Staging an art show is an interesting exercise. It's one part celebration, one part pulling teeth, one part planning, and one part total surprise. As our choice-based studios have matured at Evergreen Elementary School, we've taken on a bit more with our end of the year exhibition. Year one was an art walk. Our current PTSO president, Donna, contacted area businesses and arranged for display space. She has considerable artistic ability in her own right and the displays were well received in coffee shops, cafes, libraries, and utility companies. Artwork was chosen on the basis of variety and pithy artists' statements and Donna did ALL the legwork involved in hanging and retrieving the displays.
Year two (last year) was our first year staging a big show in a public space. Since our gym/cafeteria is used for so many purposes during the day and is also booked for athletic and dance practices in the evening, it wasn't a good idea to display our artwork there. Our hallways have some bulletin display space, but with active, innovative teachers, they're always full of children's writing and poetry, artwork, and science and math project work. Our experience with staging the show at our local Civic Center was a positive one, so we booked the big main room again this year. Only four blocks from our school, the two story "big room" lends itself well to weddings, big meetings, community events, and elementary art shows! The city offices that are there - police, court, and water payment offices result in lots of foot traffic and their facility manager, Mark, has a crew that is adept at setup and take down.
After I looked at the attendance data from last year I realized that having the show in the evening hours, alone, resulted in fairly modest numbers of visitors. We'd also attempted to gain larger crowds by scheduling the show during our annual Dia de los Niños celebration. Instead of bolstering attendance, that split the crowd. A brainstorming session with my specialist team (PE, music, library) started the planning for walking field trips to see the show. Grade levels would make the trek in pairs (K-1, 2-3, 4-5) with lots of adult walkers to help with safety and behavior choices. Our specialist time provides planning time for teachers but after presenting the proposal to the Leadership Team, people were willing to juggle their schedules for the day so that all children and staff could see the show. To help support the goals of my library partner we scheduled a book fair for the evening of the show in the school library.
Perhaps I'll track the amount of time it takes to mount 540 pieces of artwork on black construction paper and convert oral or written artists' statements from each child someday. This year's effort began last June, when the order for 18"x24" black paper went in. The April, 2009 show taught me that gluing enough 12"x18" paper to mount the number of large paintings we had was seriously time consuming so the larger paper size worked great this year. I talked to the students about the show early in September when we decorated our portfolio covers, promising that they'd enjoy the process of choosing a favorite piece when the show came along in the spring. A few children proudly announced, "This one is for the show!" when they finished a particularly satisfying piece of artwork. Others needed to be nudged a bit. Ours is a methodology that focuses more strongly on process than product, so many children prefer to try to "just do one more picture of X" to choosing a piece from further back in the year. After much shuffling of artwork, deep consideration of everything in the portfolios, and only a little bit of BossyArtTeacherStrongArming, works are chosen.
Artists' statements are amazing things. I watch adults and children alike sink into the fascination of listening to the artist's voice in print while their eyes look at the art. Some are tidy lists that highlight process. Others are rambling stories
that beg for more print space. Still others are almost too private - windows into that artist's mind. Younger students dictate their statements and they're dropped straight into a computer template. Older students do their own first draft and submit the statement when the art is submitted for the show. A few find it difficult to talk about their art (hence the earlier reference to pulling teeth) but I politely insist. You won't be there to discuss your work with your viewers. Share just a little about what you were thinking, please. This year's format was two statements: Share something about why you created this piece. Share something about how you made it.
Thank you notes have gone out to the volunteers who gave us their afternoon to help hang the show, to the maintenance men who transported the livestock panels for my display kiosks, and to the facilitator of the room, for being such a pro in how he deals with our wandering art hordes. Data from the surveys I distributed to staff are being collected to help in next year's planning, and the artwork from the 2009-2010 art show is safely posted on refrigerators all over town. Life is good.
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!
Watching kids explore (rub out/beat on/taste/pummel/argue about/share/celebrate) art is an amazing thing. So much of their world is tight and controlled or precise and orderly that their art studio time feels like air being let out of a too-full balloon. Neat and tidy have their place, of course, and we work hard to make sure that we've put tools and essential art "stuff" back where it goes, but the inherent freedom in art is simply delicious.
A case in point: kindergartners were ready for some additional responsibility this week. (Read: MOST of the inside the room road races have slowed to a trot and we've all adjusted to a single session time of 35 minutes. Sitting (vibrating?) on the rug for "art talk" is working better all the time. TAB lore recommends slow, sequential addition of new things, bu,t invigorated by spring break, I decided to add three things at once. Most everyone is tall enough to reach the printmaking table, it was just "time" to start some paper weaving, and several of the ducklings have been begging for access to the melted crayon counter.
If you haven't been close to kinderpeople who are getting to try something new lately, rent or borrow some quickly. It's glorious. We had to put hands in pockets to curtail 274 different colored fingers (do the math - 26 kids circled around a table with four different colors of paint and rolling brayers!) but the demo of how to spread ink (tempera, but who's picky at this age) and use stamps and combs resulted in a giddy chorus of "Ooh! and Aaaaah!"
To demonstrate the safety cautions of the melted crayon warming trays I held one in front of my chest, showed the kids where the cool and the hot spots were, did some bright colored swirls to show how slidy melted wax can be, and then we all practiced licking on too-warm fingers and blowing to cool them down. ("This is what the big kids do when they get their fingers a little too warm.")
Paper weaving is a great prerequisite for weaving on our big loom, so we practiced saying "over, under" to my paper strips so they'd know where to go. Our kindergarten teachers do a fabulous job with early math activities so there was immediate crowing of, "I see a pattern!" and lots of descriptive language: "It's a checkerboard!" and "Mira! Una bandera de los carros!" There's such a range with little guys so some kids can "get" weaving immediately, but with a little help from an adult, it's a successful activity. After sides are glued, feathers or foamies or other fun stuff can be added from the collage area so the kids can see the possibilities for combining centers.
I smile every time a seriously precise, super neat child approaches something inherently messy like printing. With the first smudge on a finger, permission is requested to go wash hands. Most kids, though, will agree to waiting until all the printing is done before washing off the top layer or two. We don't just need permission to create, but to make messes on the way to good art.
I got lots of kudos for my "HowOnEarthAmIGoingToMakeAPrintHanger
OrSpendingMoney?" invention. Little fingers master big clips quickly and independent smiles abound as they take care of their own creations.
Cool stuff, great fun, and MOST of the paint went onto paper rather than children. Woo hoo!