Many Hands One Goal


Two beautiful murals have appeared in the entryway of Bache Martin Elementary School. Upon entering the school it is a marvel to see the masterpieces tall and glimmering before you, almost as if they were brought there by some kind of magic. Who would have known that those kids had all that power saved up in them, to create not one but two murals hung shining on their school walls for years to come? We call it magic because something very special happens when you give kids the space and tools to be their creative selves. Built on the energy of a 2012 Teacher-Artist Partnership (TAP) grant, in 2013 we were awarded a Long-Term Residency (LTR) grant from the Pennsylvania Council in the Arts. The funding ignited each piece of the puzzle, from the grant writing process to approaching Kristin Leubert and Joe Brenman. We were able to create  a way for the kids to succeed; and succeed they did. Exploring the  growth of a garden as a metaphor for their own journey into adulthood, their hands crafted the playful animals seen scampering under the trees. Their young minds imagined the poetry—lines of inspiration scrawled on the roots and feeding the tree. This Art of Growing Up mural did everything it set out to do. Encrusted in each tile and line of grout is a sliver of their stories and dreams of who they want to be when they grow up. Their youthfulness is the magic of this mural. Look what we have done together.

eigthInProcessIt all started with Joe Brenman, who when given the opportunity to work with Kristin Leubert and her 7th and 8th grade classes decided that he wanted give the students an opportunity to create the entire mural themselves. Joe is a prolific artist whose artwork has been featured all over Philadelphia. (Check out his website to see just how awesome he is!) and Joe has one of the biggest hearts we at ArtWell have come across. Setting himself up as a guide, he led the students through the yearlong project. Joe’s gift to these lucky youth was the chance to plan, sculpt and erect the mosaic murals that you see here. Aided by retired school administrator Carol Spann-Tyson, he even let them cut the tiles and draw on the walls. This is just one of the many ways that ArtWell is committed to inspiring hope through art and invigorating the learning experience for Philadelphia’s youth. To see the entire project unfold and read the step by step process these amazing young people followed, just Click Here. The truth is that there’s always more magic in all of us and in all of our kids and it’s just waiting to be invited out.

To make a donation to support more young people and ArtWell projects like this Click Here.

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Give Yourself The Gift Of Reflection

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

            –Oliver Wendall

Every youth who encounters ArtWell gets the opportunity to grow as an individual and explore their creativity. There isn’t a child out there who isn’t excited about opening up on the page, through a painting or getting lost in a ceramics exercise. These self-reflection activities introduce us to new ways of learning. They increase personal empowerment through problem solving allowing us to re-energize and experience renewal. Isn’t it easy to see that self-reflection is key to education?

Art Positive Reflections
Why do we use art to help us reflect on ourselves? Creating even the smallest art project calls attention to your natural reflection process and gives you access to both answers and questions you wouldn’t arrive at otherwise. Take for instance the act of writing poetry. Putting your thoughts on paper in a way that the words don’t have to align themselves into sentences can be liberating and inspire all of those balled up emotions to finally come out with clarity. Art inspired reflections provide a safe way to process and analyze your experiences. Creating while working through emotions can give meaning to your experiences. Not to mention the risk taking, trial and error process force you to use critical thinking. Finally ending with a physical product after your reflection can create a sense of accomplishment that is crucial to the risk-reward of putting yourself out there. Create a habit of appreciating yourself. We have seen this process sculpt the identities of thousands of youth and it’s as easy as applying the crafty concept as little as 15 minutes in each day.

Try It Yourself
Summer is the perfect time to introduce new habits into your daily regimen. Keep in mind that stepping into self-reflection mode can save you a great deal of stress and leave you with a journal you made yourself. Consider this cool idea for your next project. After creating this reflection journal let the blank pages inspire to keep on writing maybe 15 minutes a day.

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Begin Again With Summer

It was a forever winter and summer is here! F. Scott Fitzgerald has captured our summer hopes and dreams in one spirited line:

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

photo 2It is about this time in our programming-roll-a-dex when school based workshops come to a close. Every summer we send our students off with well wishes and giant hopes that they will seek communities that build them up, that they will continue to grow, thrive and create. In one culmination after the next, we attempt to wrap up the feeling of each class as one final farewell. This celebration involves a great deal of percussion, often some dancing and a chance for those students who were involved to share the work they created. Whether a child has experienced We The Poets, Heartspeak or Art of Growing Up for the first time, they will have traversed an emotional journey encountering a few emotions, new thoughts and feelings for the first time. This is self-discovery and it is brought to life through engagement with the arts. The student who only awoke to the sound of her own poetry will finally step forward and read what’s been on her heart.

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However silly, however serious, the point is being that she is excited enough about her work to share it. From beginning readers to overcoming stage fright, longings for peace or dreams to lead better lives, our youth in their bare excitement to perform overcome their fear factors and engage with their classmates in one final hurrah. Let the music ensue, the drum beat roll, and the laughter and excitement fall quiet when they pass through their Hope Flag Threshold. It really is an incredible sight, and one of the truest gifts as educators to see spring semester rolling into the open ended adventure of summer.



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On Her Shoulders

Maya-Angelou-Quotes-2I think we released a collective sigh of grief when the news flashed up on or eReaders and smart phones. Maya Angelou’s passing came as a devastating surprise and has left us–activist, writer and artist alike–wondering what a world without Maya could feel like.

One of our nations most revered poet activists disappeared behind the veil of history, that elusive ether, and I wonder  if poetry will still feel the same. Have all the words to write with and energy to fight gone and slipped behind the veil with her?

Whenever we lose something, let alone someone, it is a natural reaction to dwell on what was once and is no longer. Yet, Maya Angelou left us with a few torches to carry onward. It must be a learned response not to count what was lost but to turn our attention onto the statement her life made. What does it mean to us? What can we do to carry on her legacy? Many a biographer and journalist has already begun to encapsulate and make sense of it. What is between the bookends of her life may be summed up by one of her famous quotes. “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But, people will not forget how you made them feel.”  We will want to remember this as we move forward in the days, months and years without her. Simply put, Maya’s words make us feel, just as great art is supposed to do.

My hope for all of us is that we continue to feel. At ArtWell, it’s a continual joy to witness our youth express what they feel through their poetry, their art, their movements and sounds. May we all feel Maya’s light as we continue using art, poetry and music to challenge today’s inequalities.

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What Is Happiness?

The school year is coming to a delightful close, and with it, so are quite a few of our programs. We have many questions for the youth who pass through our curricula and have generated evaluation surveys that collect all kinds of data that will later be translated into reports with percentages, numbers and etc… Yes we want to quantify and know what the students learned, how it made them feel and if they are likely to use arts as a tool of reflection again, and deep within the bones of this organization what we also want to know is if our programs made them happy, lighter on their feet, a bit more like a child should feel. You get the drift.

Great men and great women have taken a stab at defining just exactly what happiness is. Mahatma Gandhi believed it to be symmetry. “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Stephen Chbosky thought it was simply a feeling. A feeling as raw churningly real a stomach ache. “There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.” And Marcel Proust believes that happiness can be fleeting and we should praise the ones who tickle us with it’s virtues. “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

But the best we know of happiness at ArtWell is expression. Happiness is about what comes out of the pen and onto the paper, out of the mouth and into the air, straight from the brush and onto the mosaic tile. For us, happiness is at the conception of creativity. It is a celebration! It could not be expressed better than by a choir of crooning children.

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Sweet Gum Bridge- Sara Graybeal

Sweet Gum Bridge

My daddy went to Mississippi the summer of ’64.  Main street smelled like iced tea and cigarettes, took him back to growing up in Appalachia.  When it rained, hot grass sighed like a frying pan under water, and he could feel Earth’s heart rising when fire burned into his car mirror late at night.  He pumped the gas to seventy, eighty-five, eyes staring into darkness and prayed their pick-up trucks could not handle the speed.  Sometimes the nearest inn was run by blacks only for blacks their heads made silhouettes in the upstairs window when he pounded saying I am fighting for you.  By the end he wondered what anyone was fighting for

in the low beams nails rusted porch out front with two rocking chairs though one is always empty now his wife is gone, my daddy took the empty one and wondered how she’d rocked herself, how many times she’d sunk into that familiar frame and cried.  The old man would not tell him.  In the yard grass green and overgrown, weeds laced with dandelions in a yellow web.  The old man said there’s thistles underneath but I never do recall where, they’ll spike you good if you’re not careful.  They drank iced tea and watched clouds pile against magnolia trees.  The old man said you ain’t seen nothing till you seen it storm in Mississippi big fat drops warm as tears and soft as butterflies, you ought to sit out the rain no sense driving back to town in this.  My daddy said I’m sorry sir to repeat myself but let me tell you once more I am with the Justice Department we are here to record injustices against you the people of Mississippi I give you my word whatever you say I will write down send back to Washington maybe make your life a little better, the old man said don’t it move

quicker than anything, look there.  Narrow strong the river flowed around his yard and down into the woods, and sure enough there were drops in the water, pinpoints of something happening.  Sky black above the trees my daddy said I have never seen a storm blow up so fast.  The old man said then you ain’t from Mississippi though you talk like you are and my daddy said he wasn’t from so far away.  He said sir have you lived here all your life and the old man grinned tobacco and holes where teeth should be saying not yet not unless you’ve seen me die and go to heaven.  My daddy laughed and drank his tea watched wind whip across the yard grab hold of the laundry and shake it like a woman’s skirt, the old man said she always got the laundry off the line before a storm not like me I just wear wet clothes ain’t so bad once you start.  Drops like bullets on the tin roof and my daddy sat up said sir I appreciate your time and I’ll be going now as long as there is nothing you want to tell me, the old man said wait a minute

but the minute stretched out and out until it nearly popped and my daddy saw fear washing out his eyes.  The old man looked out at the laundry and down at boots splitting open against the dusty boards.  He said I don’t have anything to tell and my daddy said well it was a pleasure to meet you and he put on his hat and jacket and said don’t you laugh at me when I get soaked by this rain.  The old man tried to smile but there were only holes where teeth should be.  My daddy stood at the edge of the porch breathing damp woods and all the thistles in the yard, and he walked through warm pounding down to the bridge across the river.  Soft boards nails bent from how many thunderstorms and not a bit changed he took a step and another felt the bridge shudder gathering strength and he heard

wait.  The old man clutched the porch, boots fumbled to reach the yard then overalls and hat soaked through down to the bridge.  He met my daddy in the middle.  Daddy’s eyes mockingbird gray and the old man saw that he believed in being there in that minute stretched to breaking above a river rushing to get somewhere else.  Old man put a hand to the soggy rope and said this here I built it when I was seventeen, keeps fixing to break but it still holds on I call it Sweet Gum Bridge.  Cheeks smeared with rain he said I’m sorry seeing pickup trucks shining into windows late at night disappearing too quick for his old bones to get up and find the shotgun, heart beating fast as he wished his legs would go, seeing yards gone up in flames the shape of Christ Almighty and men sitting all day outside the barber shop watching the voting booths seeing daddy and granddaddy not much changed and water rushing under his feet.  He said I’m sorry but

you haven’t seen the way these woods can listen, you don’t know what it means to say injustice on this bridge.  I’m sorry.  And daddy felt wetness through the bone and said maybe we’re not supposed to speak today, maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Said write your story I’ll write mine too and maybe someday when we’re dead and buried in magnolia sweet gum woods, maybe the stories will meet up on this bridge shake hands and have a real talk.  Old man said yeah or maybe they’ll just fish together, look over the edge and down as the river flows on by.

 -Sara Graybeal

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Jerron Corley- Poem


Often sitting next to me is the spirit of  what once was peace.
His hands are interlinking with mine as his whispered desires for me to take his place blow in the wind.
In this society,
we don’t have to be afraid to deliver a necessary message.
We have walked this earth with knowledge that peace is like leading a blind horse to a pasture.
He can smell the grass but he doesn’t know his way to it.
We are hanging around street corners,
wasting away open opportunities to oppress the oppressors that are oppressing the oppressed.
These fists will not act, these whips will not crack,
these bullets will not attack, but it’s not time to relax so we must…
Speak for that brother you lost on the street corner.
Speak for that sister you found exposed crying in her bedroom.
Speak for that friend that told you he was going to kill himself.
Speak for the children who go to sleep hungry.
Speak for the men and women living on concrete.

-Jerron Corley

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Fun Quotes On Creativity

Here are some fun quotes on creativity this morning. artwell-exhibit-gregg

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
― Scott Adams

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” 
― Kurt Vonnegut

“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. ”
― Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso: Metamorphoses of the Human Form : Graphic Works, 1895-1972


“You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” ― Albert Einstein 

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
― Sylvia PlathThe Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” 
― Martha Graham

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“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

Enjoy Your Monday!
- The Dream Team

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Signs Your Kid Isn’t Playing Enough

From iPods to iPads, apps and video games, our kids are more in tune with the computer age than we are. Zoning out on handhelds, kids these days know how to navigate electronic devices better than the adults who bought them. I’m amazed while watching a toddler handle an iphone game app with opposable-precision. If you’ve seen this then you might have thought, “This kid is a genius. I didn’t know that button could do that. Who will this kid be when he grows up?”


The thought that we may be growing super-humans with super-brains poised to make incredible technological advances quickly fades when colleagues Marjorie Bosk and Laurel Silber open up. Want to know what our children are really doing with their brains? With their research Bosk and Silber offer us an invitation to know exactly what our children are missing out on when they don’t skin their knees playing catch, or turn a stick and a forest into a sword and a space adventure.

These are the kinds of events that allow kids to fully understand simple things like gravity. It is through play that children master skills of all kinds: gross motor, fine motor, coordination, imagination, concepts, relational and social skills as well as life skills. Free play helps children of all ages regulate their emotional life and impulses, work through conflicts, cooperate, be creative and develop their own unique voice. What good is a super-human brain without the ability to fully understand gravity or properly emote?  It sounds ludicrous, but the truth remains that without proper play our kids will be more like zombies than anything close to super-human. Bosk says, “It is in this transitional space that creativity, reverie, and imagination take place. This space breathes vitality and zest into our selves. Through play we learn to learn and learn to love to learn.”

Bosk adds that nothing has changed in years for kids or adults. “The developmental milestones for children are no different now than they were 60 years ago. What has happened is that our society has eroded, disrespected and trampled over the appropriate developmental needs of children.” What we have created is a culture where children are, “hearded and objectified, sexualized into becoming narcissistic extensions of adults.” Both Bosk and Silber agree that free play is also an extremely cost effective, evidence-based intervention that can stem the tide of the degradation of childhood. But how do we take it back? This knowledge of play is a titanic idea, but is this ship sunk in our cultures ocean of technology? As is, schools are turning books into reading pads, and skill-based learning into gaming devices.

Bosk and Silber offer a solution. Taking back childhood for our kids starts with understanding the culture that feeds this “no play” attitude. Susan Linn, Ph.D. is the executive director of Commercial Free Childhood. She has done remarkable work connecting the licensing of movie, TV and book characters to the commercialization of childhood. “Children are the consumer objects of a multibillion dollar commercial campaign. They are targeted consumers from or even before birth.”

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The statistics are supportive of this claim. Laurel informs us that the average 8 year old spends seven hours interacting with or watching a screen. According to a large study conducted by Joan Almon, author of the paper The Vital Role of Play in Early Childhood Education, the average time a child in kindergarten spends in free play is 30 minutes a day. All of our children are play-deprived. “When kids own their own play, they stand taller, grow into themselves, and feel more secure in the world. Free play is the canary in the mine of the quality of childhood.”

Bosk and Laurel aren’t just making folks aware of this stuff. They aren’t even here to invite you into the magical world of play (well maybe that’s a little bit of what their work is about). They are activists sparking a grassroots movement. For them, it starts with the spread of information inspiring movement and play in adults and their child counterparts.

To that end, Bosk an Silber created their conference, The Philadelphia Declaration of Play (PDoP), to bring together people from all professions and walks of life to to speak for what is in the best interest of our children.  “We see ourselves as an organization partnering with multiple other organizations, institutions, and individuals,” says Bosk. “Like any civil rights movement it is about grass roots work, passion, and cooperation. PDoP is a way to bring together people and organizations to build relationships and strengthen partnerships in order to have a voice for our children.”

ArtWell partners with and passionately supports the work of Bosk and Silber. Art of Growing Up and We The Poets programs are designed to awaken imagination and spark the kind of creativity in our youth that enables them to better perform in the classroom. ArtWell professional development training speaks to the sleeping child in all educators, and helps to conceptualize lessons that implement the elements of play-like experimentation, risk taking and discovery. We can all stand a little reminder to play and play often. After all, creating and fun making is truly what ArtWell is all about.

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Leading Them Into Imagination

photo 2 (2)The room is ablaze in measured chaos. An outsider looking in would see a classroom in full creative hilt. Students wander from desk to desk, their hands a grubby mess. Three teachers crouch over individual student work, seemingly unaware of what the other is doing. Yet a trained eye, one that is accustomed to the clamor of a 3rd grade classroom in mid art project, would know that the scene of laboring, laughing children is one of organized chaos. If you ask any of the teaching artists they would agree, organized chaos is the best kind of chaos to have. There is an energy permeating outwards and it’s coming from the kids themselves. “Play is important,” Dr. Cathy Cohen says. She is the Director of Education at ArtWell and the creator of several of their poetry programs.

ArtWell’s Masterpiece program is designed to inspire community to bond while working on a large scale art project. Thanks to the Picasso Grant, the kids at James Rhoads Elementary School are making palm sized animal figurines, most of which are unrecognizable upon site, and are reminiscent of the “familiar shapes” chicken nuggets come in. However, when Ginger lifts her lump of clay, declaring “buffalo,” one can’t help but melt a little. The lump comes alive to the viewer as is totally a buffalo.

“They are incredibly hungry,” Marguerita  exclaims later on in the period. Marguerita Hagan is a ceramics artist known worldwide for her SEED Project. She intones that their creative processes are astounding, revealing in them a seemingly infinite source of potential ready to be tapped. “If you watch them close enough you’ll hear them begin to make stories about their animals under their breath.” Storytelling is an important part of the Masterpiece project they’ve embarked on.

The artists introduced Native American folklore to the students; a history that is relevant to the land Rhoads is built on. As the historic folklore story goes, youth in the Lenape tribe were traditionally visited by their spirit animals as a rite of passage during their coming of age ceremony. By knowing their spirit animals, the youth transitioning from childhood to adulthood would know their true character. These animals brought with them the strength of a lion, the prowess of a cheetah or endurance of a turtle. Enacting the ceremony, the Rhoads Elementary 3rd graders sat in a quiet circle at the start of the project. Each one traveled to the front of the class to pick their spirit animal. Since the start of the project, the students have come alive with a new-found fervor that the teaching artists and classroom teachers have witnessed. The artists note that their ability to pay attention has increased, along with many other behavioral attributes the kids are applying during normal study hours.

“One child was labeled by the school as “defiant,” Marguerita notes. “That student is involved and actively helping to clean up.” All teachers agree that there is a measurable difference in behavior among the classes that have received arts education over the school year. Differences in behavior include abilities to “keep up, pay attention and behave during the class.” In comparison Cathy adds, “the fact that I can look around this classroom and the kids are reading to themselves independently is amazing. One child used to sleep. As soon as we get the clay out he is up!”

These findings beg the question: How important is arts education and play in the classroom? ArtWell isn’t the only organization unearthing immediate results during workshops. Born to Learn is an organization that has found a way to harvest over 30 years of classroom data to be “watched, enjoyed and shared.” They put it so well, “education is as much to do with processing personal experience as it is with classroom instruction.”

Now pressed to sculpt their spirit animals for the group art installation, the little bodies squirm with delight, breaking into spontaneous seat dances. Cathy makes an offhand remark that couldn’t be more poignant of the situation.  “These kids have an energy and they need to use it.”

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