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Raining Colors! at San Marin High School

Collaboration and problem solving, self-advocacy & awareness, and building new art skills were among Mentor Artist Lisa Summers’ exciting student goals in Brian Khoury’s class at San Marin High School. Through YIA’s Arts Unite Us program, Lisa worked with students in small groups for the first several weeks on skill-building lessons and projects that emphasized how we recognize emotions through facial expressions and how those facial expressions are communicated in art. Students used cardboard shapes and scraps (and Googly eyes!) to assemble faces that evoked emotions ranging from joy, sadness, humor and anger, to frustration, curiosity, and confusion by looking at the relative position of eyes (up eyes, down eyes, sideways eyes), eyebrows, and smiles vs. frowns.

In the second part of the residency students developed understanding of shapes, proportions, scale, shape, contrast and dimensional perspective by working with pastels and paint, Model Magic and blocks, collage, and even a stack of chocolate chips cookies.

Questions were focused on contrasts and comparisons between solids and patterns, opacity and translucency, two and three dimensions, and foreground and background. In the “Rainy Day” projects, students used patterned paper, colored paper, ink washes, pastels, metallic paint, and permanent markers to create a composition of a single figure standing in a downpour. Many students took this opportunity to explore rain gear fashion design including bat-themed umbrellas and raincoats. Students discussed shadows and negative space, and the visual impact of a gray-toned ink wash against the bright colors of the umbrella and raincoat. Students were asked to share their reflections on how their artwork said something unique about themselves, their interests, and their individual preferences for colors and materials.

A special thanks to the following organizations for making this program possible:

Engaging Through Art

 

With so much change happening in our world, art is a powerful tool for self expression.We’ve been moved by photos of people making art from the simplest materials. Flower petals turned into hearts. Food crumbs that inspired a face. Drying dishes? A quick still life.

In communities throughout the Bay Area, people have written messages in sidewalk chalk. Tiny hands have scrawled signs of encouragement in the window. Children have made morning altars of gratitude from flower petals and leaves. One family made their own giving tree, hanging it with tags suggesting ways to support Black Lives Matter. In another neighborhood, children painted rocks of hope and nestled them in the trunk of their old palm tree.

Morning altars

Morning altar in Novato

How does art show up in your life and sustain you in uncertain times? How can art support equity in your community? If you are making art, where are you making it, who are you making it for, and why?

Photo credit: Thanks to artist Nathalie Valette (blue plate, drying dishes and tree tags); artist Eve Aldridge (chalk message), and to the artists who made the hearts and altar.

What Makes Vallecito Students Powerful?

When Vallecito Elementary School students return to their school, they will see an outdoor mural that graduating 5th graders left for them – all of it created through distance learning.

Youth in Arts had just begun a partnership with the San Rafael school when the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close. Pivoting quickly, Program Director Kelsey Rieger worked with Principal Elizabeth Foehr and teachers Erin Baker, Robin Hassan, Sarah Lai, Julie McKeon and Hildie Sims to find a way to do the mural digitally. The project included 5th graders from five different classes.

“The teachers and the staff are the ones that made it happen, hands down,” Kelsey said. “The school still really wanted to provide this opportunity for the 5th graders, especially since Shelter in Place was taking a lot of their last year away from them.”

First, Kelsey filmed short instructional videos from home that explained the project. Students began by creating identity maps in the shape of a starburst. Kelsey explains, “We looked at the things that make up who we are, and what aspects of this identity we give to ourselves and also aspects given to us by other people. From there, each students created what we call a Power Word by choosing a part of their identity that they felt was most representative of who they are and that made them feel powerful.”

Students chose words like ardent, adventurous, creative, kind, ambitious, brave, and hopeful.

 

The finished mural

Using the Principles of Design, they then talked about how shape, color, texture and scale can be used to communicate messaging more effectively. Together, they also discussed typographical concepts and how to pay attention to spacing and shape to keep things legible. “Our goal was to create our own font for our Power Words that would further convey the meaning of that word based on the students’ interpretations and values,” Kelsey explains.

Students photographed their art and sent it to their teachers, who  sent it directly to Kelsey. Again, teacher participation was key. Because Kelsey never saw the students, she relied on teachers to communicate any questions or areas that the students required more support in. “I wasn’t with them in the classroom, so I couldn’t respond to student cues like you normally do when you’re teaching something new,” Kelsey said.

Upon completion, the mural was created from over 80 Power Words using materials students had at home – colored pencils, regular pencils, paint and markers. A few artists created their work digitally. The completed collaged mural was delivered to the school, where it will be installed for fellow students to engage with when they return in the Fall.

“They did a great job,” Kelsey said. “The works were personal and thoughtful, and were excellent examples of how the arts can bring us together in extremely unique and unexpected ways.”

Special thanks to the Vallecito PTA, educators, and staff for helping to make this project possible.

The teachers who made it possible

Novato High School – The Persona and the Self

Students in Maria Romero’s class at Novato High School worked with Mentor Artist Lisa Summers through YIA’s  Arts Unite Us (AUU) program. Lisa designed lessons around prompts and activities that used old photos, pieces of familiar toys, quick dry clay, and pastels to explore themes of social justice, culture, and family. The first activity was a sketching challenge based on David Hockney’s Polaroid mosaics. Students and teachers created mosaic portraits using pencils and Lyra Graphite crayons on Post-It notes, copying from squares of cut up images of activists Malcom X, Dolores Huerta, and Julia Butterfly Hill. They were then tasked with reassembling the image as a group. When Post-It notes were matched up to corresponding squares, students reflected on how shapes, shadows, and lines come together to make a composite image.

In looking at a single Post-It note, is there another composition there? What different styles of interpretation can you see in individual drawings? What is different about a group portrait as opposed to one created by an individual artist?

Because several of Maria Romero’s students are in the MSA Visual Arts program, experience and skills varied widely in the class. The idea behind many of the activities and lessons was to experiment different styles, collaborative art-making, and as an opportunity to look at a face as a way of familiarizing oneself with the “other,” even when that other is the self.

 

Thank you to the following organizations for making this program possible: 

 

Julia Chigamba and the Chinyakare Ensemble at Dance Palace

Julia Chigamba and the Chinyakare Ensemble, a family of musicians, dancers and teachers committed to preserving and sharing traditional Zimbabwean culture and promoting community building and education through art, put on an incredible performance at Dance Palace Community & Cultural Center. Sharing an electrifying display of the traditional dance, music, and culture of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, ensemble members Kanukai Chigamba, Julia Chigamba, and Augusten Basa performed three traditional dances for students from across West Marin. The first dance was a welcome dance called Mauya in the Shona language.

 

Next, Julia wowed audience members with a dance that is a celebration of the vital source of water. Students gasped and cheered as Julia danced with a full ceramic jug of water balanced on her head. Occasionally, the water would jump over the edges of the container – “the water is excited and wants to dance too!” Julia shares with students after the conclusion fo the song.

In a performance meant to rejoice in harvest, Julia and Kanukai performed with baskets containing various seeds and beans. As many of the dances are about weaving a colorful story of everyday life while teaching important life lessons such as goal-setting, perseverance, and thankfulness, students were encouraged to think about the celebratory and community aspects of music and dance for cultures around the world.

The Chinyakare Ensemble then encouraged everyone in the room to stand up and learn the narrative movements of a warrior’s dance while Augusten and Kanukai played marimbas and sang. When asked what the dance was about, one young students raised her hand and shared “I think it’s a dance about planting and growing things, and telling the story of our every day lives”. Together, we celebrated while Julia encouraged students to engage with items that the ensemble had brought with them from Zimbabwe, including mbiras and other instruments, as well as sculptures and wearable accessories. Students handled everything with care and respect, and we left the shared space of the performance feeling the joy of new connections being made!

 

Youth in Arts extends a special thank you to the California Arts Council, who’s support makes this program possible. 

 

Fourth Graders as Architects and Designers

How do we build a tower? What makes us powerful? How can we build a bridge to connect our current and future selves? Fourth graders at Laurel Dell Elementary School considered these and other questions as they practiced design and build skills through Youth in Arts’ Architects in Schools program.

Through a 12-week residency with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, students measured, designed, built, and drew. They began the residency by coming up with five words to describe themselves and building “towers of power.” Each student received a four-inch square base and had to build within the constraints of that size. After building individual towers, they formed pairs and brainstormed ways to connect the towers as a single bridge.

The residency ended with the creation of tiny bridges within a wooden box, connecting their current and future selves. Students spent time brainstorming about what they wanted to be, any obstacles they needed to overcome, and what career they wish to pursue. They looked at bridges from around the world and considered how they were designed, taking into account strength and aesthetics. They developed visual images for each, such as books for a career as a librarian and a camera and globe for a future world traveler. The building materials were simple: toothpicks, buttons, Q-tips, paper scraps and other found objects.

“It was really exciting to see students improve from week to week, tackling each project with curiosity,” Cathy said. “It’s important to find as many ways as possible to support young people as they try to find out who they are and who they want to become.”

With the pilot project now in its fourth year, Youth in Arts placed mentor artists or teaching architects in K-5th grade classes at Laurel Dell Elementary School in San Rafael. Each grade’s curriculum builds on the previous year’s skills. As with all our programs, we strive to foster confidence, creativity and compassion in all learners by offering innovative programs and teaching multiple ways. The Architects in Schools program was launched in 2016 with Youth in Arts in collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Y-PLAN/Center for Cities + Schools .

We hope to expand this program to more sites in the future.

Compassion and Confidence through Collaboration at Magnolia Park School

Concluding an Arts Unite Us residency at Magnolia Park School, Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Julia James and her students used their last day together to finish a collaborative painting they had been working on for over six weeks. The project began early on in the residency as students experimented with various tools and materials. Over the ten-week program, oil pastels, tempera paint, watercolors, rollers and different tools were used to make new textures and colors.

The first few layers of the painting demonstrated some of the early skill-building that students participated in. As we learned more about what materials were available and how to use them, we built upon our initial work using adaptive mark-making tools. Each week we practiced fine a gross-motor movement and built fine arts skills in color mixing, paint application, and decision-making.

On the last day of class, we gathered together to reflect on the artwork and come up with a title based on what we saw in our painting. We discussed the colors we had chosen, and thought collectively about what our artwork made us think about, and how it made us feel. During our conversation and throughout the residency, we worked on building our social emotional core competencies by exercising our sharing, listening, decision-making and collaboration skills.

Together, we decided that our classroom painting would be called, “The Story of the Leaf”. Can you see it too?

 

This program was made possible thanks to the generous support of our partners.

 

Exploring Art at San Jose Middle School

Mentor Artist Tracy Eastman says of her Arts Unite Us Residency at San Jose Middle School: “The students explored art in very creative ways!”

“Texture Collage Boards” —  Our first class project was all about textures. Each student was given contact paper with the adhesive side up (secured to white foam board) and choices of textured materials to add. We discussed what the materials felt like and described the feeling it gave, (i.e. soft, bumpy, rough, smooth, noisy/crunchy, hard, etc.). We then took oil pastels and drew across many of the textures. As the last step, we covered the remaining sticky areas with magic gold transfer foil. Some of the classes removed the white foam board from the back of the artwork and displayed them in the window, while others left them with the white background and hung them on the wall.

Our second class project was making stained glass window kites, which focused on creating shapes, working within borders and cutting with scissors. The students were given the same set up of contact paper placed on a white foam board, but with different instructions. Each student was given four strips of black construction paper to create a diamond shape on their contact paper and were given additional strips to add anywhere within the diamond’s borders. Within the spaces of the black strips, the students placed square pieces of colored and patterned tissue paper to further decorate their kites. The students then smoothed on a top layer of contact paper to seal the pieces in place and then cut them out, staying on the outside of the black diamond borders. Most students needed assistance and/or adaptive scissors, which were provided by the classroom teachers. Lastly, the students taped a yarn tail with a tissue paper bow to complete their kites. All of the students held up their kites and pretended to fly them around the room before they were hung in the windows.

During this residency program, we also focused on creating various marks on watercolor paper with tempera watercolor cakes and an array of adaptive tools. The tools ranged from paint brushes with variously shaped handles, sponges, roller sponges, silicone stamps, etc. Prior to adding paint with the adaptive tools, the students drew on their paper with oil pastels to create resistance artwork. Together, we talked about oil and water resist each other and how the oil will fight with the watercolor to show through. The students improvised on making marks with different parts of each tool. One student even used the foam roller as a hammer and made small circles on his page. We used these skills to work on three-dimensional and two-dimensional projects throughout the residency.

 

These programs were made possible with support from the following sources:

Gesture Drawing

At Olive and San Ramon elementary schools, Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman taught gesture drawing to 3rd through 5th graders.

We started by standing up and drawing in the air with our finger and discussed how it felt to work “big.” Demonstrating with a student as a model, Ms. Bowman demonstrated how to capture the essence of the figure in a 30-second pose. Every student with an interest in selecting a pose got a turn, while the rest of the class worked quickly to capture their efforts. Models were able to explore what makes an interesting pose by choosing how to extend their arms and legs. As artists we learned to work fast, letting our intuition take charge. We practiced drawing the shapes, forms and lines of the body.

Gesture drawing was a great follow up to blind contour drawing and working small. It was hard at first to use the whole paper and resist the temptation to add details like eyes, ears and glasses but we did. When we finished, we had a thoughtful discussion about the process.

Through the California Department of Education’s Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Grant that Marin County Office of Education received, Youth in Arts was in multiple Special Day Classrooms this spring.

Persian Dance at Davidson Middle School

Youth in Arts was excited to offer two assemblies supported by funding from the California Arts Council to Davidson Middle School this Spring, tying into core learning goals for 6th – 8th grade Social Studies with arts integration techniques. For this program the Shahrzad Dance Ensemble, Director Shahrzad Khorsandi and four members of the ensemble, performed a special series of dances for the Persian New Year that had been choreographed and designed by Shahrzad over the last several years. Norouz (“New Day”), the Persian New Year, represents new beginnings, rebirth, and renewal. Shahrzad Dance Company’s Norouz program for 2019, Symbols of Love, brought into focus the true meaning behind this celebrated event and gave students the opportunity to learn about the music, traditions, and cultural relevance of the Iranian holiday today. The performance began with students learning several Persian Dance movements, such as Shokufeh (Blossom), where the dancer starts out with their arms at their sides, and then brings them up over head and back out to side palms up (like a blossom).

Students were also invited to participate in a modified rendition of the fire jumping tradition which is part of the Norouz celebration. Shahrzad explained that traditionally we will jump over fires, saying in Persian ” I give my yellow to you, you give your red to me”. This indicates a throwing away of sorrow, pain , suffering, anger and illnesses into the fire (yellow), in order to burn it and receive positive energy (red) from the fire.

Throughout the performance, dancers portrayed dynamic characteristics associated with the symbols of: Sabzeh (“Sprout”) which is symbolic for rebirth, Seeb (“Apple”) which is a symbol of health, Samanu (“Wheat Pudding”) which is a symbol of sweetness, Sekkeh (“Coins”) which is a symbol of wealth and prosperity, and Norouz (“New Day”).

These assemblies followed a three day cultural immersion series led by Shahrzad with participating classrooms in Fall 2018. During these workshops, Sharhzad sharing the geographical significance of the many regions in Iran/Persia, and how where each region is located within the country and what they are bordered by has affected the music and dance which can be found there. Students also learned about other types of Persian culture, such as the food, holidays, and traditions that are important to people across the country.

 

Youth in Arts would like to provide a special thank you to the California Arts Council for their support of this program!

 

 

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