Mary Dagani | November 2017

The Art of Creating Community

As teaching-artists and artist-teachers, every September we have bestowed upon us a fresh group of learners, yet it is up to us to facilitate the creation of a community.  Often times we start the year with the “getting to know you” and icebreaker activities.  And sometimes, depending on the age of your students, these types of activities become just that – an activity.  I recently found that building a community through the arts creates deeper, lasting connections.

Let me give you a bit of background.  I LOVE music.  I even think in terms of musical phrases.  So it is fitting that I am a music specialist and have a degree in music performance with many years of orchestral experience.  Imagine the irony of landing my first (and current) teaching position in a district that has no elementary music program.  For many years, I spent my time teaching general education subjects.  The music happened only if and when there was time for it.

Needless to say, I began to feel out of sorts – out of balance, one might say.  It was as if there was a big, gaping hole in my life.  I realized it was the lack of connection to my art that was creating that void.  After thinking long and hard, I realized that the only way to truly share my art, for which there was a great need, was to allow myself time for my art by giving of myself.

Community Starts Here

I found a way to share my passion and give to the school community by starting a before school music club.  To my surprise (and elation), there was a huge interest.  My club quickly grew from 20 to 100 students.  No, I did not see them all at once, but I did end up teaching Monday – Friday before my regular classroom teaching duties started at 8:00.  What surprised me the most was the level at which these students quickly formed a bond.  Quite frequently I would see my 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders playing recorder duets on the benches at recess, or the older kids helping the newbies with fingering technique.  I couldn’t help but feel that I did not create this feeling of belonging, music did.


I no longer work as a classroom teacher, but I have found a way to continue to build that belonging through our civic community.  About a year ago, I approached a local non-profit foundation with the idea to give music classes on Saturday mornings.  It was a hit with the parents.  The interest in classes continues to grow.  I am truly amazed at how these little folk, who come from all over our city, bond over their enthusiasm of music.

The author working with students during music classes provided by a local foundation.

During all of this, I discovered something about myself.  I am at my best as an artist when I am sharing my art.  Is it hard work?  Yes, at first it is.  And, yes, most days I am tired and would like nothing more than to sleep-in for an extra hour or two.  But when I see the joy in those smiling faces, and witness the connections they share with one another, there is no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision.

I invite you to seek out ways to create a community of budding artists through your art AND through your school and municipality.  Check your local parks & recreation center, library, non-profit foundation, art gallery, museum, or maybe even create a club on campus.  The best part?  You are not bound by anything other than designing a safe, creative, enriching environment for children to thrive.

Get out there and start building.

About the Author

Mary is a STEAM TOSA, Project Lead the Way Launch Lead Teacher, and an Orff Schulwerk music specialist. Her eclectic background, along with her 28 years of elementary classroom teaching, gives her a unique perspective on Arts Integration.