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Posts Tagged ‘Kids and Art’

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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young scouts showing off their primitive weapons they produced in the ArtPark (of their own volition)

Young scouts showing off their primitive weapons they produced in the ArtPark (of their own volition)

Giraffe overlooking Amazon Bird exhibit

Giraffe overlooking Amazon Bird exhibit

Brooke and Shiloh

Brooke and Shiloh pushing a cart full of artmaking supplies through the Aviary

Start here: Let your curiosity be your guide

Start here: Let your curiosity be your guide

Painted Stumps, Nest Making Stations and a new ditch, dam and mud pit.

Painted Stumps, Nest Making Stations and a new ditch, dam and mud pit.

Over the weekend, Brooke and Shiloh accompanied me to the ArtPark to add some new features and make some improvements for the school year visitors. Some new signs were hung, as well as a number of giant painted animals; designed and created by the students of Dilworth Elementary. The Aviary’s own volunteer crew had dug a canal and small pit for the mud required to build flamingo nests. We painted stumps (as per the design recommendations of Youth City Artways students who helped envision the space last May. While we were there, a cadre of Cub Scouts helped us do some painting before becoming preoccupied with creating their own primitive weapons. All the while, Shiloh placed herself in the middle of the action and ended up covered in paint, including a huge chunk of orange in her hair. (As we drove off, I asked her if she had fun. “Yeah”, she said, “Shiloh need soap.”

  Fort-making is encouraged in the ArtPark

Fort-making is encouraged in the ArtPark

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dsc_0123Great West Institute recently partnered with Dilworth PTA, Tracy Aviary, UMFA Education and Utrecht Art Supplies for a creative learning field trip at the Aviary. As part of The BirdMask Project, about forty children (ages 3-12) and their parents enjoyed a live bird presentation and the opportunity to make bird masks at the Aviary with peacocks and flamingos looking on. Great West’s Kid’s ArtParks Club. This event marks the beginning of a partnership with the Tracy Aviary to increase the number of children who visit and enjoy the Aviary.
Dilworth Art Exploration Club at Tracy Aviary

Click on photo for image gallery from the Bird Mask Project & Dilworth's Art Exploration Club at Tracy Aviary

From the Dilworth PTA promotion poster:

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