SchoolArts Magazine

NOV 2013

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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AdvocAcy Collaboration & Community Cavan Leerkamp T he Houston skyscrapers tower quietly above. The buildings whisper back and forth that it's Via Colori time again. They peek through the trees at the hundreds of ant-sized artists drawing on the street below, which is a treat for the buildings and for the rest of the tiny people in their city. This busy street becomes a canvas for hundreds of artists one weekend a year for Via Colori, a street-painting festival that raises funds for nonprofit organizations across the United States. This experience, and other collaborations like it, has made my teaching about so much more than product. Collaborative art changes the focus because while product is important, the experience is the artistry. I stand up for a stretch break, looking objectively at our massive street drawing. I smile at how it's turning out. I imagine myself in the art piece, as the fatherly cockroach seated at the end of the table. He looks tranquil and well aware of the wealth around him. Each of the cucarachas sits at the table holding "hands," with heads bowed. I glance at the 10 x 10' square to my left to see a young man working methodically and quietly as he always does. "Ignacio, let me know if you need any help, ok?" I call out to him. "Yeah, I may. Thanks," he quietly replies with his trademark subtle smile. He is one of the hardest working artists I have ever known. Looking down the street I see Julie. She is so full of positive energy, it's hard not to smile around her. Julie was one of the junior high students I brought to my first year at Via Colori six years ago. Back then I had never done anything like it. Now Julie has her own square, just like Ignacio. I look back to our cockroach square. We captured that peaceful moment at Thanksgiving when you glance around the table, thankful for just belonging to a group; so thankful, in fact, that you squeeze the hand of the person on either side of you a little tighter, just before you let go. It occurs to me this event is our place. It is our Thanksgiving. In Houston, Via Colori occurs the weekend before Thanksgiving every year and raises funds for a local school for hearing impaired children. Sponsors make donations for squares ranging from 4 x 4' to 10 x 10', and the public benefits with free admission. Via Colori has created a sense of belonging and purpose. This was crucial in my classroom as a teacher. I strived to make students feel like they belonged. Giving them co-ownership occurs by including them in the design process; this was crucial in motivating them to work hard. As a teacher, it's hard to not be product oriented. Collaborative art changes the focus because while product is important, the experience is the artistry. It was only in retrospect that I really made myself conscious of the Place, in this regard, is not about the actual place; it's about community. It's about belonging to positive change and it's empowering. Purpose empowers us all. impact of valuing experiences and interactions, and of doing all that I could to bring those experiences outside the walls of the school. How often do students get to see their art directly helping people? My students always worked so hard; not for grades or money, but for the benefit of others, and in the case of Via Colori, other Continued on page 46. schoolartsonline.com 11

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