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MACtivities Toolbox

City of Moscow, Art Department

The MACtivities Toolbox program involved teaching artists, Moscow Arts Commission members, and staff members at both the City of Moscow Arts Department and Moscow Contemporary. The goal of the project, initiated in the early days of the pandemic, was to connect members of the Moscow community with standards-aligned art education opportunities during a time that required social distancing. Further, the intent was to present arts education as an activity to be shared by the whole family. This program was designed with a largely contactless model, including online registration followed by pick-up of the Toolbox at a specified time and location. This project was developed and pursued because of its inclusion of paid teaching artists, its rigorous yet playful approach to learning, and ability to bring artmaking into collaborative family settings.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

What conditions support creativity and innovation? What encourages people to take creative risks and to collaborate?

The primary goal of the MACtivities Toolbox is to activate a sense of conceptual play and material exploration for all participants. In both the 4th and 5th editions of the Toolbox, participants are asked to work with form and concept in ways that generate innovative ideas or meaning.

For example, in Rachael Eastman’s blackout poetry curriculum, students are guided to transform existing text to discover new meanings. This is not only a generative process, but also collaborative. The blackout poetry writer creates poems in collaboration with the author of the original text. The extension of this conceptual word play is the inclusion of imagery in the final art piece, making this Toolbox curriculum an ideal way to explore multiple approaches to design and concept.

Shanti Norman’s curriculum guides students in using sensory and internal awareness as a starting point for visual artwork. In this way, she asks students to consider multiple approaches to initiating the creative process. Importantly, this curriculum also asks participants of all ages to develop a higher sensitivity to their surroundings and their inner awareness.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

The ability to observe student experiences and outcomes has been a significant limitation for this project. Early editions of the MACtivities Toolbox included a postcard that participants could send back to organizers with an art piece to show their learning, but the response rate was low. While the program did help the Moscow Arts Commission and City of Moscow Arts staff to connect with the community in a creative way during a time when gathering was dangerous, the delivery of the program during this grant cycle did not allow for teachers or organizers to observe outcomes thoroughly. Recognition of this limitation has prompted thoughtful conversations about how to round out the entire experience with MAC arts education offerings. New approaches based on these observations and conversations are described in the “Reflection” section below.

Impact

Some of the best moments of this project included collaborations with the teaching artists, both of whom are professional K12 arts educators. Each one brought an incredible professionalism and depth of knowledge to the project, and also proposed options for extending activities into in-person experiences.

Right before the Toolboxes were released to the recipients, MAC and Arts staff members gathered to assemble the Toolboxes. These sessions were a light and fun way to connect the operational and advisory sides of the City of Moscow’s Arts team. As with the collaborations with the teaching artists, the sessions with MAC members brought about wonderful conversations about how to take arts education programming to the next level.

Community connection was alive and well when working with Moscow Contemporary to deliver Toolboxes to participants. With their increasing focus on arts education programming and the MACtivities Toolbox program poised for its next transformation, the partnership was a perfect one. The hope was to introduce Toolbox participants to the arts education programming that is growing at Moscow Contemporary, one of the community’s newest arts non-profits.

Reflection

The best part of the MACtivities Toolbox program has been providing standards-aligned curricula, written by paid teaching artists and accompanied by quality art supplies, to community members free-of-charge. This upholds the value of art as a language and area of expertise while sharing it with people who might not otherwise have access to education in the arts. Further, the program sets up families to make art together, as a natural part of their daily lives. This brings art, in at least some small way, from the periphery to the core of a family’s shared experience.

The biggest challenge for this program would be the addition of an in-person workshop component and an exhibition or performance element as a capstone experience. This is the next stage of growth for the MACtivities Toolbox. To begin, the MAC will host workshops led by the writers of the first five editions of the Toolbox curriculum. These will be opportunities for people to experience the materials in a community setting, after which they would be invited to take home copies of the lessons to work with further.

Many organizations in the community have offered take-home activities similar to the MACtivities Toolbox model. These were wonderful during the pandemic, but it is too difficult to measure the impact of the lessons and materials without in-person components. Nonetheless, it has been wonderful to see the innovation and generosity that went into producing these take-home gifts to the community.

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