emotions written on the mask.
In the future, I’m interested in doing more work with the vocal fold masks. I really think they could facilitate conversations with singers about the relationship between the face and voice. I’m particularly interested in people whose voices might not match their physical identity, such as trans*+ singers and singers experiencing hormonal voice change. I am exploring the possibility of conducting a workshop where participants decorate their own mask and elaborate about the process in a roundtable discussion.
Reflecting on this course and this project, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage in various types of artistic expression. As a musician and music educator, I have come to realize that I have heavily compartmentalized my academic and artistic selves. In addition to this being harmful to my own identity and mental health, I think it is also a weakness within my field. As music education researchers, many of us rarely engage in creative work. Additionally, there seems to be a delineation between “serious” researchers and those who continue to engage in creative work. I hope to find colleagues who are willing to work with me to change that.
Cayari, C. (2017). Virtual vocal ensembles and the mediation of performance on YouTube.
Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences.
ProQuest Information & Learning.
Whitacre, E. (2019). Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir. Retrieved from
Rite of passage
I speak as a mother
as a parent
a mother of two boys
the parent of a gender non-conforming child
a mother of three daughters
we have a responsibility
the work of creating
she wanted to be nice but didn’t like the hugs
and it’s heir, shame
we can do better
our children can’t wait
for all of the adults in our community to feel comfortable
we can do better
I speak as a mother
our children can’t wait
to feel comfortable with their existence
by Mira Weil
Rite of passage is a found poem written from data collected in 2018-2019 during a project to create and implement a body-positive sexuality and gender education and empowerment program at a public elementary school. All of the words/phrases in the poems are taken directly from letters written by parents, teachers, and supporters of the program. I chose to focus on one of the central themes of the data: personal sense of responsibility and the deep knowledge that we, as adults raising children, can do better for them than was done for us, and better than society currently offers.
About the process
Rite of passage is an example of high-quality Arts Based Research. The creation process began with using qualitative data analysis protocol to discover salient themes and pull out direct quotes from participants that bring those themes to life. Then the artist-me got to take over and let the data weave together into a tapestry of expression that tells a collective story voiced by many individuals. My training and practice as a poet guided the rhythm, physical shape, line breaks and use of formatting to form the messages that wanted to come through. While writing poetry is a craft that can be honed over a lifetime, there is no right and wrong in it. A poem works when it speaks to the reader, when it lights a fire or sparks a memory that opens doors in the reader’s heart. No poem will speak to everyone. For me, when I write poems, as some point I either know it is done, or have to tell myself to stop and let it be, knowing that one day it may change, and that every iteration has its story to tell.
To make this poem, I read through many dozens of pages of data, making notes and highlighting words, phrases, passages and themes that stood out to me. This served as a first round of coding. Initially I combed through all of the data, which include fields notes, meeting minutes, survey responses, transcripts from focus groups, letters and emails, administrative reports and drafts. After the first pass through, I decided to focus on the letters and emails the research team had received from parents, guardians, teachers, community members, outside experts, and administrators. This decision was based on the fact that the quantity of data and variation of data type necessitated a narrower focus in order to write.
The letters expressed a range of feelings: support, enthusiasm, concern, criticism, gratitude and need. I read through them a second time, making memos and selecting passages that moved me. In the course of that process I began to separate my notes into two categories: words and passages of concern, and words and passages of support. I let the data sit for a day or so, then returned to it and re-read the letters as well as the notes I had made. There were many more supporters than critics, and I found myself drawn to those highlighted passages. Rather than let my researcher’s need to convey all sides of the stories in data, I let my artist’s intuition begin to guide the process. Since I had a specific end-product in mind, a found poem, and I knew that it would be only one of many ways these data would be communicated, I felt fine about deciding to use this poem to spotlight just one theme. With this groundwork laid, I again read through the data, focusing on the passages of support I had highlighted.
I wrote down the words and passages that again jumped out at me in my notebook, threshing out anything that did not shine at me. This left me with a couple of pages of fragments and a clear theme that had emerged: the voices of parents who see how important it is to nourish their children’s vitality by providing honest, loving sexuality education. Although I call this “one theme”, I found that the sentiments parents and teachers expressed about it were layered and complex. There was urgency, sadness, hope, guilt, fear of failure, love.
The poem was beginning to take shape in my mind, so I shifted from my notebook to a computer where I could easily cut and paste and move things around. Passages and words flew from my notebook onto the computer screen and I let the poem come into being. With several read-throughs and edits, the poem was finished. The ethnographic statement above summarizes the core meaning that this poem attempts to express.
For as long as I can remember, I have considered myself a ‘writer’ but not an ‘artist.’ I have never excelled at the traditional ‘artistic’ activities like drawing, making music, or painting, and I used to dread attending art class in elementary school. Attending English class, however, was a pleasure; I greatly enjoyed reading and analyzing literature, as well as crafting my own responses through essays. It certainly did not hurt my opinions of these subjects that I received far superior grades in English class than I did in art class. Regardless, my opinions of English and ‘art’ were formed at an early age.
My love for English accelerated when I chose to major in the subject in college. Despite the abundance of literature I absorbed over my four undergraduate years, however, I only had limited opportunities to examine poetry. Though I was able to take one course focused on analyzing poetry, the majority of my major-centric coursework was focused on classic American literature and the works of prominent playwrights like William Shakespeare. Nonetheless, my growing love for the written word led me to develop a deep respect for poets, whom I believe to perfectly blend English and ‘art.’
Indeed, poetry is an apt representation of arts-based research, which Jones and Leavy (2014) define as “any social research or human inquiry that adapts the tenets of the creative arts as a part of the methodology. The arts may be used during data collection, analysis, interpretation and/or dissemination” (pp. 1-2). Given that two of the central aims of ABR are to disseminate the work to as many individuals as possible and to stay as true to human experience as possible, I naturally saw the overlaps with poetry, which seems perfectly suited to capturing an audience’s attention and conveying individuals’ experiences. ABR has distinct strengths over conventional research methodologies (see Leavy, 2015, 2017), and poetry capitalizes on these strengths. Further, it has been a respected and recognized medium for so long that I assumed poetry would receive less resistance than other forms of ABR, making it a more ‘natural’ bridge into the ABR world. The above reasons summarize why I chose to use poetry as the venue for my show piece for the Creative Folio. In the following section, I explain my own foray into arts-based research through the found poem I created.
The Process of ‘Economics’
In this section, I introduce the research at the heart of this project, and explain how I went about creating a poem (‘Economics’) to reflect the data I collected. It is important to first establish that the various identities in an individual’s life (e.g., spouse, student, sport fan) exist within a “salience hierarchy,” or a prioritization structure. The introduction of a new identity disrupts this hierarchy, as it forces individuals to evaluate which preexisting identities they can comfortably maintain.
Sport management scholars have recently begun exploring how parenthood (broadly) may impact individuals’ psychological attachment to their favorite sport teams (e.g., their fandom). I noted that limited attention, however, had been devoted to examining new parents’ fandom. Further, it has been clearly established that there are stages to parenthood; new parenthood, which emphasizes caring for and nurturing a young child through their first years of existence, is one such distinct stage (Galinsky, 1981). Few would argue with the idea that parenting a newborn is quite different from parenting an 8-year-old, a teenager, or an adult (Gutmann, 1975). This reality is what drove my interest in exploring the sport fandom of new parents.
To this end, I completed semi-structured long interviews with 27 self-identified sport fans who are raising young children (i.e., individuals who became parents within the previous six years). Using identity theory (and the idea of the ‘salience hierarchy’; Stets & Burke, 2000) as a theoretical lens, I explored these individuals’ lived experience in detail through these in-depth interviews, discovering how they have negotiated their salience hierarchies and how this negotiation has impacted their sense of self. Once it is completed, my research will provide scholars with a theoretical understanding of how new parenthood impacts fan identification, as well as practical insights on the new-parent consumer base for sport marketers.
During these interviews, participants disclosed intimate details from their lives and relationships. They shared the highs and lows of new parenthood. They also completed some self-psychoanalysis (which was somewhat surprising to me), reflecting on their fandom, why it matters to them, and how it influences their understanding of who they are. I did not attempt to lead them in this direction; instead, I tried to keep the interviews open, allowing participants to drive our conversations.
When it came time to create a poem about these wonderful individuals’ experiences, I strived to synthesize and relay the difficult and often at-odds reality of being a new parent and a sports fan. This difficulty (expressed through the metaphor of balancing one’s identities as one would balance their finances, current budget, and long-term investments) was the consistent theme that weaved throughout the interviews like the threads of a tapestry. I attempted to illuminate the arduous transitory period that these individuals have experienced as they have juggled their various valued identities and balanced self-care with being a loving and attentive parent.
To accomplish this purpose, I pulled in data from a wide variety of sources – online quotes, direct quips from individuals, book excerpts, and more. These data were all reflections of the accounts shared by the interviewees in my project – the best reflections I could find. What I tried to communicate above all was the indecision, the imperfect balance (like a constant tug-of-war), the struggle of being a new parent who also values other roles in his/her life.
What Did I Learn?
Arts-based research is a powerful
methodology, as I have noted by consuming the works and arguments for its value
offered in this course. Though it remains outside of my ‘comfort zone’ (likely a
result of me coming from the often-positivist-oriented business school and
having a long aversion to creating art myself), I have developed a newfound
respect for ABR broadly and poetry specifically. I recognize the incredible
difficulty inherent in taking data and making it accessible to different
audiences. Thus, I concur with the numerous scholars (e.g., Leavy, 2009) who
have argued that arts and science need not be separate, but can be combined to
effectively contribute to both the academy and the general public, and with
those who have encouraged qualitative researchers to ‘experiment’ with ABR to
expand their own research ‘toolbelt’ (Cahnmann-Taylor, 2008).