Highlighting Let Art Freedom Ring Mentors: Kimberly Niemela of Jackson Elementary

Earlier in the week we introduced the first our artist mentors for our Let Art Freedom Ring © project, which takes artists from the Philadelphia into area schools to help students construct their own interpretations of the fabled Liberty Bell and learn about democracy in the process.

Since we skipped last week, we wanted to highlight a second artist mentor—Kimberly Niemela of COSACOSA Art-At-Large—who worked with Andrew Jackson Elementary School to construct their bell, which is titled “Suns of Liberty.” PAEP sat down with Niemela to get a look into what made the Jackson Elementary bell possible.

How did you get involved with the project? COSACOSA has partnered with PAEP on numerous projects and artist residencies over the last decade, including working for five years on Arts Bridges, PAEP’s project teaching literacy through the arts. 2011 is our second year working on Let Art Freedom Ring ©!

Let Art Freedom Ring © emphasizes teaching about democracy. How did you include in your work with students? Students studied our nation’s founding documents and reviewed the lives of citizen leaders throughout our history. Afterward, they debated and voted on fifty essential characteristics of engaged citizenship. Each student then designed a sun symbol to represent their favorite trait.

Explain the symbolism behind the top of the bell. Bell is topped not by a yoke, but by a rising sun, as was carved into the back of George Washington’s presidential chair. The sun has 13 gold-tipped rays in red and white, representing the stripes of the American flag and the original thirteen colonies.

What stood out most about working with this Jackson Elementary? This year, our Bell design truly took its content from the unique cultural experiences of the Jackson students and their families, many of whom are first and second generation Americans. Our group discussions of the qualities of good citizenship selected by the class engendered the spirit of unity and intercultural collaboration we would hope to find in all our communities.

What do hope is one of the enduring legacies of Let Art Freedom Ring ©? At Jackson, with over twenty different nationalities represented in the student population, the sun is the perfect symbol for each person’s power to make positive change and for all of our individual strengths united to radiate Liberty throughout the world. Let Art Freedom Ring © has affirmed that freedom and fairness, through arts education, are core values of a more just, civil society.

Stay tuned next week for the third interview, this time featuring Brian Elstein of Morton Elementary School. In the meantime, don’t forget to vote for your favorite bell!

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