Sunday, January 24, 2010

First Grade Art

The graduate students in the Music Department organized in one week an amazing arts benefit for Haiti — a completely impressive grass roots creative effort, Love-4-Haiti. I sent a little email suggesting that maybe the public school first graders contribute an art project. Jonathan’s teacher jumped on it. So fast forward to Thursday when I arrived at my office ready to bang out a syllabus for my graduate seminar. Jonathan’s teacher called me at noon to explain that the local TV News was coming to the class at about 2 to film the kids making projects for the Haiti benefit. As it turned out she didn’t know much about the event and they actually hadn’t done an art project yet. This led to frantic texting.

A couple of asides to this narrative; the visually impaired doing business by text turns out to be risky business since at some point I sent my friend Kirsten who lives in Miami a text with crucial details that was meant for the teacher Kristin) And my sister had just asked me Thursday morning if I’d talked with my kids about Haiti or what they were thinking. In fact I’d done nothing of the sort since I was in Boston discussing death with my niece and when I tried to watch the news on Tuesday with thing one two and three they insisted on switching back to Extreme Home Makeover.

But back to the first graders; luckily Peter, one of the event organizers, was available and enthusiastic about talking with the first grade. So we arrived at the school, where it turned out that much of what was needed was actual help with art. The kids were, of course, totally a-buzz with the excitement of the news. At some point during the set up I realized that, for the sake of Rebecca’s future therapy bills, I’d have to yank her out of class because I couldn’t be in one twin’s class and potentially on the news while the other was practicing math skills.

Before the news came Peter, Ms. Meyers, and I had a discussion about Haiti with the kids which was pretty impressive. The kids had all kinds of questions “didn’t a baby die, didn’t some people get you, what about the schools…..” I especially loved hearing Ms. Meyers teach them the concluding article from C’ville’s free paper which explained the ways in which the United States is complicit in the destruction there. During the discussion of poverty, my kid who makes a habit of filling up shopping carts on Amazon and has fits when he doesn’t get new leggo toys, explained that you could be poor in money but rich in love. The art project was impressively elaborate and involved chalk, crayon and watercolors. The kids made pictures of things they’d learned about Haiti and actually the effect was really beautiful. Given that we had about four adults in the room helping and another 3 or so taking pictures it was a remarkably smooth affair, all due to the teacher. It is no mean feat in the public schools these days to pull this off in a mere two hours. The amusing part for me was that both the teacher and I upended our days and our segment lasted about 11 seconds and included her hand and a ¼ inch of my back. On Friday when Staley our babysitter went to pick up the art she found herself engaged as primary framer.

The event last night was super moving and impressive. I’m stunned at the ability of the graduate students to pull this off and, as always, by the quality of local music in Charlottesville. I personally loved seeing the UVa music department community and the public school first grade community in one garage style performance place for funky arts. The first graders were, of course, fairly certain that this was all about them. There was much excitement setting up their table which displayed as many pictures as possible. They sold the pictures for $5 bucks and explained to anyone who would listen that you could take the picture home or send it to Haiti. Issac was the most aggressive salesperson and looked at people big eyed and said “don’t you want to buy our art to help Haiti” We had to do a little math work but by the end of the night they’d figured out how to give change and were still obsessively counting money. They also got to talk about their art into the microphone which they loved. Rebecca, who can be quite shy and reserved, talked first and explained in painstaking detail every little bit of her picture. Jonathan was bounding around and finally did some sort of politician thing into the microphone involving phrases like “I’ll make it short” and a preacher style “Love-4-Haiti” I may be biased, but the kids were precious! The boys petered out by around 7 and Manuel, who was managing to both be incredibly helpful and enjoy the music had to leave. He was on primary keep the boys quiet and then take them home duty. But my partying princess was ready to rock and did a lot of dancing and selling of art. She was especially proud to explain that hers had sold within the first five minutes. She told me that she liked “the dancers where the two women danced close together with a little space where you can see their belly button.” She wants to do that some day.

Interestingly, I’ve made quite a few impassioned speeches at PTO meetings about trying to have the public school partner with UVa, especially for arts events and gotten no where. But thanks to a few emails and texts with fabulous young artists and teachers it actually worked. Maybe I’ll just show pictures of the event in my classes tomorrow.

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