Eight years ago, a group of parents spearheaded a movement to add a fine arts curriculum to one of our schools. This was to include visual art, drama, dance and musical theatre — at the grade one to seven level. Eventually, the school board decided to let it happen. Parents slept in a lineup for six nights to get their kids registered. I knew it was going to be a good thing — I’d always noticed that there were special kids in the regular system that couldn’t get enough arts guidance. With the force of motivated teachers, together with the dedicated partnership of involved parents, our program took off. Now there are 176 enrolled — a “dream team” of young, turned-on creators. Last Thursday, twenty-eight members of the undergraduate class, teacher Catherine Hanna, together with several parents, visited my studio.
For kids, the greatest achievement is the feeling “I can do this.” Getting hands-on with the tools, learning processes, sorting concepts — this is where they have to go. In a world of limitations, here’s the future. Kids also need to learn that it isn’t the school or the instructor — it’s the spirit. Attitude. There’s the key. How do you teach attitude? By putting out, hanging out, dancing, testing voices, grabbing the mike, hearing early applause — letting them find out it’s no big deal to try to be great. Part of the job also requires getting in touch with willing creative folks within the community. I don’t know about you, but the schooldays I remember most were the few-and-far-between times when we all got on a bus. “I’m totally supportive of this program,” says Chris, father of eleven-year-old Harley. “When he comes home from school, he’s very enthusiastic. He’s got an idea of his options. The world is opening for him. Harley can do things.”
All this comes at a price. There are buses, brushes, videotapes, venues. Next spring Catherine Hanna wants to take her class to New York. There’ll be a community fundraiser. Could there be a more worthy cause?
PS: “There’s a feeling of openness; it’s as if nothing is wrong, as if ideas are there, hanging in the air just waiting to be bumped into.” (Keeley, 11)
Esoterica: All the young visitors wrote me a personal letter. Here’s one: “Dear Mr. Genn, I am one of the many people whose favorite thing is to paint. With all your helpful hints I now know some of the artist’s “tricks.” You taught me to never give up and commit myself to keep on going. No matter what others think, do what you want and live life to its fullest. Yours truly, Carla.” (11)
Fine Arts Grade 6 Class
Art for street kids
by Nancy Bogni, Seattle, WA, USA
I’m involved in a program with homeless/street kids here in Seattle. For the month of April a group of about 50 local artists are doing demonstrations, giving classes and having art get-togethers at the Artist’s Gallery in downtown Seattle. The festivities begin April 1 at a reception, continue thru the month with a party on the 30th at which time the art produced will be for sale. During the month we participating artists will be showing and selling our own art and donating 60% to the non-profit organization putting this together.
by Lillian Tkach-Matisons, Calgary, AB, Canada
For the past 9 years, I have successfully set up Art Classes For Kids in five Calgary (Canada) communities for 6 to 13 year olds. I have some children who have attended my classes for 3, 4 and 5 years! I’m always amazed at how eager the children are to learn, and how quickly they shed their insecurities about making “art.”
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was the founder of the Waldorf Schools. Here, children learn to dye wool, knit, play recorders, flutes and string instruments, where painting reinforces what is being taught in other lessons. Handwork is a respected aspect of the curriculum. It is a hands-on kind of place, very creative. Currently our Waldorf School is having a capital campaign in order to buy the building they have been in for the past 17 years.
by Jackie Wloski, Montreal, QE, Canada
Here in Montreal we have F.A.C.E. (Fine Arts Core Education) which has an extended curriculum so that more art courses can be included. All students take visual arts, drama, vocal and instrumental, with plays and orchestral and choir performances throughout the year. (Theatre productions start in the senior years.) The school goes from elementary through high school. The school is part of the Montreal School Board, not private. Many kids go on to pursue the arts in university. A school like this is definitely a good thing. Montreal mostly has a French and English mix of schools — this one is half and half. The French and English students mix for their courses, so both sides get to know each other.
Bringing arts back
by Steve Saley, Coconut Creek, FL, USA
Being a creative director immersed in corporate America, your images reminded me of my high school art classes that forged the career I have today. But honestly, seeing you at work at your easel, with the audience of captivated faces and minds, makes me want to turn off my Macintosh G4 and return to a much less technical creative pursuit. I applaud all the teachers and parents who fought hard to get such a worthwhile course of study in place. In a time when my children’s art classes are being cut back (or totally eliminated) from our school system, it is truly inspiring to see a group of people bringing the arts back into our children’s lives.
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
You are fortunate to live in an enlightened community. Florida is sadly deficient in its support for the arts in our public schools. My sons had to decide which ‘elective’ they’d like in the sixth grade; art, or music, or journalism. When Isaac wanted to work on the school yearbook (journalism) he had to drop out of band. Daniel loved art, but decided he had access to that at home and took up the saxophone. The schools here have wonderful, dedicated (and embarrassingly underpaid) teachers who actually pay for art materials for their students out of their own pocket. Local artists volunteer as much time as they can. I’m mystified that a state as apparently wealthy as Florida is unwilling to pay for art education.
by Bill McCaffrey, Palm Beach, FL, USA
Here in Palm Beach County, Florida, we have what we call “magnet” schools. Each magnet school has a specialty, for example, engineering, science, ROTC, the arts, etc. The visual and performance students are grouped together and attend the same school. We have both a middle school and a high-school for the arts. The children have to audition or submit a portfolio to be accepted. For some unknown reason — of all the schools it’s the magnet schools that get the highest grades in the SAT tests. Curious! Do you get the message?
Aging unionized lifers
With all of the unemployed teachers, it is very hard to convince our local school to take the input of parents or others into the art rooms. This is particularly annoying because one of our potential and available young instructors (who is now a full time artist) was formerly a teacher. These sorts are precisely the people needed to help the kids feel they might have a future in the arts, rather than the aging unionized lifers who intend to stick in the system until they drop.
A lifetime gift
by Sandy Robertson, Brisbane, Australia
The gift of exploring one’s imagination, capturing a coloured fragment, brushed in a quick swish. It’s a lifetime gift for a child discovering a canvas coming to life. To capture the rapture of the delighted, absorbed child, in the fanciful play of exploring colours sliding together would indeed be a painting needing to be done with speed, knowing no bounds, no lecturing hounds, no thought of the spills all over the gowns.
by Jacqueline Baldini, Niagara Falls, ON, Canada
How heart warming it was to read this story. As a child I attended a private grammar school where the nuns catered to my artistic talent. I was the ‘artist’ of the school. It was fun and got me out of regular classes to work on projects for the entire school. After that I went to a left brain public high school and was bored silly. The years of positive reinforcement, when they counted most, gave me the passion I now have in life. I applaud this school board!
by Colleen Salzsauler, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
A couple of years ago I put together a program for children who are creative but would never have the opportunity to take a class or workshop. It could be a money issue or the parents don’t really get that it is important. I contacted elementary schools with my idea and received names of children who fit the criteria (after the teachers contacted the parents first). I put together a program over the summer for 6 weeks (one afternoon weekly) for children 10 years and under. Each week was taught by a different artist, sculptor etc. (who donated their time and materials). This way there was no cost to the children and I donated the space and my skills. I contacted local organizations and galleries for donations and ended the course with a show and sale — covered by three local papers. The kids were thrilled that they really could create and that people came and bought their stuff. It was a thrill for me to see their bright eyes each week, hungering to be taught and growing in self-esteem. They learned valuable lessons and their parents were impressed with their capabilities and learned something about their kids. The area artists benefited also. If anyone wants info on how to start one of these programs (Beyond Crayons) I’d be glad to help.
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA
Bettina Forget of Quebec, and I, plan on opening our studios for a special event on April 24, Astronomy Day. This is an international event, and people from around the world not only focus on introducing astronomy to the public but astronomy combined with the arts. To bring this to the schools in my district requires district approval for the event and normally this is granted to non-profit organizations only but a unique exception has been made for this event. Both Astronomy Magazine and the Berkeley School of the Arts have generously contributed art supplies and color posters and other equally beautiful resources to be given away. I have found different receptions at our local elementary schools; one just took a poster and no one wanted to discuss the event and my other school asked for multiple posters. I spoke with one vice principal and he requested fliers for all the teachers. A bonus is that any art supplies not used for the event will be donated to the school. All it takes to ignite a child’s enthusiasm is a spark from caring adults.
by Karen Fitzgerald, New York, NY, USA
Here in the United States, we have a movement afoot in the public schools. It’s called Arts-in-Education, and the idea is to send artists into classrooms to work with teachers and students. This is an interesting dynamic — it changes kids, teachers, and often enough, whole schools. (Our movement is across all artistic disciplines, not just the visual arts.)
I’m currently working with the New York Foundation for the Arts to map a part of this process – Professional Development and Training Opportunities for Teaching Artists — statewide. A teaching artist is different from an arts educator. This is an entire philosophical discussion in and of itself — dovetailing with the economics of how/why artists and arts educators are prepared so very differently at the college/university level. In much of the work we do here, (we, being teaching artists) we help teachers and students learn to use the arts as a teaching/learning tool within their regular curriculum. It’s a real eye-opener when a youngster gets to design a playground and in the process realizes all those math skills such as area and perimeter are necessary in the real world — saying nothing of all the embedded decisions that are made about shape, color, placement, size — the magic whirlwind of creative/aesthetic choice that the creative process throws everyone into.
Children felt ownership and pride
I’m a retired Middle School (grades 6, 7, 8) teacher. I never taught art, but in my Language Arts/Social Studies classes I used art as often as I could. I had them illustrate their writings, interpret music by drawing things that came to mind as they listened, and over a period of five years we created five murals (some as long as 20 feet) as outgrowths of our studies — to decorate the school. The murals were preserved under Plexiglas. The children felt ownership and pride in their creations.
by Jim Pescott
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending three complete school days with twenty-two grade seven students while they painted their individual masterpieces. These students had written letters asking to participate in this event; they truly wanted to be there. Many of these young people were so intent on their task they sought to explore their painting without a recess: lunchtime was voluntarily shortened. And the hush in the room was phenomenal while these young artists developed, evolved and finessed the images that had captured their energies so totally.
When funds are spent on education, the principal focus is to support academics and technology which is all well and good, we need to know the three “Rs” and lord knows we cannot have enough computers in the schools. But we also keep hearing that in adult life we need to live our lives with balance: a simple observation tells us that many adults today struggle with finding that balance. These grade sevens were experiencing their passion for shapes and colour, they were exploring and learning about balance in their lives. For some they were touching something that would bring genuine purpose to their lives.
Encouraging young students
Several years ago I took a painting class at a local community college. There was about a 45-year difference in my age and the students around me. And after about two classes I was one of them. There was no age difference at all! We all shared the fruits of our work, and encouraged each other. I had so much fun with these young students. At the end of the term we had an art show. It was such a feeling to see some of our paintings hanging side by side. There’s no age barrier in art.
African arts project
by Sandra Nickeson, St Louis, MO, USA
Ousmane Dia is a sculptor born in Tambacounda, Senegal, West Africa, living, teaching and making art in Geneva, Switzerland. He has originated the TGD project (for Tambacounda, Geneva, Dakar, the first three cities involved in this artist exchange). TGD4 has been opened to the entire world, and will bring 135 artists from 33 countries to Tambacounda Dec. 15, 2004 – Jan. 1, 2005. We were curated into the event by Katya Garcia-Anton, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Geneva.
Dia has said, “I am sure that only art will bring together all the peoples of the world,” and is trying to lift his entire native community of 65,000 through art and artists. We will build the first “arts only” classroom for Tambacounda this year, for a total cost of $33,000.
The average income in Senegal is $1000. Life expectancy is 54 for men, 56 for women, who move across this savannah landscape like the flowers of Senegal in their elegant and brightly patterned and colored cotton dresses. Illiteracy in Tambacounda, an area that Dia describes as culturally very rich and economically very depressed, ranges between 60% and 70%, higher for women and girls.
It is my intention to move to Senegal in 2006, to be useful in some way – to study, to teach, to make art… The move is in answer to a dream planted by my second grade teacher, who wisely put out National Geographic Magazines at our library table, so that the world might open up for young Wisconsin, USA children. I sponsor a 9-year-old, Mbang Faye. I’ll meet him later this year.
While in Tambacounda, TGD4 participants will make art for the first open air contemporary art museum in Senegal, teach workshops, take part in a two-day community festival, install artful trash receptacles designed by students at the Kyoto College of Art and Design and forged by Tamba metalworkers. Imagine the excitement that will return to all the participating countries!
Our TGD4 St. Louis Arts Initiative team of 18 extraordinary artists, of which I am the coordinator, will partner with schools, so that we can do both before and after work with the students. Of course we will also mount multi-site exhibitions in St. Louis, and begin to look for ways to bring some of the artists from throughout the world to St. Louis. This is so exciting!
The Wolof phrase Ma na am means, “It is possible.” Artists who specialize in the improbable need to ingest this idea daily, like vitamins, especially here, where so many are prone to say, “It is not possible.”
Tears of joy
by Peter Wright
I’m a watercolourist. By the time I finished reading Carla’s letter, I had tears of joy in my eyes. Perhaps you did too, the first time you read her letter. I just came back from being in China for a year, teaching English to 2500 Grade 10 students (22 classes of 50 to 70 students each for 2 semesters). Your letters gave me a lot of pleasure and inspiration during that year.
(RG note) Every one of the letters written by these young people was remarkable and brought tears to my eyes as well. Peter’s letter (above) is also interesting. It hints at a valuable tool. The Chinese were in need of an English teacher and they made the decision to choose someone indigenous to the language and who spoke and wrote it virtually from birth.