Although Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has introduced a curriculum surrounding arts integration, the practice of integrated arts is handled differently at the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts).
Natalie Chami, head of the Vocalist department, described the early stages of creating the Integrated Arts course at ChiArts in an interview with ChiArts Double Space. Because the first graduating class of seniors were missing a credit, Terri Milsap, the principal at the time, offered the idea of some sort of collaborative arts course to make up for it. Milsap envisioned a class taught by different arts teachers, including Chami and two others who were former teachers of the Visual Arts and Dance Departments.
“She wanted us to be a class where students had the opportunity to experience their craft in a real-life setting,” Chami said. “The prompts that would maybe be a project would relate to the kids’ futures outside of school.”
However, as ChiArts changes, so will its courses. Chami and other original staff members no longer teach Integrated Arts, either due to conflicts in scheduling or other obligations. Currently, Integrated Arts is taught by Brenda Torres-Wakai, who has been teaching the course since Chami stepped down in 2015.
Curriculum-wise, the Integrated Arts course has not changed. Other than a few budgeting and scheduling issues, the course itself remains theoretically intact. However, Torres-Wakai wrote her thoughts in an email response to ChiArts Double Space about what she believes has changed about Integrated Arts:
How the process of learning through this class and how the content is interpreted, taught and assessed as of today is sensibly different. First due to the National Core Standards for Art which are the base of our assessments. Two, the acknowledgement of each class community, language and culture within. Third, the acknowledgement of individual student experiences, motivations and skills that help inform and shape both the processes and products involved on each unit. And, lastly having one teacher instead of two definitely helped change how logistically this class is taught.
Torres-Wakai also revealed a little bit of how she interprets Integrated Arts as a concept as well.
“My practice as interdisciplinary artist allows me to conduct a sensitive teaching practice connected not only to collaboration, but social justice and equity through the arts,” Torres-Wakai said.
She added, “Since this class content also involves contemporary art practices and collaborative learning the content is constantly changing, reshaping and transforming each year. We definitely build our final project since day one and the curriculum mainly reflect that continuity and intentionality with the final product expectations, responses and reflection in place.”
When asked about what she hoped that students would — and still continue to — take away from Integrated Arts, Chami said, “Finding their voice as an artist — how they would apply those skills and creating their own unique creative processes, I think, was the most important thing I hoped that they would take away.”