With only a few weeks left to vote for your favorite bell for Let Art Freedom Ring ©, we wanted to highlight our next next artist mentor Benjamin Volta, who partnered with math and science teacher Jerry Jackson at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School to create the bell titled Infinities and Invisibilities with a group of 5th through 8th graders. The result was a representation of liberty, freedom and justice that was the culmination of months of intensive work.
We sat down with Benjamin Volta to explain the project and understand how valuable this arts education model can be for students.
How did you become involved with Let Art Freedom Ring ©? Since November 2010 Jerry and I had been working with this select group of students on a Long Term Residency project called Historical Catalysts with PAEP creating a project for the National Academy of the Sciences in Washington DC. Let Art Freedom Ring © was a culmination of these efforts.
How did you develop the contact for the bell? It began simply enough with asking the students to talk about, “What is Liberty? and “What is the opposite of Liberty?” Students mapped drawings that began to visualize this contrast.
What current event also influenced the early creation of the project? The same week we started the project controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was detained by government officials at Beijing airport without known cause. After watching a PBS documentary on Ai Weiei and learning about his ongoing fight for civil liberties and human rights in China the students were able to rally against the injustice of his arrest.
And what conclusion did the study of Ai Weiwei lead you to? That liberty is not something that should be defined by political borders, but should be accessible to all people across the globe.
Did you conceive of using globes in your initial plan for the project? No, but we we were using globes for a Long Term Residency with Jerry’s Science 8th grade students and our classroom studio was filled with over 20 globes that were already being painted, drilled and hacked into sculptures that address climate change. These are currently being exhibited at the Esther Klein Gallery at the Science Center in West Philadelphia. However, as our conversation veered towards an international representation of liberty it began to make perfect sense to use globes.
How hands-on were you with the creation of the globes? It was up to the students to figure out how to build the structure. They first built a small model using foam spheres and wooden dowels. They then had to replicate this model with globes and thick 3” cardboard tubes.
Was there a particularly memorable moment that stands out for you? It came when the students drilled 3” holes into globes that had been collecting dust for over 30 years. This was not very pleasant but we all laughed about it and it really had a transformative effect of bringing the students together.
What do you hope that Let Art Freedom Ring © demonstrates most powerfully? Wecompleted our sculpture on June 17th and Ai Weiwei had been held in detention for 75 days. Thousands of artists and human rights activists had called for his release. We hoped that by joining this international expression our sculpture would help imagine a 21-century cartography where creativity and critical voice are strong foundations for all peoples.
Stay tuned for more updates on the Let Art Freedom Ring © project and don’t forget to check out how Benjamin and others are partnering with us to make arts-based educational models an integral part of learning in public schools.