Art and Visibility

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Last week, Art in Action traveled to San Diego to participate in the California Parent Teacher Association statewide conference.  We talked to hundreds of parent and art advocates about how their schools were integrating art and what they could do to instill a culture of art in their schools. In a workshop showcasing our program and discussing the findings of our recent study with the Stanford Gardner Center, we led some of these parent advocates through our 2nd grade Nellie Mae Rowe lesson.

If you aren’t familiar with this amazing African-American folk artist, Nellie Mae Rowe was the daughter of a former slave and didn’t start creating art until she was nearly 48!  She was self-taught and painted brightly colored pictures of herself and the things around her in rural Georgia as well as images from her dreams. We use her work Stormey Weather to help 2nd Graders learn about folk art and the power of warm, cool and contrasting color to evoke moods.

The project the students (and the PTA parents at the Conference) do involves them writing their name and turning the letters into an animal menagerie, literally bringing their name to life!  It’s at once a simple activity and a powerful visual and emotional statement.

I feel that this represents beautifully something we learned in the Stanford Gardner Center study about our program:  that many schools report that “Art in Action helped the school, and the people within it, become more visible—not only to one another but to the larger community.”  Art affords everyone (the students, their parents, their teachers and the school administration) the opportunity to be seen and heard. Their names “come to life” in the broader school community.  The pride, joy and connection that arises from that visibility is immeasurable.

As I reflect back on the work we’ve done over the last several years to grow Art in Action and make it more visible to a much wider audience, I’m perhaps most proud that through art, we’ve helped tens of thousands of young people, and the people who support their education and growth, be seen.

Jeffrey Dollinger
Executive Director