In today’s test-driven academic climate, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and collaboration often take a back seat to memorization and technical skills. Teachers have little time for flexibility and time exploration for students when the future of their schools and jobs is so closely tied to results from a bubble-test. This hotly debated issue continues to pop-up in daily articles and media links. In point, recently John Oliver had a major segment devoted to just this topic.
Huge changes are in order to re-focus and rebalance where and how kids learn. We know that through play and creativity students gain both emotional intelligence and the understanding of the importance of trial and error (failure) and that success can emerge from unexpected connections.
We’ve all heard Sir Isaac Newton’s story when he was inspired to investigate gravity while in an apple orchard, but there are so many other stories that site down-time, play, or art as the break-through moment. Inspiring stories such as the MacArthur Genius Grant winner, Erik Demaine, who uses origami and art to explore complex genetics and other scientific problems in new ways, highlight the need for art and play not as an extracurricular, but as the curricular (this great article in Seed further develops the connection between creative outlets and complex problem-solving).
It is society’s task to create a learning environment in which our students are just as inspired to experiment, inquire, investigate, and think critically.
ArtWell programs create safe spaces for students to be creative, take risks, dissect personal and public problems, and work collaboratively. This year ArtWell’s The Art of Growing Leaders classes focused on just that: these students were tasked with selecting a societal problem and given time to explore, through creative means, solutions and identify steps toward positive change. Each class chose an artistic platform as a tool for activism, advocacy, and leadership.
How do we create safer neighborhoods? How do we create successful schools? How can we tackle homelessness? These and other issues were explored through creative methods.
ArtWell Teaching Artists Dahlia and Adina’s Bache-Martin School students have chosen to investigate education. Each student has created a square representing their ideal classroom learning experience. The classrooms will be stitched together creating an entire school displaying their hopes for a safe, joyful, effective education and how they would change their classes to get there.
YESPhilly students realized that they didn’t have a place for students to relax, connect, unwind, and create. Their social action project will focus around creating a student lounge for their school, serving their class as well as future students.
Students from The U School feel the absence of that physical activity in their day and have created sculpture and jewelry inspired by exercise. They plan to sell these items to raise funds for an exercise program at their school.
Also at Uschool, Artwell Teaching artists Jay Beck and Youssef Kromah’s students have decided to design a new school logo to develop consciousness about respect and overcoming obstacles, and they hope to be able to print these on shirts and wear them at school.
At Lasalle Academy, the 7th and 8th grade boys class has been working on a series of political cartoons addressing the problem of racism in their neighborhoods. They hope to combine all the cartoons into a collective mural that could get hung in their school for future generations of students.
You can see these projects and help us celebrate our students while supporting their creative visions at the ArtWell Festival on May 31st. Students will have tables to present their creative action projects from 1 – 2 pm. Inspiration from the creative student projects can be directly channeled at 2 pm in the Philadelphia Imagining, in which we invite the public to join students and community partners in exploring the ideal educational environment for Philadelphia in the year 2034 (please RSVP for the Imagining here – you do not need to RSVP for the festival).
We are profoundly grateful to Impact100 Philadelphia for awarding ArtWell a $100,000 grant that enabled us to create The Art of Growing Leaders and implement it in 14 classrooms this year. We are also thrilled to have just received a $50,000 grant from the Youth Arts Enrichment grant from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund to support this program in 7 classrooms next year.
It truly takes a village to invest in the creative development of our young people. We hope you will also support these students by joining us at the #ArtWellFestival on May 31st to celebrate our students and their projects.
Hope to see you there!
Images: Top: LaSalle Academy 7th & 8th grade boys’ artwork; center: USchool student works on her creative action project.