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Oak Hill Explores Self Portraits

Danya makes a silly face

How can you draw your friend on a Zoom call? How can you explore identity with a can opener and a spoon? Despite the challenges brought forth from necessary distance learning approaches, Oak Hill School students found ways to do just that through our Arts Unite Us program.

Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman had just started her 10-week residency with educator Danya Lebell’s class when the pandemic forced the school to close abruptly. Using what students had on hand at home, Cathy changed the curriculum to focus on self portraits and identity, working with both students and paraprofessionals.  

For the first online class, we took turns making different faces and posing for each other. We quickly found out that it was a challenge to work on Zoom, as staring at the tiny green dot of the camera isn’t the same as looking into someone’s eyes. For artists experiencing disabilities, eye contact is especially crucial for interpersonal engagement. Despite these challenges, the activity was a perfect fit for students as they begin exploring job opportunities. Learning to read facial expressions is key!

portraits

Monica makes a sad face

The following week we explored drawing profiles while making different expressions. A week later we practiced blind contour drawing. We hid our paper and drawing hand in a grocery bag and drew each other without lifting our pencils or peeking inside our bags. The faces didn’t look like we expected, but we made some interesting line drawings.

For our final class, we used kitchen utensils and other objects. Students and paraprofessionals made four different portraits, each time rearranging the items in a different way. It was amazing to see how many expressions a can opener could make.

“I  wanted students to use art to explore thinking outside the box,” Cathy said. “Given the complex challenges of our world, staying flexible and confident in our choices is more important than ever.”

 

Blind Contour Drawing

Cathy’s blind contour drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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: 

 

Magnolia Park School Art Brings More Beauty to San Rafael

Youth in Arts Work at San Rafael Garage

Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artist Julia James, Artist Travis Weller and young artists

When you park in downtown San Rafael, look up!

Colorful art created by children at Magnolia Park School during a Youth in Arts’ residency has inspired a sign now on display at the Fifth Avenue and C Street garage.

The city’s Parking Services Division selected the work created with Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artist Julia James during a competition last year aimed at beautifying the downtown San Rafael garage. The mixed media piece has been transformed into a 3 by 6 foot sign at Fifth Avenue and C Street while the new public safety center is being built across the street. The sign will remain up for six months before a new sign featuring new artwork will take its place.

Each children’s art piece that has been selected is paired with work by an adult artist that appears on the opposite side of the sign, celebrating San Rafael. The piece created by Julia’s students at the San Rafael school is paired with  “Under the Surface” by San Rafael-based artist, Travis Weller.

This is the second Youth in Arts’ artwork to win a spot in the sign contest. A mixed media piece by students at Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito has already been on display. That art was created last spring in a self-contained class of kindergarten and first graders who worked with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman.

Cathy’s and Julia’s classes were part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us (AUU) Program, which serves young artists experiencing disabilities.

Thank you to the city of San Rafael for this amazing program.

Finding Home the Jerusalem Youth Chorus

Jerusalem Youth Chorus

The Jerusalem Youth Chorus alumni ensemble sings at San Francisco City Hall earlier this year

What does “home” mean to you?

Is it a physical place? Being with family and friends?

Founded by Micah Hendler in 2012, the Jerusalem Youth Chorus (JYC) is a choral and dialogue program for Palestinian and Israeli youth comprising 30 singers between the ages of 14 and 19. Its mission is to create a space for young people to be able to discuss their differences while creating music together.  Deeply inspired by the context-specific message of “Home,” by Phillip Phillips, Greg Holden and Drew Pearson, the JYC first recorded it in 2014.  That video is here: https://youtu.be/xMkq

While sheltering in place, singers and instrumentalists joined the choir from their homes all over the world for “Home” from home, a reimagining of “Home” with its global family, including alumni and beloved collaborators. One of them was Youth in Arts’ `Til Dawn Director, Austin Willacy.  You can find that video here.

“We initially thought about making a video of ‘Home’ from home just with the chorus as a cute thing to keep us singing together in this time,” JYC Artistic Director Micah Hendler said. “But once we opened it up to our global community and heard the artists … who answered the call and lent their voices to sing ‘just know you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna make this place your home,’ we knew we were on to something extraordinary.”

It is an inspiring piece, and one you’ll want to hear more than once.

“This is a moment where the world is reevaluating what home can mean and what kind of responsibilities we have to one another, locally and globally,” Willacy said.

Willacy first met the chorus last summer as a music educator and featured artist at Jerusalem Singing Camp, a two-week summer program in Jerusalem. 

“There is a strong overlap between Micah’s vision for the JYC and mine for `Til Dawn,” said Willacy.  “We’re both doing what we can to create resilient communities infused with love that provide a safe place for young singers to discover themselves, and tap into an unshakable sense of self, regardless of what’s happening around them.”

Austin joined the JYC from his home studio in the East Bay. In addition to leading `Til Dawn, he is a renowned performer who travels worldwide as a solo artist and with the pioneering a cappella group, The House Jacks.

Other professionals who participated in the “Home” video include recording artist David Broza; singer, songwriter and activist Achinoam Nini (NOA); composer and vocal activist Melanie DeMore; Joanna Jones and Ari Afsar from the cast of “Hamilton;” Craig Jessop, former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; YouTube stars Malinda, Sam Tsui and Casey Breves; Udi Bar-David, founder of ARTolerance; actor, director and vocal activist Mira Awad; Frank Fredericks, founder of World Faith; Ysaye Barnwell, composer and former singer with Sweet Honey in the Rock; composer Moira Smiley; and Micah’s family members.

“I try to use my voice as a weapon of mass connection,” Melanie said during the video.”We are all one in this world. That’s just the way it is.”

 

 

 

Thank you, Community Partners!

 

We are so grateful for our community partners, like the Rotary Club of Mission San Rafael, whose contributions to our Covid Relief Fund are getting sanitized art kits to students and families, and enabling Youth in Arts to develop creative programming.  Last week, a new community partnership bloomed when our donors supported delivery of 100 sanitary art supply kits to Venetia Valley families at a pop-up food bank organized by Congregation Rodef Sholom, Seed Releaf, Extra Food and the Canal Alliance.

The kits included a color pencil set, drawing pencils and a sharpener purchased at RileyStreet Art Supply, plus beautiful paper donated by WIGT Printing. Children also received coloring pages made from kindergarten and first grade self portraits from Laurel Dell Elementary School in San Rafael featured in our online show, “Imagining Friendship,” our annual Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts exhibition. There were bilingual art lessons to do at home, too!

Special thanks to Youth in Arts’ Board Member Suzanne Reich Gibson, who helped lead this effort to organize and distribute art kits. Suzanne said that when she heard about the food bank, she offered to fundraise so that Youth in Arts could support Venetia Valley (Venetia Valley Elementary School is one of our partners).  Wearing masks and practicing social distancing, she and Youth in Arts Development Associate Morgan Schauffler prepared the kits for distribution. Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal also pitched in by choosing and ordering supplies.

“To me, the great part of this is getting the artwork of Laurel Dell students into the hands of Venetia Valley students and their families,” our board member Suzanne said. “It shows how much we’re all a community and how much art connects us.”

Youth in Arts had set a goal of raising $10,000 for its Covid Relief Fund, with sponsor Troutman Sanders and Youth in Arts board members promising a 100 percent match up to $10,000. We exceeded our goal, and have raised more than $22,000 to sustain our organization and assist us with moving our educational programming online (including the generous $2,000 donation from the Rotary Club of Mission San Rafael). The fund will help teaching artists get more technical support for visual and performing arts residencies this Fall.

Thank you to all of our community partners. We could not do our wonderful, innovative programs without your support. With so many families are homeschooling and sheltering in place, partnerships between nonprofits and local businesses are more important than ever.

So far, more than 500 sanitized art kits have been created. We hope to continue providing them to students in our programs, so please consider supporting Youth in Arts as we continue to bring creativity to students of ALL backgrounds and abilities!

 

Artist Tracey Wirth Lends a Hand

Tracey Wirth

Artist Tracey Wirth

At Youth in Arts, we get by with a lot of help from our friends. One of them is artist Tracey Wirth.

Tracey wears many hats: textile designer, seamstress, handbag creator, graphic designer, fine artist and more. She also happens to be a neighbor of Youth in Arts Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal.

When Suzanne started working on “Imagining Friendship,” our annual Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts show now online at Youth in Arts, she dreamed of turning kindergarten and first grade portraits into coloring book pages.

Enter Tracey, who generously agreed to help. Suzanne sent her more than 80 portraits and emotions studies created by students at Laurel Dell Elementary School last fall. Through Tracey’s magic computer skills, each portrait was transformed into a black and white line drawing.

“Those pages would not exist without Tracey’s help,” Suzanne said. “It meant the world to us.”

Tracey is no stranger to coloring book art. When the coronavirus shelter-in-place order took effect, she asked herself what she could do to help. Using her own artwork, she created 30 free and beautiful coloring pages available on her own website. Each one carries an uplifting message, like “not all heroes wear capes.”

“I like the idea of being a visual storyteller,” Tracey said. “It was good therapy for me.”

The feedback has been positive. One acquaintance gave some pages to her mother, who has dementia. The recreation director for her late mother-in-law’s assisted care facility in San Rafael printed out several pages for elderly residents there to use.

“I’d love to see more adult artists reinterpreting students’ art, ” Suzanne said. “There’s something very therapeutic about just coloring.”

Hug_A_House.png

One of Tracey’s coloring pages

If you haven’t seen the student self portraits in our online Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts show, please check them out here. (The portraits can be printed out, colored and put in your window for your neighbors to enjoy.)

The portraits were the final project of a 12 week residency with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. The Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts program builds fine motor, literacy and social emotional skills through art making with a rich variety of tools and materials. It also helps children learn how to make and keep friends while practicing sharing and empathy.

The program was created in 2013 with the Rezaian family in honor of the life of their young son, Walker.

 

 

Thank You, California Arts Council!

We just got some great news!  The California Arts Council has announced multiple grant awards totalling more than $50,000 to Youth in Arts to support various initiatives to reach students, teachers and families with arts education. 

The largest grant award was $20,000 for Youth in Arts’ Artists in Schools program in partnership with San Rafael City Schools bringing visual arts, architecture and dance directly into classrooms.  Youth in Arts also received a $12,540 Arts Exposure grant supporting assemblies with professional artists during the school day; $12,350 for Youth Arts Action grant in support of `Til Dawn, Youth in Arts’ award-winning teen a cappella group; $4,750 for Arts Integration Training for professional mentor artists; and $1,250 for staff professional development regarding the development and training of STEAM programs (Science, Technology, Arts, Math). 

“We are honored and thrilled to receive such recognition by the California Arts Council,” said Youth in Arts Executive Director Kristen Jacobson. “It enables us to provide vital programs in the schools, including direct service to students and ongoing support for teachers at the forefront of developing new STEAM curriculum in Marin. During these unprecedented times, we are thankful for the innovation and flexibility encouraged by the CAC to continue this work even through the lens of social distance learning. Our communities need access to creativity now more than ever, and Youth in Arts is working hard to answer that call.”

Youth in Arts was featured as part of a larger announcement from the California Arts Council of more than 1,500 grants awarded to nonprofit organizations and units of government throughout the state for their work in support of the agency’s mission to strengthen arts, culture, and creative expression as the tools to cultivate a better California for all. The investment of nearly $30 million marks a more than $5 million increase over the previous fiscal year, and the largest in California Arts Council history.

Organizations were awarded grants across 15 different program areas addressing access, equity, and inclusion; community vibrancy; and arts learning and engagement; and directly benefiting our state’s communities, with youth, veterans, returned citizens, and California’s historically marginalized communities key among them. Successful projects aligned closely with the agency’s vision of a California where all people flourish with universal access to and participation in the arts.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the California Arts Council recognizes that some grantees may need to postpone, modify, or cancel their planned activities supported by CAC funds, due to state and local public health guidelines. The state arts agency is prioritizing flexibility in addressing these changes and supporting appropriate solutions for grantees.

“Creativity sits at the very heart of our identity as Californians and as a people. In this unprecedented moment, the need to understand, endure, and transcend our lived experiences through arts and culture is all the more relevant for each of us,” said Nashormeh Lindo, Chair of the California Arts Council. “The California Arts Council is proud to be able to offer more support through our grant programs than ever before, at a time when our communities’ need is perhaps greater than ever before. These grants will support immediate and lasting community impact by investing in arts businesses and cultural workers across the state.”

The California Arts Council is committed to increasing the accessibility of its online content. For language and accessibility assistance, visit http://arts.ca.gov/aboutus/language.php.

Going Virtual: Madera School Embraces the Arts

As schools scramble to find virtual ways to reach their students, Madera Elementary School stands out as a model for continuing to provide its students access to innovative arts programs.

Youth in Arts teaching artists had just started an 11-week music program at the El Cerrito elementary school when the coronavirus pandemic forced Madera to close temporarily.

That didn’t discourage Madera leaders. The Madera Elementary Foundation, comprised of school families, met with Youth in Arts staff and teachers via Zoom to work out the details of how to create a virtual program. Thanks to those efforts, music programs in nearly 20 classrooms resumed after Spring Break. Instead of being together in a classroom, students tune in online.

“Madera has really gone the extra mile to ensure their students continue to receive the arts they deserve,” said Youth in Arts Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal. “We’re not giving up and neither are they.”

Youth in Arts has three teaching artists at Madera. They are: Brian Dyer, who teaches vocal and beginning percussion in kindergarten and first grade; Aaron Kierbel, who teaches percussion and drum in second grade; and Antwan Davis, who teaches body percussion and rhythm in third through sixth grades.

Youth in Arts Program Director Kelsey Rieger, who coordinated the move to digital teaching, said she hopes more schools will follow Madera’s lead.

“This is really the way of the future,” Kelsey said. “When schools partner with us, we find innovative ways to provide meaningful programs. It’s more important than ever than students have healthy and creative ways to express themselves.”

Youth in Arts has another Madera connection as well. Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman attended the school in second and third grade.

“Madera was a great place to go to school,” Cathy said. “It’s nice to know that hasn’t changed.”

Cathy had fun at Madera!

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