Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
Project #4: Bring CRAFT to Kids
Timeline: August 2014 to May 2015 4.
Location: Charlotte, NC, USA
Challenge: Teach one classroom full of 15-18 students from low-income, at-risk neighborhoods about craft. Help each student find his or her strengths. Supplement the art education students are receiving in school. The class of students will have an average age of 8.5 years old, meaning you will teach several K-6 age groups at once. One fourth of them will not speak or understand English. You have 1 hour each week.
Resources and Supplied Tools: Three dedicated (and bi-lingual) high school students (also from low-income, at-risk neighborhoods), scissors, glue sticks, crayons, markers, and pencils.
Budget: $200-400 per school year.
I accepted this challenge in January of 2014 when I began volunteering as the Art Teacher for UrbanPromise Charlotte in Charlotte, NC. UrbanPromise is nonprofit organization with the goal to restore community as a new generation of young leaders affects social, economic, and spiritual revitalization in their neighborhoods and the city of Charlotte. While Charlotte is known as a U.S. hub of the banking industry, it is also home to stark economic and educational inequality. Though Charlotte’s most affluent high schools can boast nearly 100% graduation rates, several of Charlotte’s lowest-income schools graduate less than 60% of their students. The Charlotte Observer reported in 2012 that 62 of Charlotte’s 159 schools have poverty levels of 75 percent or higher, with 23 of those at 90 percent or higher.
Charlotte’s low-income communities bear the obvious scars of gangs, drugs, violence, fatherless homes, academic underachievement and the crushing weight of generational poverty. UrbanPromise is committed to involving teens in the process of transforming their neighborhoods through the tutoring and mentoring of the younger children in their communities. UrbanPromise achieves these goals through the AfterSchool program where elementary and middle school students are tutored and mentored by high school students. The program helps each student to improve academic performance, develop necessary life skills, create positive relationships with caring adults, explore the arts, and nurture their faith.
As the art teacher I have two objectives: 1) Help each student approach and address problems utilizing their individual strengths and by working with their hands. 2) Supplement the art education the students are receiving in school.
I introduce each project with a PowerPoint presentation focused around a technique and a contemporary artist who practices the technique. The presentation is full of images of artwork as well as process shots of artists working in their studios. This results in a few usual outcomes; often the kids do not realize that artists are alive and making today. Even more often they are amazed at what contemporary artists are making because the only art they have ever experienced is painting and drawing. After the presentation I then present the technique and project through a short demonstration. By the end of the demo, which is usually no longer than 7 minutes, the kids are crawling up the wall, looking around the room for my bag of supplies – ready to dig in, get dirty, and make some art!
Due to lack of resources and funding I have put in the extra time needed to keep the projects engaging for the students while also keeping expenses low. For example, last semester we had a chasing and repoussé project. To keep expenses at a minimum I made hammers from dowels, hammering surfaces from cut up plywood, chasing tools from nails, and cut, file, and sanded aluminum flashing to make it safe for the kids. This school year we have started by learning about Geoffrey Gordon and his Reclaimed Animals. Starting with donated newspapers and homemade papier maché paste, students are building their animals and will adorn them with colored paper and pieces of scrap fabrics. They are loving it.
I want more for them. The Crafthaus Project Grant will allow me to invest in tools and materials that will further their art education. With the funding I will broaden the curriculum to focus on areas like fibers, small scale wood working, jewelry making, and even smart materials and mechatronics.
Working with the students and seeing them engage with a new medium or way of working is so much fun and so rewarding. As a community of craft artists, I think we can all relate to the importance of exposure to the arts at an early age. I would like to ask you - without exposure to the arts or the support and knowledge from a teacher, mentor, or loved one, where would you be today? $500 for tools and materials will have an impact on the lives of these kids. It will introduce them to projects, problems, and ways of thinking that they will otherwise not experience in their current trajectory. It will give them more ways to explore their creativity, more opportunities to learn their strengths, more opportunities to discover new interests and ways to express themselves. Your support will help fuel their lifetime appreciation of craft.