Her background as an elementary school literacy specialist, and museum educator at renowned institutions such as the Jewish Museum of Contemporary Art and SFMOMA, make Suzanne Reich Gibson a seamless fit for the Youth in Arts board. We were lucky enough to meet her at one of our Lights On Tours this spring, where her thoughtful questions highlighted her passion for arts education. “I had heard about the wonderful work that Youth in Arts does in Marin schools, particularly working with students with special needs,” she explains, “I was inspired as well by the Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Kindergarten Arts Program, which reaches students at the start of their elementary school years and, now, empowers them with arts skills throughout their elementary school years. I came for a visit to YIA’s C Street gallery and was awed by the students’ creativity and voices on display there.”
Suzanne grew up with arts as a centerpiece in her life, “I was fortunate to have all sorts arts at the core of my childhood, both in and out of school,” she shares, “I also had grandparents who made art of their own and were determined to take us to museums and concerts from an early age.” In her adult life she has found time for art-making as part of her museum work, where she says, “art-making is very much a way of looking at and appreciating the art on display.” And she is continuing her own arts education through a recent mono-printing class, “which was very accessible and refreshing – I will definitely do more!”
Prior to settling with her family in Mill Valley, Suzanne lived in various locations in Europe and learned some valuable life lessons, “I’ve lived in some faraway places – the north of Norway and Warsaw, Poland. There’s a lot to learn by being the ‘outsider’ about who makes a community and the richness of many cultures living together.”
Thank you, Suzanne. We look forward to learning more from you as part of the YIA community!
In February students hit the ground and took off with Hula and Teaching Artist Shawna Alapai returning for a second time to every classroom at Sonoma Mountain Elementary School.
It was wonderful to see many familiar (but more mature) faces, and as we started dancing, I could see and feel the familiarity coming through in the steps and movements of the kids. We’ve been very busy learning some Hawaiian language words, meanings, history, myths and cultural practices along with the dances. I love to have the kids sing along while they dance and they’re really using their voices to help express their Hula!
We’re delving into a variety of dance styles this year, with an ancient chant (danced with canoe paddles) that tells the story of the migration on double hulled canoes from Tahiti to Hawai’i…anyone see Moana??? Then, we’re exploring a bit of the Maori culture as we learn a Hula Noho, or sitting dance to the song Hoe Ana. I’ve incorporated the kala’au or hula sticks into this Hula and the kids really like using them to keep rhythm and express their motions at the same time. The 6th graders have really stepped their Hula up a few notches, as they learn a Maori Haka and Poi Ball piece.
My Accompanist, Stephanie Behasa, made 35 sets of Maori Poi Balls for the girls to use. At first they were a bit intimidated, thinking it was too difficult, but I assured them that all they had to do was practice. Well, guess what? They’ve got it! It was such a delight to see their eyes light up when they achieved the routine, and to feel their absolute enthusiasm as we continue to progress in the style. The power of a Maori Haka is so infectious, that I decided to share that piece with all grades, K-6, and it’s a HIT! They all can’t wait to run through it when we’re working together and when their teachers come in, the surprise on their faces as their students put their all into the dance, is priceless.
Sonoma Mountain School is rockin’ it out of the Multi Purpose Room every week, and when we do our school performance on April 28th, the hills surrounding the school will be vibrating to the tunes of Hawaii and Aotearoa (New Zealand)!