Living Your Best Life

“Success is making a positive difference through art, making art that affects the world and that changes the way people feel about themselves and the world.”
–  Katerina Graham  

We strive for this kind of success!  Success where the children involved in the Garden of Fire program not only create beautiful pieces of artwork that change the landscape of their visual world, but that also changes the landscape of their soul and of their life. Children innately create, explore, and ask questions.  The Garden of Fire provides them with the opportunity to do this and so much more.  Students learn to look within, and begin to understand how creating art is one way that they can develop a stronger sense of wellness in their life.

A proud student poses next to his creation!
A proud student poses next to his creation!

At first glance, the role of CareFirst in the Garden of Fire program might seem like an unlikely fit.  How does a healthcare organization, especially one that serves dying patients and grieving families, work with children on art and science?  We are not here to talk to children about death.  We are here to fulfill our true mission by talking to them about life – how they can live their best life!   In our program this year we will be acknowledging that life isn’t always easy – that even in hard times, we can observe the world around us and be reminded of our own strengths.  In developing our lesson plans for the 2015 workshops we are focusing on how children can use their awareness of nature and creation of artwork as coping strategies; this will help them in dealing with life’s difficult situations in a healthy and productive way.

The plan is to start by encouraging children to practice mindfulness in an age-appropriate way – how to live in the present, to be aware of what is happening around them, and to pay attention to what they are experiencing at any given moment. What they are seeing, touching, feeling, etc. impacts the way they understand the world and therefore, the way they feel about any given situation. Having an acute awareness of their experience will transition into using symbols and metaphors as a way of understanding themselves and how they relate to others.   Using symbols is a way of helping all of us understand our place in the world.

CareFirst

How are we the same from the other people, animals, plants, and objects around us?
How are we different?
What is the meaning and symbolism of art materials?
How does that translate to the artwork itself?

For example, we are creating wind tunnels out of natural materials with artists Tony Moretti and Gwen Quigley. Wind can be strong and intense, causing great destruction in the world. But, it can also be gentle and soothing, reminding us that we all can choose to live our life as a hurricane or a gentle breeze. Tree saplings can represent growth and new beginnings in our lives and vines are both durable and flexible, reminding us of the flexibility we need to cope with the ever-changing circumstances of our lives.

Thinking about this kind of symbolism helps children shape their understanding of themselves; this leaves them feeling stronger and more assured about who they are and who they want to be.  Additionally, it reminds them to find a balance between the intellect and the heart and uses both their understanding of art as well as the creative process to help them achieve success – “success that changes the way people feel about themselves and the world.”

Chelsea Ambrose
CareFirst

GoF Featured in NYSAN Learning Brief

We’re very excited to be featured in the New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) Learning Brief highlighting summer learning opportunities across the state. Find the full brief and additional fact sheets here. Find us on page 5!

We couldn’t say it better ourselves, so here it is straight from NYSAN:

“There is a well-documented need for a statewide, coordinated system of youth programs that operate outside of school hours, including before and after school, and during weekends and other school breaks, to provide high-quality, enriching experiences that contribute to the learning and healthy development of youth. Given their sizable impact on young people, summer learning opportunities must be a critical component of this system. However, far too many children have little or no exposure to the safe, supervised learning and enrichment activities that summer programs can provide.

“Summer experiences help meet the needs of all children; this is especially true for children from traditionally underserved communities, including children of color, those from low-income families, and children living in rural areas. Research shows that summer learning loss is a significant contributor to the achievement gap; students from low-income families typically lose two to three months in reading achievement and two months of math skills during the summer months.

Far too many children have little or no exposure to the safe, supervised learning and enrichment activities that summer programs can provide.”

Well said! And Happy Friday!

Synergy Through Artistic Collaboration

Under the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Challenge America grant, a new public art piece is under way.

I (Amy Ruza, Education Programs Coordinator at The Rockwell) am collaborating with metal artists Tony Moretti and Gwen Quigley from Hammondsport, NY to create a sculpture made from glass, metal and natural materials. We’ll celebrate the unveiling of the artwork at the Garden of Fire Festival, held at CareFirst this coming August 2015. We are combining our glass-blowing and metal-working skills to fabricate a mixed-media sculpture that connects to the themes of the summer youth program.

Amu Ruza gathers glass to create a glass squash.
Artist and educator Amy Ruza gathers glass to create a glass squash.

The carefully-planned design puts a twist on the traditional Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) “Three Sisters” crops: corns, beans and squash. The sculpture will also invoke the importance of wind in gardening, related to pollination, and the use of wind energy to help sustain plant growth.

The sculpture is still in its early stages, but imagine this:
A tall sunflower with a glass center,  surrounded by spinning metal petals. Below, spherical glass peas in metal pods, along with a glass squash plant with large, twisty metal leaves and vines.

These colorful glass mandalas will represent the centers of the sunflowers.
These colorful glass mandalas will represent the centers of the sunflowers.

The blown-glass parts were made at The Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning. Tony and Gwen will fabricate the metal parts at their home studio. The completed sculpture will be relatively easy to install and de-install, making it a non-permanent sculpture with the goal of being re-exhibited at multiple locations around the region.

While it is certainly necessary for youth to create art themselves, it is equally as important to expose them to professional-quality, contemporary, artistic creations.   Art inspires us by provoking creativity, an awareness of new ideas, and giving us an experience that engages all of our senses, enlightening our spirits and connecting us as people. 

Participants will recognize artists Tony Moretti and Gwen Quigley from their participation in last year's Garden of Fire program.
Participants will recognize artists Tony Moretti and Gwen Quigley from their participation in last year’s Garden of Fire program.

The sculpture will show how artists from different backgrounds can work together to create something harmonious to share with the world.

We are grateful for this artistic opportunity to stay involved in the community as artists and to have this chance to work together to experiment with new ideas.  Receiving the NEA grant has opened up a creative doorway into a new collaboration with exciting, technically challenging and inspiring ideas to interweave blown glass, metal and other natural materials.

Stay tuned for the completion and unveiling of this sculpture at the Garden of Fire celebration on August 14, 2015!

Amy Ruza
Education Programs Coordinator
The Rockwell Museum