AHA! A House for Arts

S7 E9 | FULL EPISODE

AHA! | 709

Plein air painter Daniel Schroeder found comfort and artistic inspiration in his backyard. What has Sunny Ra, Laurie M Tisch Educator for K-12 and Community Programs at the Tang Teaching Museum, learn from working with local students. Host Lara Ayad finds out. Jeff Brisbin performs "Golden" and more at WMHT Studios.

AIRED: September 14, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

(upbeat piano music)

- [Lara] Discover the extraordinary beauty

of ordinary things with artist, Daniel Schroeder.

Sunny Ra reveals the healing power of art.

And catch a performance from Jeff Brisbin.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA! A House For Arts.

- [Presenter] Funding for AHA! has been provided

by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include

the Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(bright upbeat music)

- Hi, I'm Lara Ayad, and this is AHA! A House For Arts,

a place for all things creative.

Let's send it right over to Matt Rogowicz

for today's field segment.

(animals chittering)

- [Matt] I'm here at the studio of Dan Schroeder

in West Sand Lake.

Now he said when I get here to head on

into the woods, so follow me.

(somber flute music)

- [Dan] I am a painter, mostly a plain air painter,

meaning I paint outside.

(birds chirping)

There's this whole world going on in the yard

that is sort of alien to people.

We were aware of it on one sense,

but when you really get down

and sit in the grass and observe it up close,

there's just this alien world

and the subjects are everywhere.

There's a lifetime to work

in just this yard alone.

(gentle piano music)

This current body of work that I've been working on,

all started in 2020 during the pandemic, of course.

I had actually just moved from Brooklyn,

sort of feeling the pandemic.

And it was kind of lucky in a way,

because I really wanted to get out of the city

and work from observation from nature.

And it was in a way the perfect opportunity

just to be isolated in the woods,

try to make the best of it.

Before I would concentrate on the natural aspects

within the city and within Brooklyn,

and against this manmade backdrop.

But I really been just longing to get back into the woods.

The light changing can drastically change

how you see things.

So, sometimes I'll be walking through the woods

and I'll pass the same subject 100 times.

And then one time I see it in the right light

and I think, "Oh, that's a painting."

But after that, it's pretty straightforward.

There's really no mechanical intervention.

And by that, I mean no photography or anything,

just the paint and brush onto the canvas.

And that's the way I like it.

To really be able to feel the texture of the leaves

and the trees, and to get that sense of tactility,

it's vital that I'm there in person,

even though the weather is always changing

and the light is always changing,

the paintings become more a synthesis

of looking at something over a period of many hours

or days even instead of one snapshot of it.

(melancholy piano music)

I started doing these paintings of this pond

and I did quite a number of them.

And I was most interested

in these little ripples

that would come across the surface,

when a fish would come up to feed

or a rain drop would hit the surface.

And they proved extremely challenging

because water is such a fluid,

obviously thing that it's just changing constantly

and reflections of the plants are always changing

and the sun is always changing the quality of it.

But I did enjoy trying to capture that.

(gentle piano music)

I'm definitely drawn to painting all narrow trees.

They're just so charismatic in themselves

but also a good subject for understanding how time

and how the elements have shaped these trees

into these pretty much ready-made sculptures.

So, the thing I'm always thinking about is time

and how time is observed in the natural world.

And this can range from the split second,

like a ripple across the water

or things that can be observed

that have taken hundreds,

thousands, even millions of years like the geology.

And I am really interested in how you can go out

and see traces of this long scale, geologic time.

(gentle piano music)

In a way, the pandemic gave me excuse

to embrace being isolated, which was everyone deals

with things differently, but I got some benefit out of that.

And also just watching these natural processes take place

in nature and realizing that things are cyclical

and there's always decay on the forest floor,

but there's always new life sprouting out of it.

And there's always just a unimaginable amount

of intricate life going on in that.

It's good to know that these things are going on around us,

no matter what's going on in the human world.

- Sunny Ra is the Laurie M. Tisch Educator

for K through 12 and community programs

at the Tang Teaching Museum in Saratoga Springs

part of the outreach mission of the Tang.

Sunny directly engages with students at area schools,

exposing young minds to art of all kinds.

What did Sunny learn from working with local students?

I sat down with her to find out.

Sunny, welcome to A House For Arts.

It's a pleasure to have you.

- Thanks for having me.

- I know you've been working as an artist,

and arts educator, and administrator for over 15 years,

which is just incredible.

Now, you're coming here from the Tang Teaching Museum,

and before we've talked on the show

about the Tang as this lab for experimentation with art

and with art making and art viewing,

but I'm really interested in your role,

Sunny, doing community outreach,

working with K through 12 education.

So tell us a bit about your role at the Tang.

- Yes, so in my role at the Tang,

I work with K through 12 audiences,

both inside the classroom and outside of the classroom.

Sometimes they come visit me at the Tang Museum itself,

and I also work with different community organizations

like libraries, and different social service organizations,

that support K through 12 students.

And I also work with Skidmore faculty to collaborate

and introduce disciplinary learning

for workshops at the museum as well.

So, I work with a wide variety of students.

- I wanna come back to your experiences with K through 12

in just a minute,

I know you work a lot with local schools,

which is awesome, but tell us a little bit about your work

with Skidmore students,

because I understand that they get like really involved.

- Sure, one of the important experiences I've had thus far

at Skidmore working with Skidmore students

is the collaboration I did with the dance department.

And we work with Bridges,

which is a local organization in Saratoga

that works with adults

with cognitive and developmental challenges.

And the professor Sarah DiPasquale,

she asked me to collaborate with her students

in working with Bridges and creating a dance movement

with the participants of Bridges and using an artwork,

a June Snyder painting as a catalyst for ideas

and thinking and discussion.

- And its right there in the space, correct?

- Yes. - But they're with

the painting or the work by Snyder.

- Yes. - I have that right, yeah.

- Yes, and we installed a painting in one of our spaces

and we had a really nice conversation

about what they're seeing and why,

what kind of things and ideas are popping in their head

and the Skidmore students in the class

use those ideas and the language

and the words that they used to describe the piece

and creating the movement

that they were later performed at the museum.

- Oh, that's amazing.

So, what's your approach then

when you're entering that K through 12 realm instead,

'cause now we understand what some of the students

at Skidmore are doing.

What have you encountered

when you've worked with K through 12 students?

Have they done or said anything that's surprised you,

maybe give an example of that?

- Yes, sure.

So, we work with a lot of different artworks

in our permanent collection, as well as our exhibitions.

And so, I generally bring an artwork and art piece

that students get to look at and talk about their ideas

and create an inspired art project.

So, a lot of the ideas from kids

are from throughout the capital region

are very, very different and diverse.

And some of the surprises have been like

when I worked with artwork with Hassan Hajjaj.

- The Moroccan photographer.

- Yes.

It's a very vibrant piece

and there's a lot of things happening in that piece.

And so, I've had some kids say,

"Oh, I see myself, I see my family.

I'm from Northern Africa and the colors,

the textiles, and the skin tone

of the figure reminds me of home and my family."

And then we have a rich cultural exchange of ideas.

They ask me where I'm from and where my family is from

and things like that.

And it could be a really beautiful thing.

And then also, if there's another experience I've had

in a different school, in a different location

where students say, wait, this is a artist

from Northern Africa, from Morocco,

how can this figure be from Africa?

Africa is poor.

So you get a wide range

of us sometimes challenging responses,

but it informs me of how I can better support

the schools, the students in their learning experience.

- Yeah, so you're able to challenge

some students' expectations

of what they might see,

for instance, when they look at a piece of photography

from an African photographer

and they totally defies their expectations.

- Yes. - But they also

opens up dialogue to talk about,

okay, well, what does that mean?

What is Africa?

And how is it not a country.

And things like that.

But I'm sure are really enriching,

and it's nice to sound like there's that space

for students to be able to do that without judgment,

but to also kind of critically challenge themselves too.

- Yes, so I think if we create a space of learning

and unlearning, and I think that's really important.

- So, I'm curious to kind of know

a little more about your painting

as it relates to the work you do,

because it sounds like the work you do

at the Tang is so people-focused.

And then when I look at your works as an artist,

like your paintings have no human figures in them at all,

I think there's no people

and I know that might sound simplistic,

but I'm just so curious in that contrast,

where do you find the inspiration

to create works such as these.

- So my work is derived from my experience

of growing up as a Korean-American woman in Kentucky.

My parents immigrated here in the mid-70s.

And so, it was sort of thinking

about my identity as a Korean American woman,

but also as just like an American in Kentucky.

So, my experience of not feeling quite American,

I was actually told that I'm not American growing up.

And I was like, "What does that mean?"

And what does it mean to be American?

And it's something I continue to think about,

I think, as a country we think about.

And then also not feeling quite Korean,

like my Korean, my speaking is pretty poor.

My understanding of the culture

is somewhat just what my parents have taught me

and what our home life is like.

So it was like living in this kind of a middle ground,

this transient-space.

- It's like you're in limbo, right?

- Yeah, absolutely.

So my paintings

are about this experience of feeling

not quite in one place or another,

sort of being in a middle ground.

So I thought of the American landscape

as getting in your car on the road

as this kind of space where I'm thinking

about these different challenging identity issues.

And so, that's where the abstraction comes into play.

It's a bit about the remnants of the human experience.

And I think a lot of people can connect to that experience,

especially for families who have immigrated here

and thinking about who they are.

- So, I wanna talk actually more about Kentucky,

'cause you mentioned you're originally from there

and you've worked in an art and healing program in Kentucky.

Is that right?

- Yes, that's correct.

- What other kind of work did you do there

and how did art play a role in healing

when you were working there?

- Yeah, so I coordinated schedules

with professional artists,

local artists in the area and global

to bring arts and healing

into different healthcare settings.

So I watched musicians, visual artists,

performers, writers bring their art form

into different spaces such as VA hospitals

or social service groups,

which work with kids who have been abused and neglected

and pulled from their homes,

or women who were transitioning

through opioid addiction as well

and these residential rehabilitation programs.

And I saw how art became a catalyst

for them to sort of process their traumas

and how to kind of transform

or maybe even piece together their lives

from these traumatic events and experiences.

- This is really interesting, Sunny,

because we've been having so many discussions

in our society recently about public health,

particularly as it pertains to COVID,

we've got this Delta Variant coming through.

It's quite threatening.

But oftentimes, I think we talk about public health

in terms of you've got a disease

and you fix it with medicine.

- But what I'm kind of hearing from you

and actually what I've seen,

I've seen large organizations

coming out with studies over the past 10 years

that show that doing dance,

making paintings, writing,

or whatever that may be

is it can actually help promote public health

on a more holistic level.

Would you agree with something like that?

And maybe give an example

of how you've seen that really play out for people.

- Absolutely.

I think art, it builds community and it builds connection,

I think, especially during COVID.

That's something that I think we all kind of are thinking

about is our disconnection with one another

and sort of lack of community and bonding.

And that's been really, I think, an important thing

that's kind of made us maybe become more aware of.

And I think from my experience

of seeing art as a healing tool,

for instance, I worked with a social group

that worked with kids

who just experienced something traumatic,

and they're trying to figure out

where to place them during this turbulent time.

And this one little girl came in the middle of our workshop

while the artist is playing music on their guitar.

And so, their kind of project, I guess,

is to kind of draw, listening to the music,

what inspires, and what moves, and how they're feeling

at that present moment.

And the little girl first grabbed a black crayon

on a piece of paper.

She drew very small in the corner.

And then after a while near the end of the hour,

she started drawing with a pink and a more vibrant color

and she filled the page.

So for me, that was very poignant.

The fact that she kind of went from one little corner

to being more expansive in her expression.

And that's one example.

And another is a peer support group

for veterans dealing with mental health challenges,

the peer support group leader,

when he was told that he was going to lead

a art group was very reticent.

And he was like, very nervous and was like,

"I don't know if I like this."

And then after a few months

of having trouble connecting art to healing

and helping other veterans heal through their trauma,

he started to say, "Okay, what if we start to ceramics?

Why don't we start doing quilting?"

He was getting very excited

because he found that he was feeling an improvement

in his health and connecting with the other veterans,

even though they didn't wanna talk

about some of the things

that aren't making kind of,

was put in place for that conversation,

and it allows for that kind of moment of togetherness.

- Wow, so it sounds like the young girl

and some of these veterans,

I'm thinking of these examples, it sounds like the process

of making art and kind of pushing yourself

out of your comfort zone,

it's about kind of not conquering your fear,

but doing something along with your fear

that is courageous.

That is something that, oh, wow,

I never thought I had that in me

or I never thought I would do something like that.

And here are these people

just kind of organically coming out.

It just sounds like

that really is the definition of healing.

- Absolutely.

- Well, Sunny, it was such a pleasure

having you on A House For Art.

Thank you so much. - Thank you for having me.

Thank you for having me.

- Please welcome Jeff Brisbin.

- First song I'm gonna do tonight

is called "Golden,"

off my first album, "Uncharted Waters."

♪ And golden fingers, rub my eyes ♪

♪ And golden hands, my chest ♪

♪ Goldenize the piece of me ♪

♪ As they separate me from the rest ♪

♪ Golden voices sing to me ♪

♪ And golden ears do listen ♪

♪ Golden arms they stay near to me ♪

♪ As they lock me in the prison ♪

♪ They don't want you to fall down ♪

♪ It's a sad trip around, you'll see ♪

♪ What goldens your love sent from above ♪

♪ Just to save a poor boy like me ♪

♪ I wonder if she's wondering ♪

♪ What I'm doing ♪

♪ I wonder if she even cares if I live or die at all ♪

♪ I wonder if the floating grace enchants someone else now ♪

♪ I wonder if she wanted me to love her ♪

♪ I wonder if she wanted me to love her ♪

♪ To love her ♪

♪ Golden steps to lead the way ♪

♪ And golden ropes to guide me ♪

♪ Golden prisons scatter the light ♪

♪ That tries so hard to find me ♪

♪ Golden fingers, rub my eyes ♪

♪ And golden, hands my chest ♪

♪ Golden arms they stay near to me ♪

♪ As they separate me from the rest ♪

This next song is called "Blame It On Love,"

and people love this song.

And the recorded version, we've got a great sax solo

and kicks a little bit more than it will.

But this is just the way I wrote it.

So, this is kind of cool.

You get to see the raw unvarnished versions.

And this was about

a very dear friend of mine, Forrest Jenkins,

a musician, local musician.

He used to be in Saratoga, he passed away.

It's about him and his struggles.

♪ What makes the heart fall to pieces ♪

♪ Why must we struggle so ♪

♪ When the beating almost seizes ♪

♪ And we recover all these stitches to show. ♪

♪ What makes your will sometimes fail you ♪

♪ Why must we always give in ♪

♪ When you finally make it through ♪

♪ It all catches up with you again ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Isn't love why were being here ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Why can't it be clear ♪

♪ What makes your soul feel so empty ♪

♪ Why must we always give up the ghost ♪

♪ When we know it's the hearts debris ♪

♪ Those we love, will feel it the most ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Isn't love why we're here ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Why can't it be clear ♪

♪ Maybe we're not supposed to know the answers ♪

♪ Maybe we're not supposed to know the end ♪

♪ We keep on asking questions, to comprehend ♪

♪ What makes the heart, fall to pieces ♪

♪ Why must we struggle so ♪

♪ When beating almost seizes ♪

♪ And we recover, only stitches to show ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Is it love why we're here ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Blame it on love ♪

♪ Why can't it be clear ♪

♪ Why can't it be clear ♪

- Thanks for joining us.

For more arts, visit wmht.org/aha,

and be sure to connect with WMHT on social

I'm Lara Ayad.

Thanks for watching.

(bright upbeat music)

(melancholy music)

- [Presenter] Funding for AHA! has been provided

by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include the Leo Cox Beach

Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

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