Pencils Make a Point - TRUE CONFESSIONS On the Path to Success or the Brink of Failure

This week I am teetering on a thin line between a new path of success or the brink of failure. EVERY DAY I vacillate between terrified panic and the steely focus of intense preparation. Let me explain . . . and perhaps you may gain some insights for your own path.

For the past four years I have been working on an installation art piece, Pick Up Your Pencils, Begin. It is a large sculpture (15 feet tall and 28 feet wide) commenting on the impact of standardized testing on our educational system. The issues include the decline of the arts and crafts in our schools due to increased pressures to measure academic performance. Ironically, the mission statement for every school and school district include creativity and problem solving, two skills that the arts can engage. 

This artwork is a voice for the arts in education. However, as an art project, it also taught me a few lessons. Through much of the four years, I have been full of doubt. Would it turn out? Would it hang straight? Would the bars support the weight?  Would my vision even be possible?



LESSON #1.  Never give up on your idea.

Quite literally, after four years of effort, I had no idea if, or when, or where this work would ever be displayed.  Yet the day before I finished the project, American Craft called about writing an articleabout this installation. All I can think of is the quote of Louis Pasteur, "Chance favors only the prepared mind."


LESSON #2. Document work in progress
with still photographs and/or video. I did both and occasionally posted them on my websiteFacebook and here on Crafthaus.  The sustained visibility from posting and writing about this work in progress was critical.  The editor of American Craft, Julie K. Hanus, had been quietly following its progress when a theme in an upcoming issue reminded her of the work. Sometimes sitting at your desk doesn't feel as good as sitting at your bench, but it is an essential ingredient to sharing the ideas about your work with a larger audience.


LESSON #3. Try New Ways To Share Your Work.

In collaboration with a local school, I applied for a grant to create an "unproven event" idea, a Pencil Symposiumfor high school students to talk about the impact of standardized testing.

YES! I GOT THE GRANT from Applied Materials Foundation and the Arts Council of Silicon Valley to organize 25-30 high school students, 3 video cameras, two cameramen, one sound person, and a facilitator to make this happen on March 15.  Big challenge. The editing and music are still to be arranged.

It could be a huge success or a flop, but someone believed in this idea with me. The curator of the the gallery and the Arts Council of Silicon Valley believed that the arts can and should have a voice in education.

Do you believe the arts have a valuable role in education of the 21st century?


LESSON #4. Think bigger.
Asking for help. Yes, I am reaching out into new territory and the social network of Crafthaus.I am starting a Kickstarter project to create a video.

Video is an effective way to communicate the ideas and issues raised by Pick Up Your Pencils, Begin. Pencils are ordinary tools to fill out standardized tests but, pencils are also used for sketching, thinking and problem solving. Pencils in this installation were sent from all over the world. The mundane woven into the extraordinary. People believed that their pencils could help build a symbol for sharing the larger issues of standardized testing and the role of art and craft in education to teach creativity and problem solving.

A professional quality video is expensive, at least $3,000 per minute.Video cameras, editing, custom music, purchase of archival footage, and interviews, . . . all cost money.

Do you believe that the arts can play a valuable role in education?

Can you help support this project on Kickstarter by sharing this message with all your friends? I created rewards from $10 to $575. for the voice of arts to reach out into the Internet. Here is the LINK to the Kickstarter project .

Share the goal.
Art and craft are political. 

Become part of this advocacy for the arts.

The exhibition Pick Up Your Pencils, Begin is up for the first time and if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area you can visit the work. Please come to the reception on March 22. RSVP on my Facebook page or just arrive.

Public Reception: Thursday, March 22, 2012 6-8 p.m. Please come!

EXHIBITION DATES: March 5, 2012 through March 30, 2012
LOCATION:   Anita Seipp Gallery
                     Castilleja School
                     1310 Bryant Street
                     Palo Alto, CA 94301

Gallery Hours:  10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
                       Monday through Friday and by appointment



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Comment by Harriete E Berman on March 14, 2012 at 9:34am

Miss Charlotte, I am hoping you can come to the opening. Bring a friend or fellow teachers.I found out that the math teachers are super excited about this installation. They love seeing math as art.

Public Reception: Thursday, March 22, 2012 6-8 p.m. Please come!

EXHIBITION DATES: March 5, 2012 through March 30, 2012
LOCATION:   Anita Seipp Gallery
                     Castilleja School
                     1310 Bryant Street
                     Palo Alto, CA 94301

Gallery Hours:  10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
                       Monday through Friday and by appointment

Comment by Charlotte Kruk on March 14, 2012 at 9:25am

SUPERSTAR!!! I'm so thrilled for you! YOU DID IT! ....but I must say, I never had any doubts that you would. Looking forward to experiencing it in person..... trying to find the pencils I donated... and the line I sat and stacked at the CaEa.....hahaaaa! cheers to you....I continue to always be impressed by what you're up to and what you're capable of!! ever the inspiring one Harriete!!

love to be in your company...miss charlotte

Comment by Marie Weichman on March 13, 2012 at 10:16pm

Inspiring!  I wish I could see it in person. 

Comment by Harriete E Berman on March 13, 2012 at 3:25pm

Ross, Thanks for sharing your experience. I believe that the bigger projects can have power to realize larger goals besides sitting at your bench alone. Video is such a fabulous medium for sharing on the Internet.

I will keep everyone informed.


Comment by Ross Annels on March 13, 2012 at 3:12pm
What a fabulous work Harriete! I look forward to your campaign on kickstarter - I will watch out for a
post or an email when it is happening. I look forward to hearing about your experience crowd sourcing funding - I think it is a very important way for creatives to support each others "bigger" projects, and avoid the messy pitfalls of arts funding. I am currently running a "supporter ticket" drawer - offering rewards of a furniture piece and classes as a way of raising money for my travel to North America later this year - and my friends colleagues and acquaintances have been very generous in their support (there is a link from the front page of my website If we harness the ideas of reciprocity and mutual support crowd sourced funding can be a very powerful tool for our creative communities - either through formal mechanisms like kickstarter or pozible (an Australian equivalent) - or through less formal mechanisms like the one I am using.
Comment by Rameen Ahmed on March 13, 2012 at 11:21am

Thank you for friending me!  I've been following your work/blog etc silently for a long time.  I'm still very shy electronically and your article reminded me how I need to break out of my online hesitency!  Especially as a teaching artist (Upper El and Middle School) I thought your installation is very inspirational.  Congratulations, wish I lived close enough to attend!

Comment by Harriete E Berman on March 13, 2012 at 11:09am

Thanks for your comment. It means a lot.


Comment by Rameen Ahmed on March 13, 2012 at 11:03am

Love, love, love!!  Thanks for sharing!

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