This spring I got tired of grumbling about the sad lack of art being made at my son’s elementary school. The older students had a mere three art sessions as part of a special outreach program put on by the local art museum, and sponsored by a parents’ group, but that is it. Arrghh. It is enough to make a mother–who happens to be an artist and former elementary school Art Teacher– resort to crazy bouts of performance art, the kind that involves walking in circles carrying hand-painted signs bearing pointed slogans.
Some teachers, to their credit, integrate art activities into the curriculum, and do that very well. But other teachers don’t feel equipped to teach art, or don’t have time, or can’t be bothered. Yes, I understand about budget shortfalls, and academic subjects taking precedence, but I believe that a well-rounded education includes the Arts–as many of them as possible. Period.
Forget the performance art, instead I went to our enthusiastic Principal and offered my skills and services as a volunteer. She listened, got excited about possibilities, and rounded up her Arts Committee. The committee took the idea further and helped flesh out details. We came up with a once-a-week “Art Academy” to happen during lunch recess, the only time that art could be worked in outside of the required curriculum. The only problem was how to pay for materials, as we could not use materials that the school already had, allocated as a specific budget item from the district. Ah, bureaucracy.
Sooo, the next step was to go to a meeting of the same parents’ organization that raises money for enrichment activities at the school, and ask for start-up funds for art supplies. I took this meeting as an opportunity to not only ask for the money for our Art Academy project, but to really advocate in the strongest way I know how, for Arts in Public Schools. I joked about bringing my “power suit” and brought out my most paint-spattered art apron for my presentation. As you might guess, at that meeting I was really preaching to the choir, as they nodded and agreed with me, point for point. The organization’s chair asked at the end of my speech if I would take it to the Governor’s office next. Not a bad idea, though as they say, “you can’t get blood from a turnip,” or the Turnipnator, as we might have to start calling him.
The group at that meeting said a unanimous, “Yes,” to my project, gave me supply money, and we were off!
For two months now I’ve been meeting with the kids who were chosen through a lottery system to participate in our Art Academy, which is roughly 60 kids per day, 20 per three back-to-back recess sessions. Not a lot when you consider that there are more than 800 kids in the elementary school, but it is something.
I started them with one of my favorite things, an introduction to Asian Ink Painting.
Then we moved on to horizontal landscapes, from a bug’s point of view.
For me, many of these pieces are breath-taking, and to see the artists at work was a joy. After the ink paintings, we moved on to vertical watercolors painted on-site, in the school’s blooming Native Plant Garden.
Now if we could just offer our kids a little more in the way of music, theater, and dance, we’d be getting to a creative place with education. The life of the mind and the individual is so much more than filling in little circles on test papers– our kids need to be able to draw and invent their own shapes, lines and colors, and most of all their own ideas.