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Archive for October, 2009

A Great West Production in partnership with University of Utah Environmental Humanities

A Great West Production in partnership with University of Utah Environmental Humanities

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Observations during Year One of The ArtParks Experiment

by Tim Brown Executive Director, Tracy Aviary

“Six young children busied themselves moving rocks from one location to another. The kids, probably 4-5 year olds,

Ruby stacking painted rocks

Ruby stacking painted rocks

were stacking rocks for a couple of minutes, and then they started aligning them in patterns for several more minutes. Then they were back to stacking. Meanwhile, their parents huddled together and discussed what the kids “should” be doing in this space. “There’s no instructions” I overheard one say. “What are they suppose to be doing?” I heard another ask.

For twenty minutes the kids played cooperatively among themselves while their parents tried to solve the mystery of what the children “should” be doing. The kids got it, the parents didn’t.

The parents were part of a playgroup that brought their kids to Tracy Aviary for the dual purpose of letting kids play with people their own age while parents were able to have “adult” conversations with each other. The design of this space lured the children in, and then they played and required no parental involvement. The parents should have taken advantage of this opportunity for their “adult” conversation, but they were too hung up on the fact that there weren’t instructions telling people how to use the space, perhaps implying that without instructions, the space wouldn’t be used correctly? The kids got it, the parents didn’t.

Richard Louv dedicates some of his Last Child in the Woods book to nature play areas and how kids once upon a time would go outside and have fun. Louv explains that kids just a generation ago would have fun with things they found in nature, sticks and stones, grasses and mud. Creativity ruled the day, and the only instruction from parents was to come home when they heard the cowbell ringing. But things have changed. That empty lot in the neighborhood has sprouted a house and today kids, if sent outside all, often end up on one of those standardized play sets – swing, slide, rock climbing thing, maybe a suspension bridge.

This space is the Art Park at Tracy Aviary, and it’s been designed as a nature play area. It features dirt, rocks, trees, sticks, and mud. There aren’t instructions on how to use it. All summer long children have gravitated to this space at Tracy Aviary and had a blast. Sometimes parents venture into the space with their kids, more often they stand on the perimeter and watch their children play. Some accept that their kid is having fun and just watch. Other’s get flustered, not knowing if their kid is behaving right, unsure whether it’s alright to move rocks from one spot to another or if sticks can be stacked together to make a lean-to.

The energy behind the art park has been Chris Peterson of the Great West Institute, a local non-profit organization. As a conservation organization dedicated to fostering healthy relationships between humans and nature, Tracy Aviary is a willing partner and we look forward to future experiments in how to design nature play parks to inspire creativity among our kids while enhancing their appreciation for nature.            –October 12, 2009

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I’ve just returned from three weeks in Uganda and Kenya for work with the Trivani Foundation. In Uganda, we spent

Drawing with the children from Asayo's Wish

Drawing with the children from Asayo's Wish

the majority of our time in a village called Kaberamaido, at an orphanage called Asayo’s Wish. For most of the last three decades, political unrest and civil war has ravaged this part of northern rural Uganda. As a result, there are many widows and many orphans and a lot of suffering as people start to put their lives together.  Trivani Foundation has begun working with these alienated groups within the local community to empower them and ensure that their future is better.

As one of many things that we did while staying at Asayo’s Wish, and with funding from Great West, we facilitated a collaborative community arts project with the 160 children who live at the orphanage.  We started with about  50 children in the first group. I had brought from the states seven boxes of

Introducing paint!

Introducing paint!

crayons (with 96 colors each) and we turned the children loose on imagination-based drawings. There was a lot of

Mural in process

Mural in process

excitement with using crayons (likely the first crayons ever for many of them), but there were also some children who were unsure of how to proceed. I think that the creative outlet and open-endedness was foreign to them, given that most of their schooling is dictated by specific outcomes and artmaking is basically never on the agenda.

After a few minutes and some coaching/modeling, they loosened up and loved it. Once we had the drawings, we moved IMG_3136-w648-h480the children outside to the side of an old shop, on a highly visible wall in the

A boy concentrating on his football scene

A boy concentrating on his football scene

compound and from the nearby road. I had brought dozens of brushes from Utah and in Kampala before we drove to Kaberamaido, we had purchased ten gallons of various oil-based colors (latex acrylic is basically unavailable there). With the kids looking on, we unpacked the paint and proceeded to mix some additional colors and distribute them to the children After a short translated lesson on how to use the paint and brushes responsibly, they started transferring their drawings to the wall. It was definitely the first time for most of these kids to dip a brush in paint and they took to it quickly.

Initially intending only to paint the one side of the shop, the children made the executive decision to expand around the entire building and then onto the neighboring latrines. A few hours later, we had to cut them off and help them get IMG_3134-w648-h480cleaned up.  The next day, I facilitated the same activity for the remaining children (approx. 100!) and the walls started to fill in with their paintings. Over the course of the remaining week, one of the leaders (my main man Moses), worked with the children to fill in the negative space and tie the murals together. The results are stunning and the experience beyond explanation.

mural in process

mural in process

When we left Asayo’s Wish, most of the paint in the cans remained and I entrusted Moses with the task of providing more creative opportunities for the children with that paint. As far as the mission of eradicating poverty in this region, it is difficult to cite a concrete and verifiable outcome of this mural project. However, under the goal of empowerment, I believe this project will have significant, far-reaching and long-term impacts on these people; for the members of the community at-large and especially for the children who participated in this simple collaborative and creative process. I am excited to visit Uganda next year to see what will unfold. -cp

See a gallery of more photos here.

Young artists with Mural

Young artists with finished mural

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