a reflection by Sadie Bills, CityArts AmeriCorps member at Delsesto Middle School, 2016-2017
Art is all about defying the norm. Artists work every day to resist the strong cultural current of financial security and social acceptance. They are relentlessly preoccupied with the struggle to embrace mistakes and the greater unknown. The rest of society tasks them with turning decay and turmoil into something worth looking at, even if just for a moment. Artists teach us lessons when all other forms of communication break down.
In these challenging times, artists and non-artists share the same responsibilities: calling bluff on things that don’t make sense, preserving equality, and keeping routes for communication open to all.
I can think of no other demographic that would benefit most from these strengths and skills than today’s youth.
“Art is about making mistakes,” we wrote on our Community Expectations page for the Delsesto Middle School after school art program. Our program is not about passing the time until dismissal, but about creating a safe social-emotional place where we can bring what we are confused by, worried, passionate, or happy about. We tell students this on the first day of class, and then we make art together.
The Community Expectations page says the following from students:
“Life always gives you a second chance,” “Don’t give up on your dreams,” “be kind,” “be a friend,” – and my personal favorite – “no shaking, humans or trees.”
Our students undoubtedly know what resilience looks like, and we are constantly thinking of how to help them enact it.
AmeriCorps TTAP Teaching Artist, Ali Blake, discusses how she and a teacher collaborated on a STEAM project, using CityArts’ Design Thinking process to support their core curriculum concepts. To learn more about our AmeriCorps TTAP Project, click here.
In 2016 I served as a Teaching Artist at Roger Williams Middle School and through that role I collaborated with classroom teachers in English, Math, Science, and Social Studies classes. The classroom teacher and I collaborated on hands-on STEAM projects, using a Design Thinking process, that supports the teachers’ core curriculum concepts.
In Ms. Harrington’s 7th grade English Enrichment class we read and discussed the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas — a fable about the Holocaust — through the lens of Social Justice throughout history.
In my role as teaching artist we used a design process that began with an exploration of how mural artists use art in the public space to create dialogue. We then explored how to create our own mural as a way to examine the dynamics of power, privilege, and injustice in the book and compared those dynamics to systems at play in the world today.
Young artists sketched out their mural ideas, keeping in mind the concepts of social justice and injustice, and using art in public space as a means of facilitating dialogue. Some young artists worked on one sketch, some on multiple; the ideas ranged from direct moments in the book and in more recent history, to more abstract representations. Each group presented their strongest idea to the rest of the groups, culminating in a whole class vote to decide on the idea to bring to completion. Ultimately, we did come to a consensus the strongest idea for each class, but we also discussed ways to incorporate the strongest elements of the other designs in our final design, building upon the chosen sketch in its original state.
In order to create this work every needed to learn how to sew! This was a new skill for many students. It was a challenge, but students collaborated to chose task groups within their panels in order to more smoothly accomplish the goal. On any given day, students were sewing, cutting pieces out of fabric and evaluating our progress.
The murals turned out great! I am excited to see how they continue to grow and start a dialogue about justice and injustice within the school.