There is a story to be told, and it’s unfolding at East Mt. Airy’s Eleanor C. Emlen School, a public school with lack of access to art education. A public school where the children are guaranteed one meal a day, where many kids walk to school. But dreams are happening and endless possibilities are being introduced as the children immerse themselves in the creativity of the visual arts and related language arts.
Once a week, during the last two periods on Fridays, a 4th to 5th grade classroom gathers to work diligently on art and literacy. Focused energy abounds, as excitement about their projects grows each week. These students, with their teachers from the Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG), work together building artistic skills and a working arts-related vocabulary. Building vocabulary is a great way to build comprehension and expressive language.
The ultimate outcome is a mural that will become a legacy of their work, permanently affixed to an interior school wall. The process includes learning to observe, think, draw and speak with depth, meaning and expression. Each child has his or her own “quilt block” on this large mural, filled with imagery they have developed over the course of this year’s lessons. The pictures are about their community and themselves. Some are literal; some are metaphorical (and they know the meanings of such words). They know how to explain the foreground, background, focal points, proportions and perspectives of their images, and much more. Using their own work as references, as well as literary sources, they learn in context, the language of art and artists.
Using author and artist Faith Ringgold’s classic illustrated family story, Tar Beach, students are engaged in learning to interpret the book’s meaning. Teacher-guided discussion and subsequent drawing assignments tie into the main visual and verbal content of the book. The students at Emlen Elementary are all African American. Faith Ringgold is a highly successful African American artist — a valuable role model for these students.
Students engage in their creative work through a structured experiential, collaborative process that incorporates making art, critical thinking, vocabulary development, story telling, and interaction with teaching artists and visiting artists. They are thrilled when Mikel Elam, artist and manager of the Artist and Craftsman Supply, in Chestnut Hill, comes to visit. He brings his wealth of experience as an African American artist, his own art to share with students; and he always brings wonderful supplies to stimulate imaginations and enrich imagery.
The Community of Pride Mural and Literacy Project has opened these children’s minds to interests and skills many did not know they had. It has opened doors for them, doors to their hearts and souls; doors to their precious creativity.
Be part of the magic at Emlen and help us paint the mural. You can contact the Mt. Airy Art Garage at email@example.com or call 267.240.3302. Even better, come visit us at our gallery at 6622 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19119.
— Ruth Joray, Curriculum Designer/Artist