Highlighting Let Art Freedom Ring Mentors: Marie Elcin of Comly Elementary

Let Art Freedom Ring © is an unique program in that it selects eight Philadelphia elementary and middle schools with limited arts education budgets, assigning them a local artist who mentors students at each school to create an interpretation of the liberty bell.

PAEP, over the course of the summer, wanted to highlight the stories of each of these artist mentors. The first to be featured is Marie Elcin, who worked with Comly Elementary School students to design their bell, which is called “The Strength and Fragility of Liberty.”

How did you first become involved with Let Art Freedom Ring? I’ve been working with PAEP for a couple of years now, and they selected me to work with Comly Elementary School for the Liberty Bell project because it is a school I’ve worked with in the past. Residencies tend to be more successful when you have an established relationship with a school, principal, and teachers as it allows for easier communication.

How did you select which students to work with? With curriculum guidelines PAEP provided a chance to share and discuss our visions for the project we worked out lessons. They decided on 5th graders and scheduled me to meet both the 5th grade classes at Comly during their art periods through the month of June.

How did you get the idea for the bell, which is less traditional aesthetically? Our lessons revolving around the concept of Liberty flowed from concept of SELF, to acknowledging our need for SPACE and respect for others’ BOUNDARIES in order to enjoy our liberties. We created small spheres in papier-mache to represent each individual student then bubble-like yarn spheres to represent our space and shared boundaries. These elements were combined to form the body of our bell and suggest how fragile liberty can be.

Why do you believe that arts education is an important educational model? Current educational models don’t work for all students. Sometimes kids just need a different way to learn and express their understanding, and learning through art-making offers them that chance. I remember there was one student whose behavior shifted dramatically through my time with them. They were often perceived as a discipline problem and became a helpful collaborator who was a joy to work with.

What are you most grateful of from this experience? Seeing what happens when students work together to produce something, especially something that is going to be shown to the public. It’s so heartening to see they learn how to be part of a team and can work towards the greater good. It can be a boost in self-esteem for many children to help create something for the community.

Stay tuned for next week when we’ll feature Kimberly Niemela of COSACOSA Art-At-Large and her work at Jackson School. In the meantime, please visit Let Art Freedom Ring © to vote for your favorite bell!

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