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 Local Teachers Connect at First Arts Empower Mega Conference

Art teachers from throughout the county connected and learned more about their craft Friday at the first Arts Empower San Diego​ Mega Conference.

About 350 teachers registered for the event, which took place in classrooms and buildings throughout Balboa Park.

The conference was organized by the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) with help from various local arts organizations and educators. It was the first time local educators from the different art disciplines have combined forces for one large conference. In the past, there have been separate, smaller events focused on visual art, music, and theater.

"Today's conference represents a milestone in collaboration among arts education organizations in San Diego County," said Russ Sperling, arts coordinator​ with the SDCOE. "It's truly unprecedented that so many organizations that support arts in our schools have partnered together in such a meaningful way."

Some teachers said they thought having sessions featuring various art disciplines was overwhelming, while others said they were glad to have the chance to branch out.

"The beauty of this conference is the freedom to explore" other disciplines, said Mark Nicholson, a music specialist with San Diego Unified School District who helped organize the event.

Organizers and teachers agreed that it's particularly important for arts educators to have a chance to network at events such as the one held Friday, because they are often the only ones at their schools teaching a particular subject and don't have peers to collaborate and brainstorm with.

"Any artists or art teacher out there that might feel like an island from time to time, they come here and see that there is a bigger family to connect with," said Reed Kiefer, a teacher who started a guitar-based program a few years ago at Park Dale Lane Elementary School in Encinitas.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Inocente, a local artist featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary named after her. Inocente said she was especially excited to speak to the art teachers Friday because she's from San Diego and because arts education had such a profound impact on her life when she was a student at Monarch School.

The conference was a good way for artists and educators to learn from each other and inspire each other, she said.

"It's a chance to get together as a community," she said.  "Working together is really important."