The Coffee House Arts project engages in artistic “conversations” between poetry, music, visual art and/or dance, as well as between as classes, generations, and schools. Calling on techniques of jazz improvisation high school students create multi genre fusion works, as well as individual pieces. Work is shared in weekly “coffee houses” as well as an end-of-year culminating event at a professional venue—for the past seven years the Nuyroican Poets’ Café.
An after school “hub” poetry and performance class engages students in exploring the power of poetry and writing their own poems. Later they explore jazz and poetry, reading their own words in conversation with musicians and experiencing how performers listen and respond in the moment, under the guidance of a guest artist jazz musician. Student musicians, including novices, are invited to improvise responsively, creating ensemble pieces. Students are also introduced to how movement can express the mood of a poem, essence of a self-portrait or feeling in an improvised piece of music.
In-school call and response activities comprise another layer: in spring 2015 two art classes, seven advisories and two schools as well as the after school Coffee House took part, responding to the artistic “call” of work in a different genre and creating new visual art and poetry in the process. Teachers also participated. We hope to be able to extend the call and response invitation to additional classes and schools.
At the heart of the project is the weekly after school “Coffee House,” open to all as a club. Here students try out new work in a relaxed setting, where little lights, checkered tablecloths and light refreshments transform a classroom into a unique space. Teachers share their own works and “works in progress.”