One of the most important tasks I have as an art educator is creating a culture of creativity. I am finding the more I offer choice, and the more I hold the standard up high to develop a personal connection to their art, the stronger the students voices become. Teens are looking for a way to express themselves and to make a mark in the community.
In my studio, I still share and demonstrate techniques, skills, and push art history, but at the pace the individual student requires it. Most of my students will not move on to art school or do art beyond my studio. I hope they will, but I feel most will not do it as a regular practice. So, I do want to prepare my students to be able to analyze a work of art, evaluate the quality, decipher the process, and engage in the meaning of the work.
My students will be future leaders, parents, business owners, and activists. I want to model a method of developing their point of view through research, trial and error, risk and reward, humility, generosity, and inner strength. These are not often thought of as areas of development in the art studio, but I believe students need to experience this in education with guidance in how to manage their opinions, feelings, thoughts, and actions. Educators are in education to help shape young people; we care about young people. Young people look to us for answers, support, guidance, and examples of role models.
As an educator in the school, as an art educator, I can manage the studio space and materials in a routine manner so all of my students can locate materials and feel structure surrounding them. Students need to feel support and routine. Students also need space to develop at their own pace. This year, it has been a challenge for me to step back and let the pace unfold for each individual. It has been my experience that most of my students have taken to the choice based program and have accelerated beyond my expectations. A few of my students need more guidance, modeling, and the occasional discipline.
What has become more apparent to me is that my students want to feel they can contribute to the school and community culture. They desire to feel they belong and that they count. I strive to provide that attention and opportunity for my students to make a meaningful mark in the community. Building a culture around mutual respect, cooperation, and admiration is key to bring understanding of differences and to spur innovation and positive change. The conversation about how we teach needs to encompass how we are developing young teens character.
I have embarked on a large-scale project to support the Garden Club in town. A request was made to paint 12 large scale canvas paintings for a special Garden Convention that will be held at the Art Center for people from five different states. Our canvas paintings will be used as the tabletop covers for the event and then they will be auctioned off for a charity I selected. I chose to donate all the money for a non-profit to support local low-income public visual arts programs. I made a request for students to step up to do the murals. Many chose to do a mural by themselves and others formed teams. As our deadline approached we needed more support to complete a few of the murals and more students jumped into help. The students loved being a part of the project, even if it was just adding a little color to the background. The students enjoyed the idea of making a change for someone else. My goal is to raise enough funds to change the outcome of several art programs in the state. Not adding $100.00 to the art budget but really make a contribution to change the program to serve young art students who need it. I tell my students all the time, “Go big, make it count.” We have so much opportunity and talent so I feel we need to make it count to make a difference in the world.
This project has been a magnet for the studio and it has collected students in the school who don’t normally take a studio class. Students feel empowered to join in and help with the guidance of other experienced artists in the studio. Often the conversation begins as to who designed it, what is this for, and how can they help. I am raising awareness of the needs of our public school art programs and the importance of art in the lives of children. I am also engaging students with art and artists and bringing confidence to students who may not have felt they could contribute in a creative way.
I have also been able to pull more students into the art studio to view the many projects that my students are creating. The students comment and are impressed with the artwork in the studio. My artists hear the positive comments and are encouraged to continue to improve and step up to add clarity to the work they are developing.
It has been several long evenings to push the murals to completion but it is worth it.
Advocacy is a important part of art programs. Find a way to involve your school community in a project that reaches outside the school walls. Educate the needs of the program, empower the students, and encourage non-artists to participate. You will see, feel, and witness a grand change immediately in the interest in what is happening in the art studio.