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!
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.”
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.”
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.
How do you open a show when your art gallery is closed temporarily? By hosting a virtual celebration for your community with a drawing lesson, story time and fabulous self portraits.
Youth in Arts joined families, friends and staff at Laurel Dell Elementary School to celebrate Imagining Friendship, our annual show that honors Walker Rezaian. The online exhibit featured a slideshow of more than 90 self portraits and emotions studies by kindergarten and first grade students
The Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts program was at Laurel Dell and Short schools last Fall. The visual arts residency builds fine motor, literacy and social emotional skills through art making. It also helps children learn how to make and keep friends while practicing sharing and empathy.
Friday’s celebration began with a bilingual drawing lesson with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. Joining us were kindergarten teachers Alejandra Vazquez and David Peterson, and first grade teacher Vanessa Nunez. Together we explored what it’s like to make and then draw different expressions. How does your face look when it is happy? What about angry?
Principal Pepe Gonzalez delivered a sweet and funny message with help from his young sons and talked about the importance of creating visual art, music and dance while sheltering in place.
“If we weren’t creative, we’d be pretty bored right now because we’re usually in our pajamas,” he said.
Gonzalez, who heads both Laurel Dell and Short schools, praised Youth in Arts for making sure “creativity stays alive” while students are forced to stay home. He noted that Youth in Arts Visual Arts Director Suzanne Joyal assembled art kits for every student at both Laurel Dell and Short schools.
Our thanks also go to author Susan Katz, who read her book “All Year Round” in English and Spanish. It was fun to know the Principal Gonzalez had her as a teacher when he was in school!
We wrapped up the evening with a slide show of the self portraits accompanied by music from ‘Til Dawn, Youth in Arts’ award-winning a cappella troupe.
Suzanne encouraged viewers to check out the cool coloring pages made from the students’ self portraits. The portraits will be viewable online until May 31. They can be printed out, colored and put in your window to share with your neighbors, and you can find them here:
Suzanne also thanked the Rezaian family for making this wonderful program possible.
“You can say thank you to them in your own way by being a good friend to those around you and creating something every day,” she said.
A special thanks to Tracey Wirth Designs for turning the portraits into coloring pages; to our translators: Alejandra Vazquez, Vanessa Nunez and Peter Massik; and to Principal Gonzalez and the staff at Laurel Dell for making this program such a success.
Now that you’re staying at home, there’s no better time to visit museums and galleries in London, Tokyo or Paris.
Or San Rafael.
Like art institutions across the nation, Youth in Arts is putting its exhibits online. Our annual “Imagining Friendship” Walker Rezaian Creative HeArts Show, which opens April 17, will feature more than 70 colorful self portraits created by kindergarten and first grade students at Laurel Dell Elementary School.
We are exploring innovative ways to engage with viewers who visit this show, so stay tuned! Visual Arts Director, Suzanne Joyal is putting together a slideshow of the artwork and other activities to encourage community members to engage and connect.
“This is one of our favorite exhibitions. It’s important that we find a way to reach viewers even if we can’t use our gallery walls,” Suzanne said. “These portraits are full of joy, and we need that now more than ever.”
The Walker Rezaian show is generously supported by the Rezaian family in celebration of Walker’s life and how much he loved making friends and art. This program teaches young students visual arts fundamentals, and also helps them develop compassion, empathy and other social-emotional skills.
Once you’re online, the YIA Gallery isn’t the only place you can visit. Kids can travel to museums or watch theatre shows in Amsterdam, Rome and New York – all in the same day.
“These virtual tours are an excellent way to keep kids engaged with art, and to draw inspiration from what they see,” Suzanne said. “You never know what image will inspire a child to create their own work.”
Museums are generously making their collections online for viewers to enjoy. Need ideas? Take a look at this excellent PBS Newshour article.
Is dancing more your speed? Check out Dancing Alone Together for a list of online dance classes around the Bay Area.
Miss going to the theatre? Visit WhatsOnStage for stage shows, musicals and opera you can see online.
“You may feel stranded at home, but you don’t have to be alone,” said Youth in Arts’ Executive Director Kristen Jacobson. “We’re here to help you engage.”
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 was invited to do a hands-on visual art project at the launch of Macy’s Corte Madera’s new children’s department on Friday, April 5th. More than 40 kids from all over Marin County came to try on clothes and make-up, and participate in a fashion show on the red carpet. At the Youth in Arts table they showed us their emotions by making faces in a mirror and drawing their self portrait using colored pencil, pens and “magic gold foil” on our special magnet cards.
We had a great time making faces at Macy’s. Thank you for having us!
Youth in arts submitted over 80 pieces of art to the Kennedy Center’s VSA Arts international on-line show, which had nearly 500 entries from around the country. Only one piece (Shaylynn’s artwork) was chosen to be one of the 16 framed, and exhibited in the US Department of Education this Spring! (Shaylynn was a student in Marci Ryan’s special day classroom at Lynwood School last year).
Julia James uses large mirrors to help students with autism look carefully at their own faces, practice making faces of various emotions, then guides the students through a process of creating a symmetrical portrait of themselves. Shaylin created a self portrait in oil pastel and watercolors. She created cartoon images of creatures showing a variety of emotions around the border.
Marci Ryan says “Shaylynn has shown incredible aptitude in the fine arts. During free choice it is always her preferred activity. Her friends look to her work and have learned from and been inspired by her drawings. Once, after seeing a performance of the Nutcracker on a field trip, Shaylynn came back to class and not only made a picture of what she saw on stage, but also the back of people’s heads and the view from her perspective in the theatre! Incredible!”
Painting and drawing offer students of all abilities a safe way to explore all of their emotions, and also offers them a safe form of risk-taking with materials, techniques and textures.
Youth in Arts is the only arts organization providing arts opportunities to children with special needs in Marin County: nearly 300 students every year!
Thank you Kennedy Center.
Mentor Artist Kdub Williams transformed the Art Class at Willow Creek Academy into an eighth grade portrait studio. Students learned about the artistry of Chuck Close, mural creation, grid and transfer and painting techniques before they sized up their self portrait photographs into larger then life images on sheets of plywood. Meanwhile, outside the classroom, students worked to paint the skatedecks which will be the featured items at the upcoming Willow Creek fundraising auction.