I am officially one and a half weeks into the Artist in Residence Project at Knight Elementary School here in Canby and so far, so good! The idea for this project was born out of the combination of knowing that the school was looking to do something…anything to the sorry looking planters that flanked the front of the school, and great timing with a workshop on grant writing.
Last Spring, our all volunteer and extremely hard working art literacy team started a school wide project on Mosaic Art. We lined the entire main hallway with an installation entitled “School of Fish“, with each student creating a paper mosaic sea creature for the installation. At about the same time, I attended a grant writing workshop through the Regional Arts and Culture Council here in Portland. While at the workshop we were asked to practice our grant writing skills for a “hypothetical” project. The planters entered my mind. It had seemed too large of a project for any volunteer team to take on without help. But I was inspired by the idea of grant monies out there waiting for a great project like this one, so I decided to come up with a plan for an artist in residence type project right there at the workshop.
After discussing the project with the school’s Principal, Christine Taylor and our Art Literacy Team Leader, Erin Lockwood I started to fine tune the plan. Our goals included creating a public work of art that the entire student body was involved in, finding funds through PTA support, in kind contributions, and grant money to complete the project, and create a pictorial link between the school and the community of Canby. As the project began Mrs. Taylor and I went before the PTA board to have the planters capped in brick by the father of one of the students at Knight Elementary, who just so happens to also be a fantastic brick mason! Once the brick was laid the grant writing process began. Mrs. Taylor encouraged me to look into grants through the Canby Educational Foundation. We lucked out with the last deadline of the school year still approaching. After submitting our proposal Mrs. Taylor and I went in front of their board to present our project. It went quite well and had a good reception to our ideas, shortly after we were awarded a grant! With the final piece to the puzzle the project was ready to get underway!
Fast forward to this school year. The project officially began September 26th. A great deal of the project thus far has been scheduling all of the sessions with the teachers. The very first week I visited both the 5th and 6th grade classes. When the project was developing the elementary schools in Canby went up to the 5th grade. However this year the 6th grade is back in the elementary and Baker Prairie Middle School is now 7th and 8th grade only. It is a smart change, but what I found out in my first week is some of the 6th graders are still having some trouble adjusting to this idea. While working on the preliminary designs for the murals the 5th graders were exuberant about both images for Canby and Knight Elementary. The 6th grade in contrast did not share the same feelings. A few students were pretty vocal about not being thrilled at our small town atmosphere or being at Knight Elementary one more year. Although this took me a bit by surprise I also realized through looking at all the drawings created it was not a sentiment shared by the entire 6th grade classes. But as the idiom goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I find myself as I write this thinking about how I can create a special aspect of the project exclusively for the 6th grade classes to feel more connected to this project and see the value in creating a public work of art for both the school and our community to enjoy.
I have really tried my best not to put my own design ideas into the mix on the project. I left the design open until after I worked with the 5th and 6th grade students quite intentionally so that we could make this piece about what the students thought mattered around Canby and at Knight Elementary School. I was really amazed at some of their ideas. For the first session together we did quick sketches of ideas for the project, not going into a lot of detail. I encouraged the students to only use contour drawings and write in their thoughts onto their sketches if it needed more clarification. One of the sketches that struck me the most was the one below:
In the bottom left corner this student has associated one of our beloved Canby Parks, Wait Park with FREEDOM. That simple sketch, marked by a profound word really stopped me in my tracks as I went through their design ideas. Although I don’t want to give too much of our design away yet, I like to keep the anticipation for the project going as long as possible. I will say the gazebo at Wait Park will most likely find it’s way into the final piece. I would also like to share a few other student drawings that have really inspired the final design. Of course there are far to many to put on the blog, so here is just a snapshot in hopes you will see their influence as the project unfolds.