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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Laura Richardson Houghton Corning Youth Center
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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”.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Director of Education
The Rockwell Museum