Category Archives: Arts Education

The Power of Play

Last Saturday morning, as I stepped outside, I was overwhelmed by the smell of summer. I thought to myself, “I wait all year just for this.”

As a child, I loved the freedom of summer, endless days with friends and play, and very little structure. Free time is so important for kids. It provides a space for creativity and connectedness.

The Garden of Fire Programs prides itself on offering educational, artful activities that participants would not experience in the regular classroom.
The Garden of Fire Programs prides itself on offering educational, artful activities that participants would not experience in the regular classroom.

As adults, we also know that children lose many of the skills they achieve in the school year when they are away from a learning environment. Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are especially in danger of losing basic math, science, reading and writing skills in the summer.

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Garden of Fire provides programming that balances those competing needs.  While keeping children tuned into math, science, and writing, it also provides a space for playfulness and creativity. The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes and our partners are thrilled to have been a part of this innovative program.

Dr. Constance Sullivan-Blum
Executive Director
The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes

The Life Cycle of the Chicken

This week’s Garden of Fire adventures were held at the CareFirst facility and centered around symbology, and how kids can connect to a symbol to represent themselves.

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At first the kids sat silent, not sure what symbology meant, but  as the discussion went on, on students found ways to connect.  Across the board, the favorite symbols were spirals and trees.

One of the students chose the spiral to represent the life cycle during the decorating of the flags.  He asked me as he drew:  “Can I do the lifecycle of the chicken?”  He then explains the egg, the chick, the chicken and a blank section… fried chicken.  I pause, and of course giggle a little, not sure how to respond.

It may offend some, as we all make choices in what we eat and many choose not to eat meat.  We talk a bit more and he tells of the chickens his family raises for eggs and meat.  This is how he and his family choose to live and it’s wonderful to be grateful for the meat and truly understand the sacrifices and not just go to the store to pick up a package. leespearyphoto300care1st-35

I tell this story because Garden of Fire is a place where these students can be themselves.  They are not being judged or having to fit into the preverbial box.  These symbols represent him and his family.

One of the goals on the program is to teach gardening and science.  If more children had the experience of really knowing where all their food came from, and the work that is put into a simple slice of bread, our world would be a better place.

Emily Hofelich
Executive Director
Friends of the Addison Youth Center, Inc.

Call For Volunteers: Garden of Fire Festival, August 14

Click here to sign up! Volunteers like you make extended arts education possible in Corning!>>

The Garden of Fire festival is a culminating celebration of youth learning through artwork, performance, and music. It provides a place and time to joyously celebrate the earth, wind and sky in unison with caregivers, teachers, artists, and community members. The festival also provides opportunities for social interaction; a time when youth are encouraged to interact with their peers outside of a learning environment. The festival is a proven “stage” where non-participating/hesitant youth who desire a place to showcase their learning can demonstrate self-confidence alongside their peers. The program provides the participating youth opportunities to expand their horizons by meeting in different locations and meeting people from other communities.

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Volunteers are needed to help make the Garden of Fire Festival a success! The festival will take place on Friday, August 14, 2015, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., at the new CareFirst facility in Painted Post, NY. Volunteers may sign-up for the full day or for various shifts: choose from a variety of . We appreciate the passion and knowledge that a willing volunteer force provides. All volunteers whose shift runs through lunchtime are welcome to partake in the food and beverages offered. The Festival serves approximately 145 youth, who will be accompanied by 30-40 volunteers, 20 staff members from the partnering organizations, along with community dignitaries and members of various boards.

Click here to sign up! Volunteers like you make extended arts education possible in Corning!>>

Mistakes Become Discoveries!

Imagine a place where your child can create a piece of art without the pressure of a grade, the stress of a deadline, the absence of a requirement, with and endless supply of tools for his or her creation.

Imagine a place where he or she can speak openly about personal emotions and loss. This is a place where people listen free of judgment. It is somewhere that, after hearing how you drew the birds in the sky and they did not come out how you wanted, your neighbor throws her paintbrush in the air and shouts: Mistakes become discoveries!

We’ve found our place. This is why we love the Garden of Fire.

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The Corning Youth Center went to The Rockwell Museum on Tuesday. A discussion and meditation led by CareFirst’s Chelsea Ambrose prompted a powerful conversation about grief and loss experienced in the lives of our youth. A safe space was created for youth of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences to connect through their hardships and no longer feel alone, but to feel united and empowered by those sitting beside them. We walked through The Rockwell and discussed pieces of art through their expression and meaning and how each child can express themselves when they sit down to create art.

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This week’s project was to create and design a clay tile. A ten year old described her clay tile. “The clouds are eyes and the raindrops are tears.” She told me the tree represents growth and how she will never stop growing.

This was a beautiful project. The Garden of Fire has given our youth an outlet of expression where words do not suffice.

Maybe it seems silly that, with a project focused on a time of overwhelming emotion or change in life, an eight year old raises her hand to ask, “How do you draw a Minion?” But, if you ask her why the Minion is relevant to her project, she will tell you that last week she went to the movies with her best friend and she finally felt “really happy.”

This is why we love the Garden of Fire.

Caitlin McConville
Laura Richardson Houghton Corning Youth Center

Making Animal Friends with the Garden of Fire

Our summer program is up and running!  We have planned many activities with community partners for our kids, one being The Garden of Fire. Having had their first session with the Rockwell Museum and Tanglewood Nature Center, the children are excited to continue the journey and explore all that the Garden of Fire offers.

Week One began with the Garden of Fire story, read by Gigi Alvare, The Rockwell’s Director of Education. Students were assigned roles in the story and used animal puppets to say their lines.

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Parents were invited to participate in the day’s program.

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Students met various garden animals with Ian of Tangle Wood Nature Center & Museum. They drew pictures of the animals in their Garden of Fire journals and wrote a bit about what they learned.

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I sat down and had a conversation with one of our kids, Kennedy, asking her what she thought of the program so far. Here is what Kennedy had to say in regards to the Garden of Fire;

I thought the story was really cool and I got to hold the deer puppet.  They helped me to understand what a metaphor is because they explained that it was a garden looked like it was on fire, when it actually was not.  All of the animals from Tanglewood were super cool.  They and the story helped me to understand the cycle of a garden and how it all works. I am really excited about what is to come from all of the artists and the different things we get to make.  I cannot wait for the festival and think that it will be really, really fun.

To see the excitement from the kids who are just starting to be involved with the Garden of Fire,  and the kids who have been involved in years past, shows that learning over the summer can be fun.  We look forward to hearing from the kids each week on what they learned and what they look forward to with the coming sessions.  The excitement for the festival is contagious and we look forward to being part of such an awesome project and day.

Mary Ellen Monahan
Missi Allison
The Salvation Army Summer Program Directors

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.

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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

Cultivating Creativity

Together we can care for our most precious gifts: the earth itself and the children who live on it. 

The word ‘culture’ comes from the  Latin word cultura – with literal meanings tied to agriculture, and figurative connotations of care and honoring. And, from past participle stem colere which means “tend, guard, cultivate, till”.

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The development of culture takes constant tilling, constant caring – it is the “garden” that we can grow especially through teaching and caring for younger generations. Each seed that we plant through the art and science projects provided through the Garden of Fire program has the potential of blossoming into a deeper understanding of life in a young person’s mind and heart. As “gardeners” leading the project forward, staff from the nine partnering agencies are working together to create a model for a collaborative and creative culture.

It is crucial for young people to understand that they are not alone in their experience of daily life and it is only with this awareness that the healing of individuals and society can take place. Collaborative art and gardening activities can lift spirits, promote communication, improve common understanding and boost social skills. Through collaborative projects, a structure for building community emerges.

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The Rockwell Museum, which serves as the lead agency for the Garden of Fire program, is embedded in local history and connected through its images and objects to many cultures of the United States.  Through the Museum collection, the American experience in all its complexities comes alive. With education at the heart of our mission, The Rockwell is dedicated to serving youth that may not have other alternatives for arts education by opening boundaries between museum, school and community.

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Our work with schools and non-profits is designed to help ensure that all children have successful experiences as they grow up in our community.   In the face of a rapidly changing world and ever more prevalent societal crises we are committed to creating opportunities for people of all ages to delight in, and find solace in, the truth, beauty, and joy of art and art making. It is so energizing to have partners in these endeavors through the Garden of Fire program!

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It is my hope that the model program we have collectively created will spark the imagination and action of other communities to build their own Garden of Fire. Together we can care for our most precious gifts: the earth itself and the children who live on it.

Gigi Alvaré
Director of Education
The Rockwell Museum

The World is Your Garden – Enjoy It!

Standing in a circle with over a hundred children who have just built an art installation out of entirely natural materials, I couldn’t help but feel elated.

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Students created an art installation as part of the Garden of Fire Festival.

The entire year before this moment had been spent planning: writing grants, meeting with a diverse group of organizations, and finally implementing the arts and science programming that we’d worked so hard to create. While, as a member of The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, I had played only a small role in it all, I was still exhausted! Yet, in that moment we’d worked so hard to achieve, I experienced a sense of purpose that energized me. The structure the children created used so many of the things they learned over the summer – mathematics and physics, the natural sciences associated with the garden – as well as teamwork and resourcefulness.

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Students worked together to create beautiful mandalas and sculptures from natural materials.

There is much discussion these days on the importance of science and technology in education, especially for under-served youth. There is no disputing that. However, there is less emphasis on the role that the arts play in cultivating the skills that scientists (and other citizens) require. Collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking can never be understood solely from lectures or textbooks. They are learned through implementation, through experience, by the trial and error of making something. This is part of why art is so important in the life of a child. And, this is why the Garden of Fire was created.

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The joy of drumming!

The ARTS Council advocates for arts inside the classroom and outside of it. That is one reason we are proud to be members of the Garden of Fire.  Art, however, extends beyond utility into the sheer joy of beauty. That moment with the children was more than fulfilling, it was beautiful. Nothing captured that transcendence more vividly then, while listening to the children drumming on handmade drums, I looked up to see a monarch butterfly sipping nectar from the blossoms the children had looped into strings in the installation.

Dr. Connie Sullivan-Blum
Executive Director
The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes

More photographs from the art installation: