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TEDxMosesBrownSchool-Jenny Peek-4/19/2012

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(Applause) Hello, everybody. I am thrilled to be here, because I love the Moses Brown School and I'm a big fan of TED talks in general, and I love talking myself so I'm really excited. Before we get started, by a show of hands, how many artists do we have in the audience? Visual artists, actors, performing artists...alright. I've been lucky enough to have been surrounded by artists for most of my adult life. I have worked for more than 25 years in the performing arts, mainly on the management side of things so stage management, company management, production management, but surrounded by art, and I've worked in amazing things. But the thing that I am proudest of, the thing that I will always love the most, is the Manton Avenue Project, which is an organization that I founded eight years ago and ran for eight years. We are based on the 52nd Street Project in New York, which has been around for 31 years. Like them, we work with children and give them the art of playwriting, or help them find the art of playwriting within themselves. We work in the Olneyville neighborhood, which is this incredibly vibrant, underresourced neighborhood on the West side of Providence. Starting when the kids are eight years old, in third grade, we teach them playwriting. They become the playwrights. We produce five shows a year in which kids are the writers, and professional actors and directors — all of whom are volunteers — produce their works. It's an amazing thing. The kids sit at a desk, they take a bow, and it's really about using the art, not just to help the kids express themselves, but to introduce them to the artist within them, the person that is different and has something to offer that nobody else does. And by getting the accolades and understanding that person, they learn to value that person, and they understand what value they will be able to bring to the world — not just as writers, but as the individual people that they are. I came to Providence specifically to start the Manton Avenue Project. I lived in New York City for over sixteen years working in theatres, film, and TV and it was pretty happy, but I was getting a little frustrated and felt that I was spinning my wheels a little bit. And there was this moment — you know, what's amazing about life-altering moments is that when they're happening, we don't really realize they're significant but when we look back on them, we remember them in great detail. I can see myself standing in front of the Signature Theatre on West 42nd Street with Gus Rogerson, the artistic director of the 52nd Street Project. We had just finished a show that I had stage managed, and I was really frustrated. I said "Gus, I'm gonna move some place and I'm gonna start a project!" And he said "You should." And I think when I said it, I didn't mean it. But then I thought, "Well, why not?" And I got hired to stage manage a show at Trinity Rep — A Christmas Carol, in 2000, and said "Oh, Providence would be a good place!" And six months after the show closed, I moved here. Two years after that, I started the Manton Avenue Project. Clearly there was a lot of other stuff that happened between, because it's not that easy to start a non-profit organization, but that was the journey, the thing that brought the Manton Avenue Project into fruition. The reason I was really doing it is because I felt that there was a value that art brings to kid's lives, and that a lot of kids were not getting it on a regular basis. Moses Brown has an amazing arts program, and a lot of schools do, but it is really something that is starting to disappear to a great extent, particularly in a lot of public schools. So I wanted to be able to bring that to kids. I started elementary school in 1968, and during the sixties, I went to public school, and there was a lot of very, very creative education happening pretty universally at that time. It wasn't so much about teaching for standardized tests, which sometimes happens today a little bit more than it should in some schools. But not only that. I was surrounded by art on a regular basis. We had weekly music classes. We learned to play the flutophone. Who remembers the flutophone? You know you still can get a flutophone online? There's like twelve different resources — it's this plastic thing — it's a whole other TED talk, so I'll explain it on a TED talk another time. But you also could play a musical instrument! And my sisters took advantage of this: Stephanie started playing the violin when she was in second grade, and Jessica started playing the flute — Jessica still is a flutist, and an amazing music teacher. But it was there for the asking. Plays! You could be in a school play. In my elementary school life, every year you could be in a school play, all the way through junior high school. It was there, as were art classes, weekly art classes. I always loved art, and drawing, and things like that. But seventh grade art class, first class, this was another life-changing moment: I had been in the same class with people for all of my education, and we'd shared a lot, academically, we were doing pretty good, we loved school, we were very focused on that whole thing. But it was seventh grade, this art class, and Mr. Martin handed out paper and had us all draw something, just to see where we were as artists. I drew this thing, I handed it back to him, and at that moment, something changed. Because when he looked at that drawing, and he talked to me, suddenly we both realized that I had something to offer that my classmates didn't. I had something that made me stand apart in a really great way from all the people around me, and I discovered the artist that I was at that moment. And then what happened is I put that artist in a box. A lot of us do that, you know? High school beckoned, college, work, my life, and I just put her aside. Yes, I was working in the creative arts, but again, the management thing; the artist's voice was not there any more. But art was always important. Again, starting the Manton Avenue Project and bringing art into the kids' lives was amazing. And there were transformative moments: A father said to me, "Stephanie will never be the same again. She is so much more sure of herself because of the Manton Avenue Project." A nine-year-old shared that he had no problem sharing his ideas and imagination with people because he knew that — because they were his ideas — they would always be right. And that was such an amazing thing, and what they learning was so staggering. But suddenly I realized that I had learned even more than they did. I had learned something about myself. Without my knowing it, that artist self that had been put in a box was with me again. I was making decisions about programming, coming up with titles for the shows and themes. I was embracing the artist me, and I, through that, discovered the person who was different from everybody else around me. I started, in my forties, to completely value and understand what I could bring to the world that nobody else could. Art does that. It is why we need to fight to make sure that art is in kids' lives on a regular basis. Not only kids' lives, but all of our lives. Because the reality is, we are — all of us, all of us, all of us — playwrights, and poets, and painters. Because if you have a story to tell — and we all do — then you have a poem or play to write, then you have a painting to paint. We are born with the ability to be artists. We are born with the natural desire to be artists. If you turn on some music, a little tiny child will dance. You give them crayons, they will create something amazing. If you listen to them when they don't know you are listening, they will create amazing stories, and theatre, and songs that will just come from their imagination. They don't do it for the recognition. They don't do it for the accolades. They do it just because. So what I encourage all of you to do is what I did. Discover — or re-discover, actually — that artist that you are. Pick up a pen, pick up a pencil, go buy a box of watercolors, and just express yourself. Un-box the artist that you are, and carry that person with you all the time. Don't do it for anybody other than yourself, because your self is the only one that matters. And here's what will happen: If you embrace that artist, if you make that artist a part of your everyday life, if you get rid of the box, and allow that person to remind you of a value that you have, you will be so much more comfortable with who you are. You will be able to bring your creative, individual voice that nobody else has to everyday life, and you will realize that art is something that does belong to all of us, that is important to all of us. And before I talk — first of all, people thought I couldn't do this in ten minutes and I'm already — I've got, like, a whole minute left! (Laughter) But I just want to remind you and encourage you to do those things, and ask one more question before I leave. By a show of hands, how many people sitting out here are artists? Come on! Thank you. (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 9 minutes and 48 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Views: 69
Posted by: mosesbrownschool on Apr 30, 2012

Jenny Peek delivers some thoughtful and inspiring words during her speech entitled "Gangster Pigs, Flying Monkeys, and a Whole Lotta Dogs" at TEDxMosesBrownSchool.

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