Sunday, March 16, 2008

Doin' it for the kids

I got home after work on Friday, and caught a bit of a broadcast on ch. 22 of the presentation Palani Mohan gave to students at Beacon High School. I caught just the last several minutes of the talk, in which he fielded questions from the students and adults in the audience. Questions to Mohan moved from his photography and the process of publishing his book to his experience of living in Asia, and how much it costs to fly there. Kudos to the Beacon City School District and Fovea Exhibitons Gallery for developing this educational outreach program. For students to be exposed to critical current events from around the world through the first hand words and images of the photographers who have been there is a rare experience that one would expect would be restricted to schools in very large cultural centers of the country. The fact that this program is available to the students of Beacon, and in the frequency in which these talks occur, is a distinction in which the community can take pride.

This item in the Poughkeepsie Journal on March 12 is very cool. I think one of the generally unheralded benefits the city receives from Dia:Beacon is the extensive education program developed by the museum with the Beacon School District for the students of Beacon. A long standing component of the program entails yearly projects where visiting artists work with teachers and students in the various grade levels to create broad installations inspired by trips to the museum for display in and around Beacon

The POJO article by Michael Woyton highlights a current project by seventh graders at Rombout Middle School. The students worked with visiting artist Kirsten Mosher and their art teacher Edmund Trad to develop a piece after looking at the work of Sol LeWitt at Dia. The photo accompanying the article shows about 15 students standing shoulder to shoulder along three walls of a corridor wearing white t-shirts, each adorned with about a six inch tall single horizontal orange stripe. The orange stripe is located on each shirt so as to create a single line at the same height running from student to student regardless of the height of each student.

This piece created by these students is amazing. It really hits at the core of the challenging concepts that are presented by the work exhibited at Dia. This project develops a sensitivity to one's environment and the moments that are created as we move through it.

Since students are forming the art themselves, "it enables them to feel part of the artwork," she said. Beacon resident Zack Ericson, 12, said the process of creating the different artworks was interesting. "You can take a space and create a new space," he said, of the striped T-shirts.
We could take this classroom and make it into seven different rooms," Ericson said. Hena Kalola, 13, of the Town of Wappinger, is looking forward to her next visit to Dia:Beacon, when the students will exhibit the art they've created.
Trad said it was important for his students to experience something other than traditional art such as landscapes. The use of space and how art can fit into it is something the students have embraced, he said. The experience will help students connect conceptual art with their surroundings, Trad added.
"The students are acting in it," he said.
Mosher said the art project helps develop students' language skills because they have to verbalize how they want the art to turn out.

The article alludes to the fact that the Rombout students' piece will be displayed soon, and I'm anxious to see it. Broadening their perceptions of their world, how they make connections, and how, as beings relating to other beings, they are engaged in the complex and dynamic form of collaboration that is a society are the benefits these kids are receiving, whether they're immediately conscious of it or not.
Opening the sense of possibility of altering one's space - of one's reality, that's a visceral process. You can't teach that in a lecture, but being able to witness and process abstract concepts through the poetry of an orange stripe linking students in a class can be powerful. The power really lies in the student's investment in that process of creating that poetry. Here's where the "my kid could do that" or "Christ, it's just a plywood box" comes in. It's sometimes less the resulting object than the involvement of creating that plywood box, which challenges the maker's notions of value, talent, art, beauty, etc. that breaks ground within the mind to be able to make powerful connections between the process of creating a "thing" and shaping one's life. These are difficult concepts, but witnessing the cause and effect inherent in the push and pull of conceiving an idea and trying to manifest that idea in some form is what the practice of art is. It's problem solving at it's most elemental form.
I applaud both of these programs which are offering the students of Beacon an opportunity for a deeper understanding of the world and equipping them with the ability to reflect on their roles within it.

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