Albuquerque, New Mexico
Nan Elsasser became an English teacher after finding voices that resonated with hers in women authors. In 1984, she trained teachers who braved minefields to work at a Nicaraguan school: "There were no books. No pencils. A few stray chickens wandering the halls." Returning home, she visited an inner city middle school where students brainstormed about helping. A boy raised his hand and asked, "Why not write books?" From his vision, Working Classroom was born. Working Classroom trains and supports students whose ethnicities and communities have been under-represented or caricatured in the arts to create art and theater by, for, and about their communities.
Professional artists, writers, and actors are invited to work with new and aspiring artists from historically ignored communities to create art, theater, and literature—often in their native languages. The result, Nan says, is a ripple effect created by "at least 2,000 students who have participated in the program, the healthy children they are raising (many grew up in poverty and in addicted/dysfunctional families and have broken those cycles), the arts organizations and businesses they work for, the communities that benefit from their taxes, volunteer efforts and activism, and the thousands of people who enjoy public art created by Working Classroom student and professional artists."
Working Classroom’s projects span the globe, from founding an educational theater company for war-traumatized children in El Salvador to helping with a community mural in Toronto.
Nan’s mentors include her students and playwright and director Moisés Kaufman, who "introduced me to an innovative, theatrically powerful theater practice that addressed social and political themes in a non-didactic, engaging manner that provoked reflection and dialogue." She greatly admires author George Sand, for writing novels without a typewriter and spending her evenings with Chopin!
Nan dedicates her award to "the generations of students who have inspired me with their courage, imagination, and hard work."