As the end of the school year drew near, Columbia Heights fifth grader Genevieve Johnson began to feel the pressure. She had yet to have a piece of artwork accepted into the art show at Silverwood.
“Usually every year I get a piece, and I was bummed because this year I thought I didn’t,” Johnson said.
Finally, upon completion of the last project of the year, she got the good news.
“I was so excited!” she exclaimed. “I really wanted a piece of artwork in the show this year, and this was our last project.”
She created a paper machete deer head sculpture that will be on display in the nature-themed gallery at Silverwood Park for two weeks.
“I did the head realistically, but I wanted to add something that’s not realistic, so I painted the antlers blue and purple,” Johnson said about her masterpiece.
She said it took a long time to figure out how to make the antlers, but finally achieved the look with layers of tin foil and sticks on each side of its head.
This excitement of earning a spot in the “Expressions” Art Show at Silverwood was shared by many other Columbia Heights students. The annual exhibit features only 100 pieces from students of all levels in the district. The artwork is all selected throughout the year by the district’s art teachers.
“At the beginning of the year, we ask all our students what their hopes and dreams are, and this has become a very popular hope and dream for most of our students,” Highland Elementary art teacher Joy Baleisis said. “They all hope that their work is at Silverwood, so it’s really caught on.”
The exhibit’s grand opening to the public was held May 16, with an elementary night opening on May 17, followed by the secondary-level opening on May 18. Many students, parents and staff attended the openings to view the impressive artwork of the 2016-17 school year. The environmental gallery, which features 25 nature-themed pieces, will stay on display in the rotunda until after Memorial Day.
District arts specialist and Valley View art teacher Alison Thompson said the event seems to get bigger each year.
“As an art teacher, it’s really exciting because I get to see my high school kids that I had as kindergarteners, so it’s really fun to see their progression,” Thompson said.
The age of media arts
Thompson said that this year’s big excitement is the addition of elementary media arts. Elementary media arts is a pilot program for third through fifth grades that began at Valley View last year. The class focuses primarily on the cross between art making and technology, as well as preparing students for 21st century learning. Units include photography, animation, filming, website design and more.
Elementary media arts teacher Hannah Starke said many schools approach this subject from the technical side, but she always stresses the importance of the art and design perspective.
“When you come at it from the art and design perspective, you’re the person in charge, not the person behind the screen. You’re the director, not the cameraman. You can have the vision and the art focus and share the dialogue with your own heart and interpretation,” Starke said.
Starke said media arts is a very collaborative program where teachers can work closely to create projects that will work in both main subject and art classrooms.
In a recent project, students wrote narratives about the Underground Railroad in history class, which were then turned into visual audio books in her media arts class.
Media arts teachers at the secondary level also collaborate with Starke to write program curriculum. Julie Fowler and Sarah Honeywell teach media arts at Columbia Academy and CHHS respectively. Some digital art that was featured in the exhibit include Garageband music producing projects where students created original scores to go along with old video footage, animated pixel art and stop motion projects.
Fowler said her sixth graders also did a project on outdoor sculpture parks, where they researched and designed 3D model plans for a sculpture garden.
“They focused on designing the sculptures and landscaping and thinking about how you design for an outdoor space in scale rather than art,” she shared.
It is these types of projects and more that can spark students’ interests for future careers.
“When I first start the class, I really try to push that so they understand the relevancy, so we do a whole web map of what media arts is and tie it into different careers,” Fowler said. She added that she tells her students that no matter what they do, she wants them all to feel more comfortable with technology and figuring things out on their own.
“No matter what job you go into, feeling confident approaching a program you have never used, or a new software application is helpful for anyone,” she said.
Honeywell said that she is very impressed with her students and their work, and beginning to teach media arts at the elementary level will really launch the program.
“These students are already coming to me with valuable skills. They come to me with ideas about what they want to do. They’re a step ahead, way ahead in fact,” Honeywell said.
With their own ideas and interests in mind, students are able to build career-ready skills.
“You know you’re doing a good job when you’re sitting there in a classroom and no kid is off task,” she laughed.
She added that she and the other teachers really push to find advanced projects for students to work on, many of which are on par with work at the Minneapolis College of Arts and Design and different universities around the country.
“The whole internet is visual. They’re learning how to visually edit, they’re learning how to be visually savvy, they’re learning a visual repertoire at a young age. They are making lots of decisions about what things look like, and that is a really marketable skill in the age of the internet,” Honeywell said.
The district hopes to expand media arts from Valley View to the other elementary schools in the next few years.
Contact Sarah Burghardt at [email protected]