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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Latino/a Artist Educators (LAES) and Their Role in Creating and Sustaining Alternative Democratic Spaces in Miami
by Saavedra, Deborah T. Woeckner, Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, 2017, 339; 10622673
Abstract (Summary)

This exploratory study utilizes a qualitative, ethnographic approach to locate and contextualize Latino/a Artist Educators (LAEs) in Miami, Florida. Foundational and cutting-edge, it brings together many distinct perspectives to illuminate the power and promise of a newly imagined yet group of individuals to build and sustain alternative democratic spaces. Building on critical educators Paolo Freire, bell hooks, Henry Giroux and Howard Zinn, as well as extending the framework of critical theorists Gloria Anzaldúa, Cornel West and others, this research begins to sketch the influence of the LAEs interviewed in Miami from 2003-2013. As a sociocultural ethnographic study positioned at the crossroads of many fields, this research is hopefully the first step toward understanding the central value of LAEs’ work in Miami.

Through semi-structured interviews, participant observation, field notes, and archival data, the perspective of 52 individuals who self-identify as “Latino/a,” “artist,” and “educator,” are brought into view for analysis and discussion. Open-ended interview questions included queries ranging from motivation and inspiration, to identity, to perceptions of the Latino/a artist (LAE) community, to opinions on schooling and educational processes, to mentoring and how they sustain themselves. Sample questions included: “How does your ethnicity, background and culture shape or impact your art/work/teaching?” and “What can the art world learn from the ‘culture of education’ and vice-versa?”

The demographic breakdown of the 52 individuals participating in the research study included 30% Cuban, 26% Puerto Rican—with the real story in the remaining 44% representing a panoply of many Latino nations. LAEs averaged 36 years old at the time of interviews, with males outnumbering females, 56% to 44%. The average LAE has lived in Miami for 20 years. Although the preponderance of LAEs are performing artists (rather than visual artists), nearly 40% claim to be “multidisciplinary” or “interdisciplinary” and practice multiple artistic pursuits. Paradoxically, what LAEs have most in common is their diversity and divergence.

However, not all analysis yielded a divergence of results. LAEs resonated with synchronicity and strength around the expression of four themes—necessity, urgency, fluidity and agency. All stated explicitly that their creative endeavors were an inextricable part of their identity, providing expression, connection, mental challenge, and healing. None of the LAEs interviewed saw their art (and to a lesser degree, their teaching) as “optional.” This necessity, this insatiable, non-negotiable need to create and educate was accompanied by a palpable sense of urgency. Each LAE expressed with enthusiasm and intensity their works-in-progress and the realization that the situation with our youth is both pivotal and critical. Perhaps the most exemplary quality of LAEs in Miami is their astounding flexibility or fluidity, the ability to shape-shift, integrating and capitalizing on the specific milieu as it changes over time and space. Finally, these three combined—necessity, urgency, and fluidity—result in a powerful sense of agency; LAEs believe that their creative and educational investments are powerful influences in affecting the health and vitality of our youth, our schools, our communities and our society.

Many additional findings illuminate the range of LAEs teaching styles, motivational sources, philosophical and political views, and their characterization and critique of the LAE communities where they live, work, and create. These findings could be applied in countless ways to continue this trajectory of research and discovery—better supporting and understanding LAEs, clarifying the conflicted yet active role of resistance that artists play in the gentrification process, and even understanding how schools and our society need to evolve in order to support, nurture and protect democracy at its core—creating spaces for diverse views, dissent, dialogue, debate and maintaining the deepest respect in the process.

Future research should include more detailed analysis of collective and individual efforts of the activities of artist/educators involving gender implications, other ethnicities, and the importance of place by including other big cities. Additionally, other variables might be considered more thoughtfully: the central role of music in the creative process, as well as the impact of audience members, venue owners and emcees/hosts in co-creating alternative democratic spaces.

LAEs’ creative and educational work has impacts beyond our scope of measurement; to this day, numerous LAEs continue to create the fabric of the artistic, edgy, latino/a/caribeno/a, bohemian aesthetic—the “image”—that is so alluring internationally, and forms the basis for tourism and wealth in Miami, and the prerequisite for imagining the development of Wynwood. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Acosta-Belen, Edna
Commitee: Nepaulsingh, Colbert, Santiago Rivera, Azara
School: State University of New York at Albany
Department: Spanish-Latin American, Caribbean and U.S. Latino Studies
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 79/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Art education, Educational sociology, Ethnic studies
Keywords: Activism, Artist, Democracy, Education, Latino artist educators, Miami
Publication Number: 10622673
ISBN: 978-0-438-28699-3
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