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P.S. ARTS’ Curriculum & Instruction Specialist, Donzell Lewis, is a highly acclaimed youth theater educator/director, actor, and comedian, known for his exceptional talent and dedication to the arts. Previous to becoming the Curriculum & Instruction Specialist, Donzell dedicated a decade of his career as a Theater Teaching Artist for P.S. ARTS, where he successfully implemented a comprehensive theatre program for grades TK-5. Donzell’s approach is guided by a commitment to radical inclusivity, acknowledging and respecting diverse cultural legacies, challenging euro-centric standards, and engaging in courageous conversations that drive social change.

Here is Donzell, writing about his recent experience participating in a panel discussion organized by the Entertainment Community Fund, titled “The Biz of Being a Teaching Artist.”

Let’s commence this blog post by emphasizing a fundamental truth: every child is entitled to exceptional, anti-oppressive, and artistically rigorous arts education within the school system. Across America and the world, every classroom should serve as a catalyst, inspiring and nurturing the latent artist residing within our students. But before delving into a global perspective, let’s focus on our immediate surroundings, the sprawling expanse of Los Angeles County, California. Despite being the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles grapples with challenges in providing adequate arts education and access to students.

However, where challenges exist, there emerge dedicated problem solvers. P.S. ARTS and other committed arts education programs are at the forefront, seeking to address these issues. Through advocacy, teacher training, and coalition building, those of us in the arts education field tirelessly work to narrow the gaps of inequality in arts education. Together, we inspire, educate, and collaborate to ensure that local schools receive the quality training students rightfully deserve.

This is why, on October 17th, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion titled “The Biz of Being a Teaching Artist,” organized by the Entertainment Community Fund. Invited by Joanne Webb, the Director of Arts Education for The Entertainment Community Fund, I and several other arts education professionals shared insights with emerging educators in our field. It was a gratifying experience to come together in community and recognize that each of us plays a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of artists.

A teaching artist is indispensable to quality arts education as we navigate the unique terrain of being both an artist and an educator. We delve into theory and apply practice, creating while educating. This balance of knowledge allows students to receive expert training that is rigorous, stimulating, and aligned with the pulse of the industries in which we work. Being a teaching artist provides students with a connection to real-world arts leaders, reminiscent of learning through apprenticeship.

This is the experience our students receive when taught by a teacher who just premiered a movie, or when a painter, whose art graces a museum, curates a student art gallery the following week. This training is invaluable and essential to students. However, the career of a teaching artist is often non-traditional, non-linear, and a create-your-own-journey-type trajectory.

I commend P.S. ARTS, The Entertainment Community Fund, and other organizations for demystifying how to successfully pursue a career in this field. Sharing my insights on this panel was humbling, and I hope my advice proves beneficial to the many great educators present. One of my favorite questions asked was: How has being a Teaching Artist helped you grow as an artist?

The beauty of being a teaching artist lies in the transformative results that also impact the teacher. Being a teaching artist has exponentially increased my sense of play, imagination, and creativity. As an actor, I believed I knew all about imagination until I witnessed countless kindergarteners creating characters, songs, dances, and scenes inspired by a simple leaf! A child’s grasp of their imagination is one of their most potent tools. Witnessing children embrace creative lessons inspires me to do better, reminding me that the only limitations of imagination are those we set for ourselves.

When we shed the fear, stigma, or embarrassment of being “silly,” we tap into our innate ability to create magic. Imagination is our access to magic, and the most extraordinary things in this world were created because someone said “yes” to their imagination and made their idea become reality.

Every time I pick up a script, step into an audition room, or perform on a stage, I strive to be as brave and creative as my students. I don’t chase after the success of an award-winning actor; I chase after the sense of freedom students experience in a theater class.

The growth I help students achieve in my classroom is reciprocated by the growth they inspire in my professional world. Being a teaching artist is genuinely one of the most rewarding jobs because of this reciprocal process. We have the privilege to create and educate, and few things are as precious.

For all the educators and artists seeking to expand your artistry and educational practice, my foremost advice is to follow that dream. Pursue that spark of curiosity that makes you ponder about the magic of a classroom, for there are countless young artists awaiting guidance. Thank you to the artists, educators, and leaders working hard to provide students with quality training from quality teachers.  Furthermore, if you are ready to step into the classroom to shape young artists, follow P.S. ARTS for the upcoming Teaching Artist Spring & Summer Intensives (TASI). In this training, we will support you in becoming an influential and effective teaching artist ready to impact classrooms and communities seeking your experience.  

Donzell Lewis, Curriculum & Instruction Specialist, P.S. ARTS




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