THE BAKER IDEA INSTITUTE: Featured Story - Oct 2016
 

The year was 1975 and Paul Baker had a significant decision to make. Should he accept the offer of a financial backer to take one of the Dallas Theater Center’s productions to Broadway or should he accept DISD Superintendent Nolan Estes’ offer to take the lead in the development of a new arts magnet high school for Dallas. What a dilemma! Two dream opportunities—both occurring at the same time.

After much soul searching, Baker’s decision came down to the Superintendent’s response to two questions:

    #1. As Founding Artistic Director of this new Arts Magnet High School, would he have                            direct access to the Superintendent?

    #2: As Founding Artistic Director, would he have a budget with funding equal to that                            awarded to the district’s football teams?

With two “yes” answers in his pocket, Paul Baker became the Founding Artistic Director of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

Why did Baker choose “Booker T” over Broadway? He and his wife Kitty had always felt the arts could be the solution to remedy educational failings and they dreamt of a school that centered its education processes in arts’ strategies. Here was a chance to prove their theory by implementing Baker’s INTEGRATION OF ABILITIES (IA), a curriculum that had proven transformative to many college students throughout his teaching career.

Where did IA come from? As a new faculty member at Baylor University in the 1930’s, Baker realized many college students had no faith in the idea that they could possibly be creative people. (Co-incidentally, he also needed more theater majors!) Baker devised a series of very simple exercises designed to guide students to an awareness of their sensory experiences and to a realization that this unique sensory data, collected since birth and stored within, was readily accessible if only given the opportunity for expression.

Baker’s exercises were gradually shaped into a course that he taught everywhere he went. His students replicated his process after graduation across the United States and internationally. IA became the launching pad for all kinds of creative thinkers, including directors, actors, musicians, mayors, city planners, architects, dancers, lawyers, writers and more. IA was a success! Why? Perhaps because it gave people faith in them selves; because it transcended race, color and social circumstance; because it was successful with all types of learners, including kinetic, auditory, visual and verbal. IA led students to discover their inner strengths and taught them how to capitalize upon those strengths through life’s challenges and opportunities.

When invited to lead Dallas’ new Arts Magnet High School, Baker was irresistibly fascinated to see if his course and its approach to creative work could ignite the imaginations of high school students from every part of town and from vastly varied backgrounds. Could it serve as a unifying foundation while giving each young person a powerful springboard into becoming dynamic, imaginative artists with exciting, uniquely productive futures?

In 1972, Trinity University Press published INTEGRATION OF ABILITIES, documenting the sequence of exercises Baker had been utilizing to inspire creative growth for more than 30 years. He chose to use this text as the founding instructional concepts for BTWHSPVA. Thus providing his new arts cluster chairs a common arts vocabulary with which to converse between themselves and their students. In spite of challenges, the school became one of the early magnet successes for the DISD, much to Baker’s delight, primarily due to his strong hand in establishing its core direction.

When receiving the “Texas Medal of Arts Award” in May of 2008, Baker applauded the BTWHS faculty for nurturing the creative instincts in each student over and over, day after day, until each student could develop faith in their “creative self” and value their innate, unique talents.

He never looked back, nor did he ever question, “What if I had instead chosen to go to Broadway?” He considered the establishment and expansion of BTWHS, based on his curriculum for creative growth, to be one of his most fascinating challenges and one of his greatest accomplishments.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. The success of the school and its students and faculty is without question. The number of highly successful and award winning artists that have passed through this program is a testament to the positive approach taken by the faculty and staff to teach, train and fire the imaginations of all their students to succeed as writers, actors, singers, dancers, designers, sculptors, painters, composers, musicians, architects, engineers, and even a few scientists. In short, human beings of integrity and worth who bring joy and wonder and beauty to the world. Not bad for a mere forty years. The Baker Idea Institute salutes you!

 
... genius must be discovered
and exercised
and given a chance to express itself.

~ PAUL BAKER

 

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