Monday, May 6, 2013

Arts and Education: A TEDx Talk by Jacques Rodrigue

Guest blog entry by Jacques Rodrigue, George Rodrigue’s son.  He currently serves as House Counsel for Rodrigue Studio and Executive Director of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  He is a graduate of Tulane Law School in New Orleans.

Hello again.  Jacques Rodrigue here.  This is my second guest blog entry on Wendy’s blog.  I hope everyone had a chance to read my first one about how I work to protect the Blue Dog from copyright infringement.

But today I am here to talk more about creativity and arts in education in honor of my recent TEDx Talk that posted last week and is embedded below.   

There is no way that I could have pulled the talk off without observing how well my Dad and Wendy give their lectures and painting demonstrations.  I learned so much from watching Wendy skillfully present my Dad’s career highlights in hundreds of presentations across the country (one school presentation pictured below). 

So, over the years, I was pretty prepared to mimic her when I had to occasionally give speeches at museum openings and school presentations.  But, giving a TED talk in a strict 12-minute time limit proved to be an extremely challenging experience and a whole new ball game for me!

Recorded talks at TED and TEDx (TED affiliated events) can get hundreds of thousands of views online and a few even have views in the tens of millions.  TED started in 1984 as a conference under the concept of “ideas worth spreading” and has since expanded beyond its original topics of Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED). 

For some time now, I had been hoping that someone great would give a TED talk on arts-integration and the A+ Schools Network.   I first learned about A+ three years ago and their arts-integrated school network is in operation in 120 schools spread across North Carolina, Oklahoma and Arkansas (now a National A+ Schools Consortium). 

When we discovered A+ we found out what the true mission of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts should be.  Our other programs like giving art supplies to schools and scholarships in an art contest looked like mere band-aids compared to the whole school transformation that we saw in these schools.  A+ Schools embrace the arts in every classroom and every subject in order to “nurture creativity in every learner.”  I couldn’t believe that not more people knew about the great things that these schools were doing.  I knew a TED talk by an expert in A+ would be a great way to gain exposure for their program. 

To my surprise, after we formed our own Louisiana A+ Schools (LAA+) network here this year (our seven member schools pictured above), a TEDx event at LSU invited me to give the lecture that I hoped someone else would give!  To have the chance to be able to share our story and our vision for the potential for arts in our Louisiana schools was exciting!

Soon though, excitement gave way to dread (pictured, the stage at TEDxLSU).

If I nailed the talk, we had a real chance to let thousands of people hear about this arts-integrated school network.  However, if the talk was bad or I failed to deliver, I would have just squandered a great opportunity.  The pressure was overwhelming at times!

Luckily, the organizers of TEDxLSU gave my fellow presenters and me an organized plan to handle the pressure.  The great TED talks look effortless.  The organizers warned of how much time and effort it would take for our talks to look casual and composed. 

So, I prepared myself for over a month.  I read books on how to deliver a TED Talk.  I outlined my thoughts, took notes and I watched as many other TED talks as I could to see a pattern of why some were more successful than others.  Plus, I borrowed many of Wendy’s best ideas and slides from her many presentations on my Dad (pictured, the slide with "Don't Turn Your Back on Your Troubles, 'Cause They'll Just Mulitply" is always good for a laugh).

However, the talk that gave me the most inspiration and helped me was by Sir Ken Robinson.  His talks have over 100 million views.  It is a must see because, first of all, it is HILARIOUS!  He could have been a stand up comic!  Sir Ken’s delivery is impeccable and he really gets you to understand why teaching creativity (the process of having original thoughts that have value) is so important to our students. 

So, I borrowed some ideas from Ken Robinson’s speech (I hope he doesn’t mind!) and I focused on how my mentors (Jean Hendrickson from Oklahoma A+ Schools and Paul Leopolous from the THEA Foundation & Arkansas A+ Schools) would deliver this speech.  I had a loose outline of the points I wanted to make and I thought I had pretty much everything ready to go. 

About a week before my speech though, I found out how woefully unprepared I really was. I gave my first practice presentation to our team of Louisiana A+ Fellows at our first annual LAA+ Fellows retreat (pictured, the LAA+ Fellows are experts in every subject or art form that will be training our schools on arts-integration).

I stuttered and stammered and rambled through about 30 minutes of lecture that had no clear theme or message (more than twice my 12 minute time limit!).

For the next week, I went back to the drawing board and with the help of the LAA+ Fellows and our staff at the Rodrigue Foundation, the theme and structure of the talk came together.  I typed out the entire speech as if it was a screenplay and for days worked on memorization, delivery and timing in conjunction with my slides.

I got to practice one time in the TEDxLSU venue on campus (pictured above) and then delivered my talk the next day.  It wasn't perfect, but, in the end, I really am happy with how it came out.  The organizers of TEDxLSU did such a great job organizing the event and as of this writing I have had more than 1,500 views!  I hope everyone enjoys the speech and we would of course love to get your feedback.

We at the foundation and at Louisiana A+ Schools will need your help and support to try to change perceptions on arts and schools.  But, we are in this for the long haul and we believe it can be done!

One of the best things you can do to help out is sign up for our mailing list and keep informed about the latest things that Louisiana A+ is doing.  Or, if you represent a school or are a member of a community arts organization that wants to partner with us, please let us know!

Thanks again to all of my mentors and the staff of the Rodrigue Foundation I could not have done it without all of them.

And thank you to Wendy for letting me be a guest blogger again.  She will be back soon!


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  1. Oh, Jacques, your talk made me alternately wistful and hopeful. I'm a couple of years younger than George, and I went through school as a daydreamer, always being painfully remolded into a little robot. I write fiction now, but I'm still marginalized, because creativity is seen as more whacked than "normal." Now you give me hope, because I have a grandchild in a Louisiana school. I want her defined by her imagination. Thank you and George and Wendy for making education what it should be, a roomful of children at a time.

  2. Great job Jacques! I agree strongly with one of your statements - that some of the schools now just prepare you for testing - that is so they can keep their doors open - definitely not enough creativity and engagement of students. I think it is even more important for the public school students who are not exposed to the arts at home through no fault of their own.
    This program will give them self-esteem which they need to have to choose the road they want to go down. A lot of times even the private and Catholic school families go for sports over the arts. Most of the artists (painters, musicians, writers, actors) I have met are also "happy." They may not all make as much money as they would like but they love what they do. That is important in itself when you choose what you are going to do every day for a very long time. Like those shoes - lol. It is wonderful that George has taken it to another level and that now you are taking it to yet another level. I am sure he and Wendy are very proud of you. Good luck!