SchoolArts Magazine

NOV 2005

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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tion about their experiences in New Orleans. I asked them to draw what- ever they wanted, and, not surpris- ingly, most of them drew houses, specifically houses surrounded by water. A few drew before and after pictures of their homes. The after images contained not only swirl- ing waters but also mean-looking sharks and snakes. Apparently, there was a rumor that the aquarium in New Orleans was going to burst and man-eating creatures were suddenly going to be freed and swimming in their homes and streets. The next morning, I returned and this time I carried with me a neon pink piece of poster board with "The Art Room" written on it, I duct-taped it to my suitcase handle and spread the supplies on a large open space on the floor. Virtually seconds later, some children were standing there with gigantic eyes wanting to touch everything. But they didn't. They asked first. Just like in school. They drew houses again but they drew Spiderman too. For the rest of Sunday afternoon, we all stayed in and around the square in the center of the Astro- dome. A choir showed up to stand in the bleachers and sing for two hours. In our square, there were colors, there was music, there were imaginary houses, and there was a teacher here. So it was okay—for a Sunday afternoon. Rachelle Omenson is currently student teach - ing at Media Elemen- tary School in Media, Pennsylvania, while working on her master's degree in art education. romenson@comcast.net T en thousand people, one sta- dium, and nothing to do. It seemed unimaginable that these patient people, isolated by the wake of hurricane Katrina, might have to wait months, even years, to regain some structure in their lives. Of course, after wading in contaminated water or clinging helplessly to roof shingles, boredom and rest are wel- come. Children ran gig - gling and racing up and down the aisles of cots at the Reli- ant Astrodome in Houston, yelling back to their mothers and fathers, "I'm right here!" Their energy seemed boundless, even in the face of tragedy. Here amid relief workers, chronically ill elders, hundreds of police, and exhausted parents, the children only had their nylon cots to go back to, and that gets boring. I wondered on the Friday night after Katrina hit New Orleans, what people could do to help those in need. Hundreds of volunteers were continually needed but I didn't know what I could do as an art teacher. At six a.m. Saturday morning, I decided not to wonder anymore. I apologize now to the true practitioners of art therapy because I temporarily faked being one of you. But I swear it was worth it. I took the first flight I could find to Hous- ton and rented a car. When I arrived at the Astrodome, toting a carry-on piece of luggage con- taining sketchpads, crayons, mark- ers, and stickers, I confidently told the guard that I was the volunteer art therapist. Clearly this sounded logical because she yelled over to the other gatekeeper, "Open that gate over there, the art therapist is here." Okay, that actually worked. I walked through and looked down at the people. It looked like a moving carpet of rectangles. I wan- dered through the darker concourses where cots lined the walls, crowded by pre- cious possessions. "Hello, I'm the wandering art teacher. Does anyone want to draw?" I asked the first awake group of kids I saw lounging on the cots. Surprisingly, they ran over to a nearby table where I spread out the art materials I had brought. They never asked why I was there. They never said they were too tired to draw anything. They never looked suspiciously at me for one minute. In a fluorescently lit, dirty con - course in section 432, we set up art class. They called me teacher and raised their hands when I asked them questions. They signed all their artwork and volunteered endless informa - Art at the Astrodome I apologize now to the true practitioners of art therapy because I temporarily faked being one of you. But I swear it was worth it. P o i n t o f V i e w 6 SchoolArts November 2005 Rachelle A. Omenson

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