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.
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.
Why do the arts matter? Look no further than Laurel Dell School.
The San Rafael elementary school recently celebrated its reopening with a joyful ribbon-cutting ceremony that drew dozens of students, staff and members of the community. Youth in Arts was there to celebrate its Architects in Schools program and to showcase the amazing work made during residencies last Fall while the school was being rebuilt.
Youth in Arts’ Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal presented Principal Pepe Gonzalez with the this year’s Pamela Levine award for his outstanding support of arts education. It was evident how much he is loved by the thick book Suzanne made that was filled with hundreds of cards and drawings from students, teachers and specialists. There were so many cards from well wishers that the book couldn’t hold them all.
Although Suzanne has never seen Pepe draw a picture, dance or sing, she considers him a kindred spirit who thinks like an artist.
“He enjoys the success that comes from solving problems as much as I do,” she said. “Mr. Gonzalez understand that the arts are about so much more than the pretty object we draw. The arts offer students a safe space to explore their world, to stand up to speak out and to believe in themselves.”
The day included visits to a special exhibition of work made with Youth in Arts’ architects Shirl Buss and Janine Lovejoy Wilford, and Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. Visitors were encouraged to look closely at how Youth in Arts teaches a sequential program in which skills are built upon from one year to the next. The lines and curves in a kindergarteners’ self portraits, for example, leads to a third graders’ colorful model of what Fourth Street in San Rafael could look like. That model gives fifth graders the skills they need to design spaces for the city’s future library.
Pairs of students from each class served as docents, giving tours, answering questions and explaining their work. Practicing speaking in public supports one of Youth in Arts’ goals: that students reflect upon making art and can speak confidently about their work. Third graders who worked with Shirl (creative director at UC Berkeley’s Y-PLAN) will present their design and policy proposals for downtown San Rafael the city’s 2040 general plan steering committee on March 11.
The daylong celebration ended with a Family Art Night with Youth in Arts. Children in after school care, as well as families and friends, stopped by to make tiny bridges for crossing the canal. It required them to find a place where they thought a bridge was needed, then to measure the spot to make sure the bridge was long enough. They used buttons, embroidery hoops, clay, bumpy paper and wood scraps to bring their models to life.
Family Art Nights are a great way to involve families in the art their children are making and are usually a part of all Youth in Arts’
Artists in Schools residencies. For more information about art nights and Youth in Arts’ residencies, please contact Program Director Kelsey Rieger at (415) 457-4878 ext 110.
Youth in Arts welcomed our wonderful new Program Director, Kelsey Rieger earlier this month. Kelsey has served as a community gallery manager, museum educator, and volunteer teacher. Most recently she was the Curator of Education at the Palmer Museum at Penn State University, where she received her Masters in Arts Education.
Thanks to her parents, Kelsey, a Southern California native, grew up with excellent access to the arts. “I was fortunate enough to have been gifted access to cultural institutions and the arts from a very young age, granting me entry into the perspectives, values, and aesthetics of people I had never met and places I had never been.” She explains, “I took art lessons every week, learned to play musical instruments, and spent weekends attending theatrical performances because my parents felt that this exposure would help me grow into a compassionate and capable adult. The arts were ingrained in every aspect of my life, and from these experiences I learned the value and humanity of creativity.” Recognizing that although her arts education was plentiful, many others’ is scarce, eventually led Kelsey to pursue a career in the field, “With time and perspective, I have grown to realize that my upbringing was a wonderfully privileged one and that many people suffer from inequitable access to arts resources across the country and throughout the world. It was this increased awareness and a deep-seated desire to provide every child with the same opportunities to grow with the arts that I had, which ultimately led me to my profession as an arts educator.”
Her drive to bring all arts to all students, makes her a fantastic fit for the role of Program Director. “I have always believed that at its core, art is a malleable and necessary discipline that helps us investigate, interpret, and engage with the world around us. Having worked closely with students in the process of creative expression and interpretation, I’ve witnessed the subtle power of the arts in promoting open mindedness and inspiring innovation as well as confidence in our youth and within society.” Acknowledging that arts education is too often undervalued, Kelsey passionately asserts that we need to do more, “Arts Education Administrators, community members, artists, and educators must work collaboratively across the institutional board to provide supplemental programming that is both accessible and relevant to students and people of all backgrounds. It is this need that initially interested me in the important work that Youth in Arts is doing, and I look forward to the opportunity to help propel their programs forward for the benefit of the community and the voices of our future generations.”
Though she doesn’t call herself an artist, Kelsey creates, and has long felt connected to the arts, “I have deep respect and admiration for the work that artists do. Having worked closely with many gifted artists devoted to creating and sharing their work with the world, I have never quite considered myself to be an artist. However, I was formally trained in the fine arts and have always found comfort in drawing and mixed-media sculpture. I enjoy the journey of making art and rely on it as a means of keeping my life balanced and healthy.”
We are thrilled to have Kelsey join our team. Her enthusiasm for her work is palpable, “I hope to find effective ways to apply my experience in public programming, community engagement, curriculum development, and evaluative research in order to keep growing YIA’s reach within the community!”
Thank you, Kelsey!
By Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman
For the past year, Oak Hill students have been exploring painting and sculpture. We ended the year with a student exhibit that featured several exciting projects. The display featured masks, paintings, drawings and two collaborative works based on the number paintings of artist Jasper Johns. It was important for students to get a chance to survey their own work as well as the art made by their friends. It was hard not to touch the art!
One of the projects the students liked best was using tape to separate space on pieces of canvas. The artists applied oil pastels and paint; once dry, they removed the tape. Some students enjoyed pulling off the tape more than painting! There were surprises of color and lines everywhere, and decisions to be made about whether to leave parts of the canvas bare. We finished off the project by using letter stencils. The artists were very creative and used the stencils randomly, rather than spelling out recognizable words or names.
Another popular project was making sculptures based on the work of Alberto Giacometti. Students began by making wire forms and then covering them with foil and clay. Once the clay dried, the sculptures were painted. Some students made human forms while others created animals.
Mentor Artist Eddie Madril reports on his latest residency in San Rafael:
In a beautiful surrounding, the children at Glenwood Elementary School in San Rafael got the opportunity to experience learning, trying, and “honing their craft” at various American Indian dance styles. The teachers encouraged their exploration and learning of Native culture, history, and world views while challenging themselves at Grass Dance, Fancy Dance, Fancy Shawl Dance, and Hoop Dance. These are all dances that can be seen at powwows across the U.S. Of course, the teachers also engaged in trying the dances themselves as any good teacher would do in order to lead by example. They worked so hard at their dancing that one day we had to try a few traditional Native games, and they did great!
As a grand finale for Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Tom Mayock’s dance residency at White Hill Middle School, over 400 students performed a wide range of dances from the Jazz genre, in such styles as Hip Hop, Pop, Body Percussion, and Zumba, to name a few. Tom led these young adults into a choreographed celebration with contemporary music and dances such as Katy Perry’s “Firework”, Tao Cruz’s “Dynamite”, with a triumphant performance of Jai Ho! in the Bollywood style.
A Special thank go to The Yes Foundation, Youth In Arts, Kathy Thorton, and Chris Strempek for their dedication to their community, to their leadership and collaboration.
And the young adults of White Hill Middle school must be saluted for their fierce wild cat spirit! Their dance is strong!