Friday, September 19, 2008

Much More Than Words

I started teaching "More Than Words" yesterday - Pyramid Atlantic Art Center's new after school program at Silver Spring International Middle School. 20 Art Club kids signed up, encouraged by art teacher Gabrielle Morcate. Over the next ten weeks, as lead teacher, I will collaborate with storyteller, Ellouise Schoettler with the assistance of master papermaker Gretchen Schermerhorn.

Using storytelling, printmaking and bookmaking "More Than Words" aims to help young people to develop their literary and visual arts skills and allows them to draw upon personal experiences. When asked to develop an outline for the program, I immediately thought of the upcoming election and how this is such an important and exciting time in history. And even though these children are too young to vote, I wanted to find a way to include them in this important political debate so that their voices could be heard through their art.

So I thought we could challenge young people to identify, examine, and dissect key words that emerge in the presidential campaign, and make visual and literary statements about what America is and should be. Through storytelling, the words become the vehicle for recovered memories and experiences. And through words and images, they can examine America through the eyes of women, the poor, immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities.

Each week we will take a key word or concept from the campaign for exploration. Last night our word was "change." We discussed the power of words and how initially Barack Obama positioned himself as the candidate of change with the slogan "Change We Can Believe In. It's interesting because when John McCain declared "Change Is Coming" in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, the debate made a shift. Now when Obama speaks, a podium sign reads "Change We Need."

We went on to discuss what changes the candidates were talking about. Many themes emerged including the war, the economy, race and women. They were then urged to create cut paper collages from pictures in magazines, newspapers and scrap paper about the word "change." The teens cut, and assembled and pasted with zeal. The resulting collages were awesome. I was impressed with their use of color and composition and how they really examined their feelings about the issues. I'm excited about next weeks class and how master storyteller Ellouise will weave story into the mix.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Me, Myself and I Transformed

I concluded my 12 week art program with teen girls at a detention facility this week, facilitated by the arts organization Class Acts Arts, in Silver Spring, Maryland, which places professional artists from all over the world in correctional facilities to teach. During the duration of the program we created several artists books, made origami, created pop up cards, experimented with tie dye, marbelized paper and wrote poetry and stories. Most of the projects were introspective in that I wanted them to exam their lives and choices. One entitled "My Natural Disaster" challenged them to look at the Tsunami in Indonesia and imagine what it would have been like, stranded on a make shift raft for 8 days.

I wanted our last project to be on a larger scale, so the last two weeks we created a painted mural on tyvek, which was originally titled, "Me, Myself and I". Later the girls changed the name to "We Are All in This Together." I projected their silhouettes on the tyvek and had them trace the outlines. I was struck by the fact that few of the figures had arms. One teen pointedly told me, "Arms... I don't have arms. I'm locked up".