Q&A with Alison Brazil, TPAC teaching artist

Students seated in a classroom

Alison Brazil leads an arts integration unit at Warner Arts Magnet Elementary

“Singing, dancing, writing songs, and performing has been a part of my daily life since I can remember. It is my favorite and most authentic place to be.” – Alison Brazil

 

Singer, dancer, musician, artist, teacher. All of these describe Alison Brazil, one of the dozens of teaching artists who create and lead arts-centered learning through TPAC’s education programs in schools. Though participating in the arts looks different these days, artists like Alison are finding creative ways to keep the arts alive not only for herself but for her students as well.

We sat down with Alison to discuss how she is staying busy, what parents can do to keep children engaged with the arts, and more.

 

woman in blue dress with violin

Alison Brazil

TPAC: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?

Alison Brazil: I have always wanted to sing, dance, create, and be on stage. From an early age, I was costume designing, stage managing, and directing my siblings and my childhood friends – even going so far as to give a dime (on the lowdown) to the neighborhood kids so they could “pay” for a ticket to see one of our shows.
As far as pursuing a career in the arts, there was something about the messaging in the world around me and the messages I was telling myself that made me believe I couldn’t really have a career as an artist without becoming a “starving artist.” And that was not a cost I was willing to pay. It wasn’t until I got a little older and learned lessons about perseverance, steadfastness, and identity, that I was able to believe that I could have a career in the arts.

TPAC: When did you become a TPAC teaching artist? Why did you want to join the TPAC team?

AB: I became a teaching artist in January 2017. It was because of the amazing Leigh Jones that I found TPAC’s Fall Institute in 2014 for Metro Nashville Public Schools teachers. I knew immediately that experiential, inquiry-based, art-making teaching philosophy and I were meant to be together. I was a full-time Spanish, Music, and Dance teacher with Metro Schools for 10 years, and I felt like I found a lifeline when I found TPAC’s education programs.

In 2015, I started teaching my classes more like an “artist” than a “teacher.” I started leaning into my artist-self and letting my students see that side of myself instead of always demonstrating the teacher-self. TPAC supported me wholeheartedly, and I was selected as the 2015-16 TPAC Teacher of the Year. I made the decision to leave full-time teaching in December 2016 and was so thrilled that TPAC welcomed me onto their roster of teaching artists. It was such an honor!

TPAC: What TPAC programs do you work with? What has been the most fulfilling thing about being a teaching artist?

AB: Mainly, I work with the Disney Musicals in Schools program, but I enjoy working with TPAC in all capacities. The depth of its work in arts integration is so magical because of the “light bulb” moment that learners experience by being involved in the experience of creating art. Arts integration lends itself to deep, meaningful, and lasting project-based learning (PBL) experiences that bring forth meaningful works of art and deep and lasting conversations on issues like racism, immigration, climate change, loss, and resiliency. I am so grateful for the opportunities to facilitate those learning experiences.

TPAC: Has anything surprised you during your time with TPAC?

AB: The children don’t surprise me anymore. Children are incredibly insightful truth-tellers and naturally amazing artists. It is the adults that surprise me. The experience that the teachers have as they participate in the learning allows them to see their students with fresh eyes and even their own role as facilitator through a fresh perspective. I love that part of the process, and I am surprised by the teachers’ vulnerable emotions when hearing their students share about tough world issues.

TPAC: How has your career shifted during COVID? What has been the most challenging and most rewarding?

AB: On March 15, when Mayor Cooper announced the shutdown, I was on my way downtown to soundcheck for a night of Salsa music. In the 24 hours following that announcement, each and every one of my dates, shows, lessons, and contracts were canceled. It was a tough time. Three years into being a full-time artist and I thought that I had diversified my revenue streams. But none of it withstood a global pandemic.

As is usually the case, the most challenging moments turned into the most rewarding. I am so proud that through the pandemic, I was able launch two extensions to my teaching artistry. The first is through my new business, Diverse Musical Solutions, a company devoted to connecting cultures, inspiring leaders, and energizing teams through the power of music. I am so excited to start this company. The second extension of my teaching artistry has been Classes with Alison Brazil, engaging virtual classes for diverse learners. I decided that I love teaching things that I love (Songwriting, Voice, Violin, and Spanish) and that I would love to teach those things virtually. I am currently offering Fall Courses in Spanish and Songwriting and private lessons in Songwriting, Voice, Violin, and Spanish. And I am partnering with Borderless Arts of Tennessee to offer Violin and Songwriting.

TPAC: Do you think it’s still important for kids to have access to arts education during this time?

AB: It is imperative! The arts break down barriers and build bridges of understanding in ways that no other subject area can do. The arts are a lifeline. And good arts education teaches us problem solving, ingenuity, creativity, team building, cultural competency, inclusivity, leadership, and how to exist in the world in which we live.

TPAC: What can parents do to help further arts learning during this time?

AB: Imagine. Create. Challenge. Inquire. Arts education is not something illusive. The arts are all around us. The arts cause us to ask questions, and questions lead to solutions. Just a walk outside can turn into arts education. Seek out our local arts organizations for ideas and inspiration. Organizations like TPAC, The Frist, Poverty in the Arts, Nashville Public Television, Nashville Opera, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Nashville Ballet, The Country Music Hall of Fame, OZ Arts Nashville – the list goes on – are here for the community and would love to connect parents with arts learning experiences even while we are all at home.

Learn more about Alison’s available classes and connect with her here.