Mentor Artist Tracy Eastman worked with Olive Elementary students through Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us residency program. Tracy says of her time: “I absolutely enjoyed teaching these two Visual Arts classes at Olive Elementary!”
Throughout the residency program, students worked on recognizing and understanding emotions, material exploration, and collaboration. In a special project called “Empathy Portraits”, Each student was given a standing mirror to look at themselves while they made various facial expressions. We would evaluate what our faces looked like discussed some of the possible emotions these expressions could signal, noticing what shapes our eyes, nose, mouth and even eyebrows make with that expression. All of the students really responded to this project, and in sharing facial expressions together, we were abel to connect with what emotion could look like on our own faces as well as those of our peers. This activity helped participants connect with their own reflections, which can be a big request for many students.
In subsequent classes, students worked with materials such as tempera paints using tempera watercolor cakes. In order to engage everyone, we used tools used of varying sized paint brushes and Q-tips. This project focused on color mixing and experimentation with lines, dots, and blending. The canvas board lent itself well to the students that tend to use a lot of pressure or rework one area of the painting many times. The Q-tips were a great adaptive tool for creating dots and small marks, and also bend and broke if the student used too much pressure, encouraging students to regulate their use of force. One of the classes had additional time for their paintings and so added colored pencil into the wet paint to see what would happen. Additional projects revolved around experimental application processes, such as the “Wandering Ink Painting” activity in which we applied ink on a water-treated paper surface and blew the ink around the canvas in order to create patterns.
We completed the residencies with a collaborative “Tape-Resist Tempera Stick Painting”, and tissue-paper landscapes inspired by gardens.
The 4th and 5th graders at SRCS created some stellar short plays on issues they were passionate about changing.
I received so many thank you’s after their classes. So many questions about different issues. So many stories of how they are taking agency to create change in their lives. They were fired up.
Then one day after a class, I received a different type of response to the work we were doing. “Can I talk to you Hannah, about something that happened to me that’s about racism?” one of my 5th grade students at SRCS asked me after class.
I nodded and we sat side by side on the edge of the stage. My student shared with me that he had been the target of racist words multiple times. His voice shook as he told me story after story. I listened. When he was done I thanked him for having the courage to share those stories with me. I asked if he had shared this story with anyone else. He replied,
“No. I didn’t think it was ever OK to talk about racism until you taught us it was.”
My heart broke. Some topics are really uncomfortable to talk about. Like racism and sexism. Especially because so much shame can be linked to those topics if we have personal experiences with them. I was beyond grateful to provide this student an opportunity to share his experiences. Though it might be painful, working through our negative experiences is how we heal. Not by covering them up and pushing them down.
After a lengthy conversation I walked this student to the counselor to help him process and get support. As I walked through the muddy field to my car, I was reminded that this is why I do this work. This is why I help young people create a sense of agency and power around making change in this world. This is why I work so hard to normalize having these uncomfortable conversations. So that through a safe-space, we as a community, we as Americans, we as human beings can hear each others stories with empathy. And find inspiration in the discomfort so that we may all heal, grow, and change.