Kids art stock

While families are keen to squeeze the last days of summer fun out of August, a major shift in activity crowds calendars with notes for new student orientation, parents’ night, and first day of classes. School supply lists are online. Vertical displays of colorful backpacks are plentiful. Parents exit stores carrying bags full of clothes and gym shoes.

Earlier this month, adults from all around Wyoming armed with markers, paintbrushes, large sections of craft paper, cups of acrylic paint, sketchbooks and museum galleries of art exhibitions worked with a skilled facilitator through a series of multisensory exercises and discussions. How appropriate to find this supply list for a group of dedicated individuals representing art education associations, museum education programs, nonprofit organizations focused on the arts and humanities, community art centers and the Wyoming Department of Education, joined by the University of Wyoming Art Museum staff, hosting the three-day convening for the Visual Art Education Round Table.

During the past 18 months of being somewhat cooped up, missing routines of daily living, working remotely, being Zoom weary and confounded by eighth-grade science and fifth-grade math, parents are eager to have their children back in school. Children are excited to be with their friends.

During three days of masking or social distancing, many from the group in Laramie expressed relief about emerging from home isolation and a return to face-to-face interaction. Amid the energy and enthusiasm, the group generated a new sense of moving forward toward a shared vision.

Soon markers were flying across craft paper, filling in examples of successes and challenges facing art education.

What’s working? What’s off?

A silent ebb and flow of participants moved up to jot down comments and then back to look and reflect. An irregular spider web of lines connected similar or related examples. Spaces on the paper grew smaller as the group tackled the task.

Discussions followed. Shared observations of a painting with a partner in the “What’s Off?” exhibition. Winnowing down challenges and creating a picture of art education in the state brought clarity.

More discussions. Categorizing solutions to challenges. Communicate. Connect. Coordinate. Learn. Create. Advocate.

Small sheets of big bright dots aided the group in prioritizing feasibility, impact, effort and passion for proposed projects. A break for collaboration initially brought random overlapping layers of paint to a large canvas laid out on the floor. Presto! A finished painting with engaging conversation about the dynamic process.

By the end of three days of experiencing multiple approaches to identify and resolve challenges facing art education, each participant walked away empowered by ownership and partnership around a specific plan for action along with deadlines. Call it homework hard earned and greatly appreciated. Call it a toolbox with tasks to continue supporting education in the arts as a valued and vital part of every K-12 child’s experience in the classroom and augmented by the community.

Not unlike the zipper pouch or pencil box jammed with school supplies that school aged children across the county will use to learn, grow, develop and move forward, the 20 participants from the Visual Art Education Round Table are primed and moving forward.

Wishing all the young and young at heart a successful school year.

Mary Jane Edwards is executive director of Jentel Foundation. 

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