The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
What happens when artists foster understanding through critical awareness and the exploration of empathy?
Our programs were diverse and used diverse tools to find answers to these questions. One example comes from our Jim Cogan program:
Through pre and post performance teacher guides, student worksheets, and group projects, students explored bullying, tolerance, and empathy though the arts.
TH:Cn10.1.6.a. Explain how the actions and motivations of characters in a drama/theatre work impact perspectives of a community or culture.
TH:Cn11.1.4. a. Respond to community and social issues and incorporate other content areas in drama/theatre work.
Right the Wrong! Write a fictional story about a bullying situation in a school. Have the story include a ‘Bully’, a ‘Target’, and a group of ‘Bystanders’. Develop your story up to the peak of the bullying. Then, read your story (or have it read) to the class and ask “How do I end this story in a way we want our school to be?
Role Play: Divide the class into teams of 6-8. Have each group collaboratively make up a story about a similar issue but with their own solution part of the story.
Videos: Make a video of bullying scenarios, then add several solutions the class votes as best. Add new problem-solving ideas to the video as they arise.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
Jim Cogan, “Bringing Bullying to Bay”: A 9-year-old shared how “hearing a story impacts how people treat each other.” A 10-year old student said the stories “would have an influence on them and they’d remember how the characters in the stories they heard had felt and so they’d think twice before about ever bullying someone else.” A 12-year old demonstrated compassion even for bullies, when asked what inclusion meant to them. He said for them it meant to “Involve everyone because if there are bullies present in the group, they’d still be included too, and that might make them rethink their behavior before they did it.”
Catapult: Johnathon, 10, reported that “I learned that the closer you are to the light, the larger the shadow is and the farther away you are, the smaller your shadow is. I liked the free shadow time at the end the best.” Elizabeth 12, reported, “This was the most amazing thing ever. I thought shadows shapes were just the dog you make with your hand. I learned that I can create anything with shadows and tell cool stories. This was the best art thing I’ve ever done. I got to create beautiful art though simple things.”
Refugee Artist: A 4th grader commented: “I liked the Ukrainian children songs and lullabies they sung at home. I would like to hear those songs, too.” Children commented that they were amazed at the similarities in holiday celebrations and were sad that people had to be refugees.”
When artists of all disciplines foster understanding between self and others through critical awareness, social responsibility, and the exploration of empathy, they have the power to bring people and whole communities together. We saw this during our emPOWERme programs. Perhaps the most meaningful part of our program was bringing our storyteller to the Juvenile Corrections Center, where incarcerated teens attended storytelling sessions. They came in with hard expressions, and didn’t look they wanted to be there, but by the end of the program, they were laughing, participating appropriately, and leaning forward in their chairs. It was remarkable to watch them give rapt attention to stories of bullying, bravery, and integrity. Lectures on social behavior would not have made a difference, but the arts can break down walls and positively impact future behavior. Hopefully those stories will stay in their hearts and help guide their behavior.
Likewise, students who attended our refugee program will be able to develop tolerance for people from other backgrounds than themselves. As they participated in the singing and hands-on activities, they were able to be immersed in a culture they didn’t know of before, and find the similarities that bring us together.
Students who learned the art of shadow dance were able to develop self-confidence in trying a new art form. None of the participants had been exposed to shadow dance, but the small class size allowed the dancers to teach almost one-on-one, and create confidence for the students to succeed.
This was the first year we explored the theme of empowerment and liked the focus it gave to our programs. Every program was a success and helped further our mission.
It was our pilot year for our refugee program, and we are excited to continue it in the future with some modifications. There wasn’t the demand in the schools for the program that we hoped there would be, so we plan to invite administrators and teachers to share any concerns or suggestions. We’d like to develop a roster of artists for schools to choose from in the future.
We ran into a snag with our Catapult program that turned into something even more wonderful. The evening concert date was changed by the company as their tour developed after the grant was written. The updated performance date fell during Spring Break, which made it impossible to present a school matinee. Instead, we offered a Spring Break Camp. It was an amazing opportunity for the students to be taught by world-renowned artists. The small class size allowed the students to create remarkable art together. Students really become adept at making shadow art in the two-hour class. They especially enjoyed the free time with music at the end of the instruction where their creativity showed through as they created their own stories and dances. It was remarkable to watch the community-building that occurred as previous strangers physically grouped up to create elephants, cathedrals, and groups of swans.
Our storytelling in the Juvenile Corrections Center was so meaningful that we are pursuing more programs for the incarcerated teens, including ukulele lessons, community performers, and a rock band class. Experiencing the arts often gives teens a positive self-expression outlet they haven’t been exposed to and provides pro-social interactions. We’re excited to pursue the possibilities.