Most of the artists in Evergreen's art studio walk (dance/march/pirouette/boogie) into art class with an idea in their heads. I can see it behind their eyes some days - a kind of quiet focus that bespeaks of the pictures and planning that is going on in their heads. Some children trumpet their intentions, "Hey, Ms. J.! I'm gonna make a rainbow rocket today!" Others are less certain, or, because they come later in the choosing rotation that day, prefer to decide when they see what materials are available in the studio where they find themselves.
Collage offers an interesting view of a child artist's planning. Children walk around the table, sampling papers from the bins that are available. At the moment we have tubs of varied size with tissue paper, "beautiful papers" (recycled from the paint or print centers, these are brightly colored - think Eric Carle) a stacked plastic chest of paper drawers, separated by color families, a selection of small paper bags, rolls of wall paper and brightly colored cellophane, some greeting cards (I have them up high because they seem to kill creativity rather than encouraging it...) and one box of special paper - mylar balloon scraps, sparkly paper, fancy greeting paper and paper doilies. There is a tall bin of odd-sized cast off mat scraps from a local art gallery's framing business. Sometimes I have magazines and sometimes they are intentionally scarce. I want my students to balance the tendency to do simple collections ("Look! 35 cars!) with other aspects of color, layout, and balance in collage work.
When magazines are placed in the studio I control fairly tightly - National Geographic, nature magazines, sailing, sports, cars, Smithsonian and always, always "looked" first to cull images that are overtly salacious or that show too honestly the reality of war. Scissors? Yep. Straight, fancy edges, "Mom scissors," (I keep large craft scissors sharpened to serious edges and do LOTS of prep in their safe use) and multiples of kid scissors. For second grade and up, we have a couple of crimpers, too. I've gone through lots of How To Manage Glue Without Going Insane periods, and have hit on an idea I gleaned from a helpful colleague on the TAB Yahoo list. Glue pots are nothing fancier than cheap sponges cut to fit inside plastic containers with lids. I thin white school glue just a little and turn the kids loose with them. We've loved the result - far less mess, glue pot lids are finding their way closed during clean up and they stack neatly.
Back to our wandering artists... Children usually only take one turn through the materials before selecting a project and getting to work. Collage, more than any other medium, lends itself to arranging and rearranging elements before gluing things together. I'm intrigued with the variety of expression and simply love the peculiar personalities of some of the puppets that are born in this studio.
Some projects fly together with a small amount of enthusiasm, a little bit of energy, and a good idea or two. The average Art Night is a little more complex, as it turns out. We've been talking about scheduling one for a couple of years, but with one thing and another, it's never quite come together. This was the year. My predecessor had organized one with the help of the PTSO but it'd been a while and nobody had strong memories of the kinds of activities that were offered. A colleague shared a flyer from an art night at her daughter's school in Olympia sometime last spring. That flyer spoke to painting activities that parents and children could enjoy together but there weren't many details. Hmmm.
In October, I collaborated with my library buddy across the wall and talked about the advantages of having both events share an evening. She had a book fair scheduled for the first complete week in December and needed an evening event to finish off her event in style. I used a variation of the "put it on the calendar and the muses will show up" (they always have, after all) method of event planning and loudly plunked it on the school calendar. Evening events are a big deal and our nice little gym is used by lots of community groups for sports events. The sweet schedule maven at the high school moved heaven and earth (and basketball teams) and cleared the night for me. I had a great time designing a flyer, getting it translated so our whole community could read it, and happily sent them home with kids. With the wrong date. All 540 of them. YIKES! We rescued some of the flyers, reprinted some with the new, correct date and made our apologies to the teams who then needed to be unbumped from their bumped spots. Everyone was still smiling so I continued with the planning.
I've heard of some December art nights that were primarily craft nights intended to be fun "make and takes" for small ornaments, but that's not really my style. While crafts are certainly fun, they aren't open-ended enough and don't allow for artistic expression like our studios do. I'd thought for quite a while about what kinds of activities the eight year old me would enjoy on such an evening. Then the 103 year old me who is responsible for resources whittled away at the list and chose things that could depend on either inexpensive supplies or the lovely collection of recyclables that flows through our studios. The final step was for the 56 year old art specialist me to come up with the final selection, design displays and instructions to fit a wide variety of age, ability, and interest. My eyes circled the studios in my classroom and chose an activity or two from all the media-specific centers that are part of our stable except for 3D construction and clay. Both required too much time, thought, and peaceful drying time to be appropriate for this first Art Night.
With final "casting" done, I made lists of each proposed activity that included display ideas, supplies (both those that were on hand and those that needed to be purchased, begged, borrowed, or stolen) and a quick sketch of what the setup might look like. For example, for the ojos de dios (gods' eyes in English) I had all the yarn I needed, a reminder to hot glue 50 or 60 "frames" from craft stick stores in the classroom, and a note to site the rainbow cabinet close to the table. The rainbow cabinet is a storage cabinet with brightly colored drawers that stores lots of classroom staples in drawers with picture labels (rulers, kid scissors, "big" scissors, ojo frames, square frames, etc.) When I sketched out the table banner I realized that I could only go so far with written instructions so I made a note to invite the artist to "Find an Evergreen artist for a lesson." My students start learning how to weave the colorful ojos at the beginning of second grade so I knew there would be lots of willing (and proud) helpers to assist parents.
When I pictured the gym in my mind - with ten or twelve tables against the walls so that I could hang my banners - I realized that the use of space felt impersonal and clunky. As I gave it more thought (while simultaneously gathering supplies over the period of a couple of weeks) I came up with the idea of situating the tables in a big circle. If I used that kind of arrangement I could help to direct/manage/play activities and I'd save myself essential steps. I drew out a schematic of my plan on a sheet of paper and consulted with our head custodian. Sue agreed that it could be done and politely skipped mentioning how strange a big circle of art in the center of a rectangular gym looked. She also committed her night crew to helping us set up. (Thanks, Sue!)
I had a vague idea that there would be at least 50 people of various ages attending because of a cutaway slip I'd added to the publicity flyer. I also had a few volunteers from the parent community and a few staff members that offered their help. In addition, I gave the fourth and fifth grade students who attend my Thursday morning (we're talking 7:00 AM!) Art Club a chance to help, too. Our enthusiastic crew loaded and re-loaded the utility cart with the supplies I'd set out for travel. We made numerous (!) trips the length of the school between the art room and the gym (as far apart as is possible, of course) and flew around our circled tables, placing the essentials and making final adjustments. Brightly colored construction paper was cut for the paper mola table, more paper set out for the Danish woven hearts, paper plates, feathers, pipe cleaners, scissors and glue set up for masks, and paper bags and colored paper scraps put out for puppets. Crayons were peeled for the warming trays and set against the wall where the outlets were. A long line of newspapers was set down along another wall to offer a place for giant tempera posters and prints to dry. Parent helpers carried the big loom down so it could hold a place of honor in the center of our wagons circle, and lots of felt was cut and displayed with heavy string and big-holed needles for the L.F.T.s.
After a tornado of activity we looked around and discovered that our start time had come and gone and each table had artists happily exploring new things. I was so entertained visiting different tables and watching what our talented community was doing I almost forgot to take pictures but managed to capture some of the fun. Until the batteries quit. In both cameras. No matter. We laughed and put a giant pile of batteries on the "to do" list for next year. (Speaking of a "to do" list, I would greatly appreciate input from those of you who attended. Do you have suggestions for improvement? Is there something you want to insure that we do again? Did you get help from an Evergreen student who deserves a thank you note?)
We had such fun. Little people were teaching big people who were teaching middle sized people who were celebrating the joy that creating art always brings us. Some of the extra paint escaped the aprons and rags but it looked like any errant color was being worn as a badge of honor. There is no age limit on how much fun it is to explore color, texture, and creativity. It was important to me that our offerings were true to the concepts of TAB as they relate to inspiring creativity through access to great media. Our thank you list includes:
Dr. Warner, principal, for helping with crowd serenity and cleanup, as well as his steady support for the arts, Jimmy, Daley, Oscar, Angelica, Hilda, and Ashlee, Lupita and her brother, Victor, Art Club members who helped with a million tasks, (especially Ashlee, who was the main instructor at Danish hearts for the whole night and is a fabulous teacher!), Jennifer, who helped with setup and cart pushing, Ms. Robbins, who worked the paper mola table with such flair, Ms. Doyle, who lent support while managing the Evergreen Synchronized Baby Stroller Brigade, Ms. Berg and Ms. Mott, who helped with sewing and problem solving, Harmony's mom, who peeled crayons and got the melted crayon center going, Casi's mom and dad, who helped with loom lugging as well as the print center, Daley's mom and big brother, who helped with clean up, Ms. Salinas, who helped by STRONGLY suggesting that the art teacher eat
some of her supper, Ms. Jackson, PTSO president, who helped to generate the idea, Ms. Peterson, who helps with all sorts of kid projects, Ms. Morgan in the library, who's a great collaborator, Ms. Salzer who came, even after a full afternoon of caroling with her choir, to help with crowd control, Ms. Trejo and her family, who actively participated in creating some fabulous art and then stayed to help clean up, too! Mr. Escobedo and Mr. Wilford helped with room setup and with clean up after we'd all cleaned up, Dr. Warner had washed and rearranged tables, and Ms. Gray and Jennifer cheerfully pushed the brooms. I also appreciate my sweetie, who helps by ferrying supplies back and forth from Olympia and never inserts earplugs when I plan out loud or talk about art for six straight hours. If I forgot you, send me an email or collect your thank you hug when we see each other at school. Same time next year?
There were a lot more photos (HARD to choose!) than would fit in a normal sized blog. Here they are, in a gallery called, Art Night 2009. Enjoy the visit!
It's not our art, but our heart that's on display. - Gary Holland
Things I've learned about elementary art shows:
- Start early. No - earlier than that.
- Keep a rich collection in children's portfolios. Don't depend on fabulous work to return once it's escaped to the refrigerator or Grandma's house.
- Estimate the amount of time you'll need to mount the artwork. Now, double it. That's about half the time you'll need to make sure everything is perfect.
- Invite everyone you know. Celebrate the people who came and don't worry about those who couldn't make it. Offer art-related door prizes, drawn from the names of students who attended with their families. Celebrate the class with the most visitors with a colorful ice cream party.
- Take good care of your friends, lovers, and volunteers. You'll need all of their help setting up and tearing down the show.
- Write thank you notes to everyone - the facility manager of the venue you used, the webmaster of the radio outlet who added your show to the community calendar, the newspaper staffer who added your press release to the weekly paper, every volunteer who helped, and every colleague who attended.
- Take lots of pictures.
- Don't get the flu. If you DO decide to get the flu, don't stage it during a swine flu pandemic. (See #4 - double and triple your be good to everyone close habits. All those sweet people will come in handy when Public Health and the school district nurse forbid anyone with flu symptoms from contact with normal [non-art show stagers] until further notice.)
Enjoy. Children's art is glorious, but the collective effect of 500 pieces of kid art will give you goosebumps. Or tears. Or both.
For all grand and glorious efforts, there must be a "this is the first time I've tried this" time. I decided to stage a whole-school show to showcase our kids' art about when started enjoying the collective impact of our hallway displays last year. I started a file with ideas and suggestions before that school year ended and added to it through the summer. The challenge of a venue is tough. Encumbering our gym/cafeteria for two or three days isn't a good choice. My PE partner already has lots of interruptions that take his classroom away and April weather in western Washington is usually too rainy for him to teach comfortably outside. Commandeering the hallways in my school is problematic, too. An important part of instruction at my school is a program called, GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Development.) Bulletin boards in the hallways are filled with colorful examples of children's writings and drawings about their lessons. The school is fairly new so the halls aren't wide enough to accommodate vertical displays and the three "pods" that cap the three hallways, while roomy, are always in use with small groups of children in special interest or intervention groups.
Hmmmm. On the other hand, there's a great space at our small town's city hall. It's an easy walk from our school - about 4 1/2 blocks. I reserved the main room the second week at school and began "talking up" the show to the kids. An art show like this one is a great chance for students to choose a favorite piece of artwork from all the work they've completed throughout the year. The stage was set - if you'll forgive the cliche - and the artmaking continued throughout the year.
The impact of all that child art in one place was amazing. I'd spent a year and a half researching display methods and settled on a combo approach. Some of the work was mounted on the walls, some laid out on long tables, and some was hung on livestock panels that we hooked together in sets of three to stand like vertical kiosks of sorts. It was an crazymaking amount of work and probably contributed to how hard the flu hit me that week. It was interesting in another way, too. We'd rented the whole room but found, when we came to set up, that one wall was covered with Arts Council pieces from professionals and that black curtains carved out a 20 foot, entire width of the room section for the Peninsula Art Association's annual spring show and sale. As it turned out, there was plenty of room for all of us, and the adults were interesting. We had everything from sniffing, look down my nose at children's paltry offerings to smiles on quiet faces that looked at every single piece, reading the artists' statements as the artwork was savored. We didn't have enough attendance from the school but I'll figure out another way to make a run at it next year. The people who did come loved it and the kids who were there were proud to see their work on display. I put together a guest book for people to share comments and left it on the entry table. The written comments were fun to read and supportive, but my favorite adult comment was from my principal, who said, "I loved the artwork, of course, but I lost myself in the artist statements that were attached to each piece. I read those for a solid hour - they're windows into those kids' souls."
My favorite child response was from a brother and sister (K and 4th grade, respectively) who brought every relative in town - totaling 14 people - to stake out their claim to the ice cream party prize for most guests. They didn't win that contest but the special art supplies they won pleased them even more.
As grand first efforts go, I think all of us did a great job.