Fostering Well-being through the Arts

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This summer, Creative Art Works is offering workshops for children, pre-teens, and teens, at the Children's Center, an ACS short-term housing facility in Manhattan for children awaiting foster care placement. The temporary nature of residency at Children's Center means that young people may only be able to participate in a handful of classes, and their experience and skills vary greatly, it's a challenging environment, but we have the right people for the job.

CAW Teaching Artist Megan Tuttle holds both a BA and master's in art therapy. She worked in hospital settings before transitioning to education. Meghan's background and training, combined with her compassionate and patient personality make her a great fit at Children's Center. She is assisted by Vickie DeJesus and Nora Chellew, valued members of CAW's team of artists and educators. We asked Megan to share some of their experiences with us.


Building confidence

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For this lesson, participants are asked to create an imaginary portrait using color to establish a mood, either positive or negative. This lesson provides an easy entry point so participants do not feel intimidated about drawing a representational portrait. The lesson begins with an introduction to the portraits of Amy Sherald, Favianna Rodriguez, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean Dubuffet, and others. The range of artistic inspirations encourages participants to exercise their creative freedom.

This project welcomes students into an environment that is open to their ideas, artistic expressions, and to themselves as individuals. It meets them where they are, allowing them to use the skills they already possess and to exercise choice in a deliberate and expressive manner.

 
This image was created by a newly admitted teen girl, who was very quiet when she joined the class. At first, she was intimidated by the idea of drawing a portrait; however, when we further explained that it was to be ‘an imaginary person,’ she became more comfortable. I enjoyed watching as her character evolved. As the drawing developed, so did this child’s confidence. By the end of the session she was going around and showing other teens and staff her finished piece.
— CAW Teaching artist Megan Tuttle

An imaginary portrait helps a teen girl find real confidence

Beautiful just like me

Working with torn paper is great for preschoolers and early learners. It relies on gross motor skills and, without scissors being a barrier to art-making, it develops their independence. In this collage landscapes lesson, participants were asked to create a collage that explores foreground, middle ground, and background using a combination of color paper, specialty papers, and nature images. They looked at works by Mickalene Thomas for inspiration.

This lesson aims to develop early learners’ abilities to manipulate torn shapes, to represent real or imaginary subjects, to tear shapes in a variety of sizes, to evenly apply glue, and to develop a basic understanding of overlapping.

Beautiful just like me
It was just great to see the little ones experimenting with mixing colors and making marks. I love how they are just so amazed by everything, even the paint water.

Before we started this lesson, I told the students that their artwork was beautiful just like they were. This opened a conversation about positive self-image and how everyone has their own unique traits and characteristics that makes them and their artwork beautiful. I only touched upon this subject briefly, but I realized the impression it had on one particular student when I saw she had written underneath an image of the sun, ‘Beautiful just like me.’
— Megan Tuttle

No Mistakes

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All of CAW’s lesson plans are developed within the context of Creative Youth Development. A key aspect of CYD is giving youth an opportunity to explore their authentic voice.

Lessons are written to invite authentic voice by making the content of the work relevant to the student’s life experience and interests, introducing students to artists from a range of cultural backgrounds and time periods, and through experimentation and developing experience with artists materials and techniques.

Providing youth opportunities to express themselves is important because it communicates a young person's truths, insights, and experiences through the creation of original artwork – it is unique to each artist.

A collaboration between teacher and student

These two images may look very different, but both were drawn by the same child. This first image is a collaborative effort between me and a seven-year-old boy who has been at Children’s Center since the beginning of our program. In this lesson, students were encouraged to explore character design. This boy had a hard time committing to his pieces and kept tearing and crumpling up his paper. To ease his frustration, I began to draw with him. We took several turns adding to his character and transforming each other’s marks. I made an effort to show this student that there are ‘no mistakes’ in art, just opportunities. He did not throw this one away.
— Megan Tuttle
This second piece was the same boy’s original concept and executed entirely on his own. One day, he decided he really wanted to draw a garden, because he had been thinking about how to draw various flowers. It was a great opportunity for me to tell him how proud I was of him for becoming more confident in himself as an artist.
— Megan Tuttle
An original drawing conceived of and completed entirely by the same student

An original drawing conceived of and completed entirely by the same student

 

Creating a safe space

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Providing a physically and emotionally safe environment is another key aspect of CYD. When students feel safe emotionally in the art classroom, they develop trust with classmates, fellow residents and the Teaching Artists. They learn to trust themselves too. They can be vulnerable and share the things that are most important to them – things that might not be expressed anywhere else.

To support a safe environment, our lesson plans include context-specific and culturally relevant reflective questions. While in a general education setting, we might ask a question like, “What might you do differently next time?” In a transitory setting like Children’s Center, we might ask “What did you do today that made you feel proud of your work?”

 
It can be hard to get the teens to participate in art class, so I developed a “no pressure” approach. I put out art materials and wait for them to come to me. Some teens will work through the entire class while others will take breaks and come back to their work, but everyone participates to some degree.

During one lesson, Nora and I were leading an art project with three teen girls when an altercation broke out nearby. I tried to create a calm environment where we were sitting, to tune out the distractions, and to keep the focus on the art. Afterwards, one of the girls wrote in her participation survey that the class was calming and therapeutic. I was so happy that we were able to still make her feel safe despite all that was happening in the background.
— Megan Tuttle
Finding peace amongst the tumult

Finding peace amongst the tumult


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