Art Scouts, Wassaic Project, New York, 2018
In 2018 Nadia Odlum completed an Education Fellowship at the Wassaic Project in New York. Here she devised and delivered a four part lesson program for children, called Art Scouts.
The goal of the program was to lead children to consider the ways the urban environments they live in are structured. It situates children as agents (rather than subjects) in the creation of these spaces, and encourages them to work collaboratively and creatively in shaping their environment.
This program was written by Nadia Odlum, and developed and delivered in collaboration with Jean Carla Rodea, Katy Halfin and Tara Lisa Foley, with help from education interns Maddy Chrisman-Miller and Lauren Mueller. It also drew on the expertise of dancers and choreographers Baira Mvmnt Phlsphy and Amanda Edwards.
The program was delivered over 4 weeks in July 2018. Details of the program can be found below.
Each lesson in this program contains a combination of movement and art making activities. Learners are encouraged to think about the way signs and symbols can be used to communicate instructions, and to shape the way they move in urban environments and city spaces. The use of improvised and experimental movement and drawing games, (where there is 'no wrong question and no wrong answer') also foregrounds principles of open communication, collaboration, and creative expression.
Lesson One: Movement and mapping
Goal: Children think about the way their bodies can be used to express shapes, images or concepts. They then think about how movement (particularly through architectural space) can be expressed in abstract visual ways.
Movement activity: Making shapes with our bodies
Children suggested shapes (e.g. circle, square, triangle) and we used our bodies to make them. We tried to see how many different ways we could make each shape, sharing methods and ideas.
We then thought about patterns (e.g. circle, square, circle, square). We made these patterns using our bodies, creating simple choreographies of movement. The kids suggested many different pattern combinations, some quite complicated. We experimented with different speeds and sizes of movement.
Art making activity: Mapping the Maxon Mill
The Scouts explored the Wassaic Project Summer exhibition in the Maxon Mill. This exhibition is spread over seven levels, in a historic mill building, and contains the work of over forty artists.
Sitting on the first level, we discussed what we were about to see, and the activity. Each scout would have a large piece of arches paper, which was their 'map'. As we moved through the exhibition, they could notice things that were interesting to them -- perhaps shapes, colours, or things in the artworks. At four different points throughout the exhibition we would stop, and they could add something that they had found to their 'map'. They could also work on a large collaborative map if they chose.
After each of these stops one of the teachers collected the maps and carried them to the next stop, as there are a lot of stairs so we needed our hands free.
At the final stop, we explored a work which featured a map of the world with places and points connected with yarn. We talked about the different places we all came from, or places we had visited. We spoke about how we got there, and also how we travelled to the Wassaic Project that day.
We then added the final touch to our maps, which was to connect the different points with string, lines or tape.
Lesson Two: Signs and the city
Goal: Children think about the way signs or symbols can communicate an instruction for movement or navigation. We then go larger, to think about how city environments and built and shaped.
Movement activity one: Write your name in the air
Write your name in the air...
1. with your finger
2. with your finger as big as you can
3. with your finger as small as you can
4. with your left knee
5. with your nose
6. take suggestions for other things to 'write' with (the most interesting one we got was 'eyes')
7. finish with 'writing your name in the air with your tongue' (nice and silly!)
Movement activity two: Dance your own way
Children create their own drawings that can be interpreted as instructions for movement. We then dance or move each drawing as a group.
1. Start with the example of an arrow. If I draw an arrow pointing left, what does that tell you to do? (Answer: 'move to the left')
2. But... if I drew a squiggly-wiggly line, what would that tell you to do? (talk through suggestions, and get silly with it, wiggling around all over the place!)
3. Hand out paper to each child and ask them to make a drawing which might give an interesting instruction for movement. The drawings can be as simple as you like (remember how simple the arrow or squiggle was?) or as complicated! Give around three minutes for this
4. Collect drawings and stand in front of group.
If needed, you can get everyone centred and prepared again by asking them to make their bodies as BIG as possible, then as small as possible, to shake each limb out, then freeze like a statue.
6. Hold up drawings one by one, and get group to dance them. Call out or mirror interesting interpretations. Encourage big movements, but also thoughtful or specific movements.
Art making activity: Cardboard City
Materials: recycled cardboard, bottles and containers sourced from community, glue, pipe cleaners, ppopsicle sticks, string, tape, markers, collage paper, inspiration images (real and imaginary cities)
1. Start with a discussion about what we see in our cities. Take suggestions down on butchers paper with pen. Guide where necessary (types of buildings, public transport or ways of getting around, structure e.g streets)
2. Distribute to each child a cardboard rectangle (or other shape) to be their ‘city block’. This can be a base that they can put their buildings on (if they like)
3. Distribute other materials to tables, and perhaps set an area where they can pick up extra or larger materials from.
4. When children are ready they can add their buildings to the 'city' (perhaps a table or an area on the floor)> encourage them to consider placement, and structural elements such as roads.
Encourage collaboration and imaginative thinking, and unusual use of materials!
Notes: During the brainstorm one girl suggested a feature could be the ‘edge of the city’. Later, I called on her to help me lay out the ‘city limits’. She traced on the floor with her foot, and I tracked behind her with black electrical tape, to create a shape on the floor. This was the space we could place our buildings inside of (though one child, intuitively, placed grand central station half outside of this boundary as the trains from this station go outside the city – wow!)
Lesson Three: Signs and the city continued
Goal: Children build on their understanding of how signs or symbols can communicate an instruction for movement or navigation. We explore movement and paths through larger spaces, and consider street signs and symbols in urban environments.
Movement activity: My path and your path
Materials: paper, marker pens
For this section we went to a nearby park, and after some free play we did the activity on a large stretch of grass.
1. Children draw a line on a piece of paper. The line can be as simple or as complicated as they like (think zig-zags, or curly looping lines)
2. The children line up at a 'starting point', then use their drawing as a 'map' for how to move through to a 'finish line'
*Encourage the children to be as careful or accurate as possible in how they follow or interpret the path drawn in the drawing... There is no 'winner', but perhaps congratulate the person who takes the longest.
3. Everybody swaps drawings with someone else, and then returns to the finish line following the line laid out by the other person's drawing
4. Repeat step three, with everyone getting a new drawing and moving across the stretch of grass again.
Reflections: some children enjoyed this activity as an excuse to run around crazily all over the place, which was also fun and fine, but some children were surprisingly meticulous. One six year old girl got caught up in a series of tiny, intricate movements in the middle of the field long after every one else had finished!
Art making activity: It's a sign!
materials: Poster paint, large paper, brushes, inspiration images
1. Thinking about street signs and other symbols that we see in cities, we started off by looking at pictures of signs from cities around the world. Some had symbols we could interpret (perhaps arrows) by many were far more abstract. We discussed what they might mean, and where you might find them.
2. On the way to the park for the movement activity (see above) we also pointed out all the street signs we could see in Wassaic
3. Using the 'dancing' drawings from week two as inspiration, we use poster paint and large paper to create our own signs, that used abstract imagery to give information or an instruction for movement.
Lesson Four: Shaping spaces
Goal: Children work collaboratively to make large-scale sculpture and installation that builds on their exploration of movement in urban spaces.
Movement activity: All the ways you can use one thing
Goal: breaking preconceptions of 'correct' uses of objects in preparation for creating found-object sculpture
1. Starting with a simple object, a stool from the classroom, we talked about the ways we would usually interact with that object (sitting on it).
2. We then discussed all the other things you could do to it (stand on it, run around it, dance on it, tip it over, tap it, talk to it)
3. We then formed a line, and one at a time each child could come forward and choose to use the stool in whatever way they wished.
Materials: Found objects (traffic cones, timber, poles, tyres, wheels, sticks, plastic tubes etc), materials for joining (bulldog clips, rope, string, tape), coloured masking tape, chalk
1. Using found objects from around the Wassaic Project, we worked in teams to create large scale sculptures on the deck of the Maxon Mill. Children were encouraged to consider balance, materials, height and scale. They were also prompted that this sculpture could act as a support for the sign that they had made in week three, and that a dancer would be coming to interact with their sculptures. Teams of three seemed to work well.
2. The children could add the sign from week three to their sculpture, or incorporate elements of it in to give an 'instruction for movement'.
3. Thinking about the sculptures as a kind of city space, we considered paths or connections between or around the sculptures. We mapped these out using coloured masking tape.
4. Reflection and play
- each person chose a sculpture to imitate with their body
- each person chose a path or coloured line to follow around in the installation
5. Dancer Amanda Edwards performed an improvised dance in the installation, responding to the cues she read from the shapes of the sculptures, and the lines leading through the installation.
The creation of this curriculum has involved collaboration with numerous other educators and artistic practitioners.
Choreographers and dancers Baira Mvmnt Phlsphy helped me to workshop movement activities and games that I could play with the children in each session, to ground them in their bodies, free up expression, and to get used to expressing concepts or visual cues in a physical manner.
The program was co-taught with July Education Fellows Jean Carla Rodea and Katy Halfin, who are both classroom teachers in NYC and artists with a collaborative practice grounded in experimental installation, relational aesthetics and embodied experience. Their input and expertise helped me to build the approach to the curriculum that would successfully scaffold and develop these complex ideas for the group of children.
Thanks to dancer Amanda Edwards for her beautiful performance during the final session of the program, interacting with the signs and sculptures created by the children.
Thanks to Education interns Maddy Chrisman-Miller and Lauren Mueller for their help and input throughout the project.
And, of course, immense gratitude and credit goes to the Wassaic Project, and in particular the Education Director Tara Lisa Foley, for giving me the space to try out a new program with their full support for any outcome (even total failure!)
Photos in week four were by Verónica González Mayoral, courtesy of the Wassaic Project