St. Louis Contemporary Art Museum 

The community arts project at the contemporary art museum of St. Louis (CAM) was a wonderful opportunity for our class to experience the process of planning and then executing an art lesson for very small children and their families. The CAM  is very involved in the community of St. Louis and a part of this is to provide cultural and bring the arts in a practical way to the families of the city. This is the basic premise of the activity, young families (parents with small children – most under 4 years old) are invited to come to the museum on a Wednesday morning each month where there is a “walker stroll” of the gallery and current exhibitions and then a short art lesson/ activity followed by another planned activity from an organization in the community.
Our task was to plan a lesson or activity that was inspired by an exhibition on show at the time for the attendees. Prior to planning the activity we (the students) were encouraged to visit the CAM to experience the location that we would be teaching as well as to get ideas for our lesson. As a class we selected an exhibition of quilts that would be on display the day of our lesson, the exhibition was called Wagon Wheel and was a creation of Ulla von Brandenburg.
We brought our ideas to class of what kind of activity we would plan. My initial plan was to use felt and fabric pieces to create little quilts on a piece of paper. Many other students had similar thoughts so the project that we ended up with was not too far from this. One student suggested that we encourage the children to make a family tree quilt, choosing colors and patterns that somehow represented members of the child’s family. Many of us liked this idea but one student called attention to the fact that we were mentioning mothers, fathers, grandmas, and grandpas and we do not know the types of families the children will be coming from. So in order to be sensitive to the different possible backgrounds that we change the wording to represent people that the children loved, and not necessarily members of a nuclear family. I feel that this small interaction, conversation really, is a really great lesson to keep in mind when planning activities or art projects for people. One should always approach any situation with an attitude of cultural sensitivity-but especially so when leading an activity or teaching a lesson- it would be tragic to inadvertently insult or cause any kind of distress because we forget that not everyone has the same kinds of experiences that we have.
In the end, the final project that we did did still include using pieces of fabric and felt to arrange a quilt. We ordered pieces of felt to be the canvas for the children to create on. There was quite a bit of research that needed to go into the process. For example, we wanted to be able to mimic thread-lines across the fabric as this is an important part of the design of a quilt. What was discovered, after trying several different types of markers and pens, was that crayons actually worked the best. This was a great discovery as crayons are both very cost efficient and easy to get a hold of. When planning any type of art lesson you are always going to need to consider the cost and availability of your supplies- unless you happen to get lucky and are hired by insanely rich supporters of the arts- but for the rest of us, a project that allows you to use crayons to get the exact effect that you want is akin to striking gold.
Another thing that we had to consider when planning this project was that the children will be very young (so the project cannot be too difficult) also the activity should not take very long. It must be simple enough for a young child to be able to finish within a few minutes, but at the same time allow for a child who wants to get more involved and make the project more interesting or complex. This is something that we felt our project achieved. This is also something that always needs to be considered when creating a lesson for a group that may contain differing levels of interest as well as skill. You want everyone to be able to do it and interested in participating at all levels.
Unfortunately, as it worked out that the activity began a littler earlier than we had thought and I had a meeting right before our class I wasn’t actually able to be there during the activity. However, from what I was told my classmates did a wonderful job thinking on their feet and making it work with less time to prepare in the morning. This is an invaluable skill for any teacher but especially so for an art educator. This will also be something that I will need to be able to do in the future when working with art therapy clients. I need to be always aware of what is happening in my groups and sessions and always adjusting things so that my clients are receiving the best from me.
Despite the fact that missed the actual execution of our community arts activity, I still feel that I learned a lot from the planning portion of the experience and that I will be able to apply some of the lessons that I learned in my future career.


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