“The arts are responsible for the well-being of a culture.”

This is just one of many critical messages that keynote speaker Dr. Larry McCullough of the Pinetree Institute shared with almost 50 arts educators at an annual retreat, hosted virtually by the Maine Arts Commission. Since 2011, the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative, (MALI), a network of visual and performing arts teacher leaders supported by the Commission’s Arts Education Program, has gathered every summer, and COVID-19 was not going to stop them.

“Despite Zoom fatigue and just coming off of a very challenging end to the school year, we knew that arts educators needed a chance to be together, to rejuvenate, and gear up for the fall,” explained MALI leader Kate Smith, a music teacher at Central Elementary School in South Berwick.

The MALI Program Team organized the Institute around Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), a cornerstone of all arts education and particularly pertinent for teachers and students facing such uncertainty in their classrooms. “We always seek to address emerging needs in the field and minimizing the trauma of this current crisis was clearly number one on our radar,” Smith said.

They tapped longtime Leadership Trainer and Emotional Resiliency Expert Larry McCullough, of the Pinetree Institute in Eliot, to guide the webinars and discussions that occurred throughout the summer. Dr. McCullough founded the Pinetree Institute in 2012 to promote the well-being of individuals, families and communities, and brought to the MALI Summer Institute his particular focus on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the buffering effect of positive experiences in approaches to trauma-informed care. He shared new research by Dr. Christina Bethell about 7 Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) that can inform how arts educators beneficially impact their students.

Each year, the MALI Institute invites a new cohort of visual and performing arts teachers and teaching artists to join the statewide network of educators leading in their communities and their fields. Over 120 teachers and teaching artists have now engaged in higher collaborative learning on assessment, advocacy, and leadership through MALI, resulting in stronger arts education programs throughout the state. This year, 17 music, visual art, theater and circus arts teachers from all over the state were accepted into the program.

The new cohort included:

Reba Askari, Director of Theatre and Education at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine

Bryan Bergeron-Killough, Music Teacher at Eliot Elementary School

Melissa Birkhold, Music Teacher at Crescent Park, Woodstock Elementary Schools in SAD 44 and Andover Elementary School

Josie Davis, Violin Faculty and Envision Chamber Music Workshop Director at Bay Chamber Concerts & Music School

Eustaquio Dones, Music Teacher at North Berwick Elementary School

Aaron Gagnon, Music Teacher at Elm Street and Minot Consolidated Schools in RSU 16

Alison Graichen, Music Teacher at Wells Elementary and Wells Junior High Schools

Joshua Lund, Music Teacher at Benton Elementary School in MSAD 49

Kari McCarthy, Art Teacher at Brunswick Junior High School

Pamela Moulton, Visual Teaching Artist in schools and eldercare facilities in the Greater Portland area

Courtney Naliboff, Music, Theater and Language Arts Teacher at North Haven Community School

Jack Pneuman, Circus Arts Instructor in southern Maine

Megan Rogers, Music Teacher at Union Elementary, Friendship Village, and Prescott Memorial Schools in MSAD 40

Linda Vaillancourt, Music Teacher at North Yarmouth Academy

Jude Valentine, Public Programming Coordinator at the Farnsworth Art Museum

Colin Wheatley, Strings Teacher at Waterville Public Schools

Christina Zahn, Music Teacher at Brownfield Denmark Elementary, New Suncook Elementary, and Molly Ockett Schools in MSAD 72

Integral to every Institute is professional goal-setting for each participant. This year’s goals truly reflect topical issues. “Creating an inclusive, decolonized, non-performance based curriculum that explicitly connects SEL to music,” is one participant’s goal for the year. Other goals focus on embedding emotional resiliency in lesson plans, racial justice, improving the remote experience for students, leading in advocacy for the arts, teacher self-care, and staying connected with other arts educators.

“It’s very exciting to see the work that all the veteran MALI teachers, combined with the energy of the new cohort, will bring to the field this year especially,” said Martha Piscuskas, Director of Arts Education at the Commission. This is a “very dynamic, engaged group,” added Dr. McCullough. “I so enjoyed working with them.”