Circles come in all colors and sizes. We can find them everywhere.
Students in Kathleen Haulot’s class at San Ramon Elementary School used Mason jar lids, tape rolls, tiny dishes and an empty yogurt container to make circles on black paper. Inspired by the work of Kandinsky, these young artists explored making circles big and small, loose and tight, thick and thin.
The students are working with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman as part of a 10-week residency at Olive Elementary School in Novato. This is the second year she has worked with Kathleen, whose students range in age from kindergarten to second grade. She taught the same project at Olive Elementary School with Joe Smith.
The artists used thick, creamy tempera crayons that are easy to hold and use for students experiencing disabilities. Instead of working on white paper, they drew on black. The stark contrast created visual interest, and students had to think about what happens when yellow is applied to black paper (more green) than white paper (more yellow).
“I want my students to know the joy of making art with anything, and working on black paper produces exciting, dramatic art,” Cathy said. “This is a great way for students to practice fine motor skills because they have to hold the lid with one hand and trace with the other.”
Cathy likes Mason jar lids because they are sturdy and easy to hold. Artists had fun using different objects to make different circles. When we finished, we put them together on a table and talked about how each piece connected with the others. Reflection on art making is a key part of our Youth in Arts’ programs, and it’s wonderful to witness the many ways students share their voices.
Youth in Arts is the only provider of arts classes (visual, dance or music) to nearly 40 self-contained classrooms of students experiencing disabilities in Marin County. You can see art created by these very talented students this summer at our annual “Outside the Lines” art exhibit at the Youth in Arts Gallery.
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.
By Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman
I love it when students ignore my directions.
I don’t mean the important rules: be kind, share, and respect yourselves, others and materials. But following the directions for how to do a project? It’s not on my list.
Making art intuitively is common among students with different learning styles. They care far more about process than result. They rarely ask if you like what they create, because frankly, they don’t care – and they shouldn’t. Often they use tools in new and unexpected ways, such as the handle of a brush (instead of the bristles) to scratch into wet paint.
Recently I taught at an elementary school through our Arts Unite Us program. I asked each student to come up with three words to describe themselves, and then turn each word into a line to make an abstract self portrait.
I met a young boy who slumped at the table, clearly disengaged. When asked for his words, he shrugged and said nothing. The kindly paraprofessional told him he either had to make art or go back to his desk and do school work, and he started to get up. I asked her to wait, feeling that if he was at least willing to stay at the table, some part of him might be interested. Even if all he did was sit there, I knew eventually he might make a mark … even if it took several weeks.
Suddenly, he wanted to draw Frankenstein. Great, I replied. What words would you use to describe him? His face lit up and he quickly came up with two words: creative and strong. Instead of an abstract line drawing, he created his own monster portrait. His work was different from everyone else’s – and just as engaging. I saw him a few weeks later, and he is still enthralled with making art.
As teachers, we are constantly reassessing how we define success. I see my job as being a trail guide – to point out the boulders rolling down the hill and which way the trail goes. The path artists take is up to them.
Children’s art created during Youth in Arts residencies has been selected as part of San Rafael’s public art project to beautify the Third Street Garage.
The city’s Parking Services Division selected two works created during arts residencies with Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artists Julia James and Cathy Bowman. Each mixed media work will be temporarily 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.
City officials said once they started looking at the garage, they realized it was time for a facelift.
“We’re really excited about this out-of-the-box project,” said Sean Mooney, San Rafael’s civic design manager.
City Manager Jim Schutz said he wants the city to have more public art that people happen upon and are delighted by, rather than seeing art only in a museum. San Rafael has been designated as a Downtown Cultural Arts District by the state because of its vibrant arts community.
“One of my visions … is that that happens all over downtown,” Jim said.
A mixed media piece by students at Willow Creek Academy is currently on display at the garage. The art was created last spring in a self-contained class of kindergarten and first graders who worked with Cathy. The art will be up through May.
The city also selected a piece created by students who worked with Julia James at Magnolia Park School in San Rafael. Cathy’s and Julia’s classes were part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us (AUU) Program, which serves young artists experiencing disabilities. Some of the young artists who created the Magnolia Park piece attended the city’s celebration.
Each children’s art piece selected, is paired with work by an adult artist that appears on the opposite side of the sign, celebrating San Rafael. Adult artists chosen include “Under the Surface” by Travis Weller, which is paired with the collaborative work by Julia’s students; and “Visions of San Rafael,” by Isabel Hayes, which is paired by the collaborative piece by Cathy’s students.
Students at Olive Elementary School explored shapes recently in a sculpture project that involved using common geometric forms: a sphere or circle, a square, a rectangle, a diamond and a triangle.
The young artists are part of Katie Kelly’s class receiving a 10-week Youth in Arts’ residency with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. The residency is part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us program, which works with young artists experiencing disabilities.
The children named the shapes made of foam core scraps and selected at least one of each for their sculptures. While the sculptures were drying, students looked at them all together on a table. We talked about the connection between the different sculptures and which ones fit together most easily.
“Working with shapes to make sculptures is one of my favorite projects to teach,” Cathy said. “I love that students are making connections between their own art and the work of their classmates. It really reinforces critical thinking and observational skills.”
To encourage sharing, Cathy provided one plate of glue for every two students. Building social-emotional skills through art making is a key part of what Youth in Arts teaching artists do. When students wanted more shapes, instead of saying “I need more shapes!” they were encouraged to transform that into a question, such as “May I please have more shapes?”
After making their sculptures, children will paint them and then create a painting of their sculpture. This supports hand-eye coordination and observational drawing skills. The sculpture lesson is an important foundation for lessons to come.
What do we need to play? How can we make it? How can we work together? Kindergarteners at Laurel Dell Elementary School in San Rafael spent a wonderful day building imaginary playgrounds.
Using large pieces of black foam core board at each table, students applied skills they had previously learned about shaping paper. Twisting long strips around pencils made spirals; making feet with folds allowed them to make swings. Folding accordion style made the stairs they needed to climb to a slide.
The young artists also explored pattern but using paper with patterns and creating their own patterns on plain paper with pastels. Working with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, we talked about other patterns we saw in the classroom and what connections we could make. How could we work together? How could we connect our ideas to make one playground?
The project offered rich opportunities for Social Emotional Learning through collaboration and sharing. When one little boy wanted shiny paper, several of his classmates offered him some. In another class, a student happily translated the instructions for her table mate, an English Language Learner. Teacher Alejandra Vazquez helped students connect the project to their real world experience by pointing to the blacktop outside their temporary classroom. If you could design the playground of your dreams, she asked, what would it look like? If you needed shade from the hot sun, how would you find it?
At Youth in Arts, we work hard to scaffold projects, building each week on skills learned earlier in the residency. The project was the second time students created playgrounds. Two weeks earlier. they made smaller, individual playgrounds; the following week they drew their own and a friend’s playground on paper, figuring out how they could connect them.
At the end of class, students went on a gallery walk with their hands behind their back to look at each other’s art. We had a rich discussion about similarities we saw in color, shape and line and all the ways we can make connections.
The program is part of the Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Fund created by Youth in Arts and the Rezaian family and generously supported by the Rezaians. It celebrates Walker’s life and love of the arts and is built around friendship and social emotional learning. How do we make and keep friends? What happens if we both want to build a slide in the same place? It gives children a chance to explore those and other questions in a safe, artistic place.
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.
By Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman
This year, I decided to start all of my art classes with a Brain Dance, a series of movements developed by dance educator and author Anne Green Gilbert to wake up the brain and improve focus. Often I see students at the end or beginning of the day, when they are restless or tired. My five-minute version of the Brain Dance helps reinvigorate them while focusing on re-mapping of brain-body connections.
Inevitably it’s the wiggly students, the ones who need it the most, who are the most resistant. As an introduction activity, the Brain Dance acts as a daily assessment tool for my students. Who is having trouble calming their body or mind? Who has trouble with cross lateral movements? Who confuses left and right? Even, how is their sense of self today? Watching them move gives me valuable information about what skills they may find challenging when it comes to art making or the level of engagement I may need to address.
The dance includes eight patterns of movement, starting and ending with the breath. Deep breathing is essential for all healthy bodies. When children are stressed, it’s no coincidence that they take short, shallow breaths. Starting and ending with belly breaths means more oxygen for young brains. From breath, the Brain Dance moves through the developmental patterns of movement (the movements we take in our first year after birth) to the most integrated pattern, cross-lateral connectivity. Cross-lateral is the pattern that crosses the four quadrants of the body (upper, lower, right, left) which supports higher thinking and even eye tracking used for reading and reading-readiness.
Recently I had a kindergartener who always wore a serious expression. Adrian solemnly watched his classmates do the Brain Dance, week after week, without joining in. On the seventh week, he spontaneously started participating in the warm up with a big smile on his face. Instead of saying “good job” or “well done” (vague) I looked for something specific in Adrian’s movements that I could point out, and others could follow. He found confidence in his kinesthetic learning that day; and my acknowledgement of his effort (by name) reinforced his effort and ability. He became a positive role model for the rest of the class.
When I started doing the Brain Dance it felt uncomfortable for me, since I see myself as a visual artist rather than a dancer. But as we learn more about how children learn and absorb information in multiple ways, integrating different art forms makes sense. When Laurel Dell 2nd graders visited the YIA Gallery recently, they learned an extended version of the Brain Dance from Youth in Arts’ Executive Director Kristen Jacobson. I picked up some tips as well.
The Brain Dance also helps teachers stay centered and focused. Who doesn’t need a belly breath during the day? You can learn more about the Brain Dance by viewing this video, Brain Dance, which is a part of Youth in Arts Digital Tool Kit.
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Creating self-portraits is a challenging – but important – way to explore feelings and emotions.
At Laurel Dell Elementary School in San Rafael, first graders started their self portrait journey by looking in the mirror and making different faces. In the first week, they drew five expressions: happy, sad, angry, surprised and scared. We made the faces together, then individually while looking in the mirror.
It was important to give students time to really look at themselves without the distraction of pencils and paper on the table. We felt the bones in our cheeks and noses and noticed details like eyebrows and hair. How is my hair different from yours? Students labeled each face they drew, practicing skills they use in academic subjects making diagrams.
The next week, we drew our own faces in pencil, using the whole page. Then we used black Sharpies on the best lines and added colored pencils. It was a great project to do before moving to our newly rebuilt old school around the corner after the holiday break.
This project was the end of a 12-week residency with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman exploring how to make and keep friends and social-emotional skills. Self portraits by kindergarten and first graders will be on display at the YIA Gallery on April 10 as part of the annual Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts exhibition, now in its sixth year. The show celebrates the life of 5-year-old Walker Rezaian and his love of the arts and is part of a program funded by the Rezaian family.
How do I make brown? How many different shades of brown can I make? Second graders at Short and Laurel Dell elementary schools practiced mixing colors using only the primaries red, yellow and blue plus white.
We worked with tempera paint, waxy black markers and mat board. First we traced our own hands and the hands of our table mates, overlapping to create interesting shapes. We mixed different browns carefully and painted in each area. It was fun to see how purple and yellow make a brown that is different from the brown that blue and orange makes. We used donated mat board instead of paper to give students a velvety and durable service on which to work. Mat board is especially helpful with children with learning differences as it offers a strong sensory response, and won’t crumple with lots of paint.
Working with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, we have been exploring identity and our role in our communities and neighborhoods. The lesson followed a multi-week project in which students created richly detailed murals using collage papers, pastels and glue. In each class, we designed and envisioned our dream neighborhood after looking at artists Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold and others.
Thank you to Lo Forti Fine Prints in San Anselmo for the generous donation of mat board.Older Entries »