With just over a month left to vote for your favorite student-created interpretation of the Liberty Bell in our Let Art Freedom Ring © program, we wanted to give you the third interview with artist mentor Brian Elstein, who worked with Morton Elementary to create a bell titled, “We The People.” In sitting down with Elstein, PAEP got an intimate look into how the bell was constructed and why arts-based educational models are particularly valuable for Philadelphia-area communities.
How did you get involved with the project? I lived and taught English in the Northern Japanese prefecture of Aomori from 2005 until 2009. Aomori is known for the Nebuta festival where immense three-dimensional forms hand built from wire and rice paper and lit from within are paraded through the streets. When I told Pearl Schaeffer the Chief Executive Officer of the PAEP about my background and experience with Nebuta she insisted that I get involved in the Let Art Freedom Ring © project.
How did your experiences in Japan influence the physical creation of the bell? It was directly involved with my work at Nebuta. Students began by creating their own two-dimensional bell designs in wire and paper. They decorated their bells using sumi ink, melted wax, and Japanese paper dye. Once the students worked through the process on their individual designs they formed small groups and began to create the base, and the wire armatures for the bell and yoke.
What do the various elements of the bell represent? The figures on the bell were selected by the students to represent what they felt were some of America’s most influential historical figures and symbols of Liberty. On the yoke students studied and reworked what they felt were some of the most important parts of the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence to create their own Declaration told from the students’ the point of view.
Why did you decide to light up the sculpture? The entire sculpture is lit from within to serve as a beacon of hope and a symbol of American Liberty. It also helps intensify many of the images that these students created on the bell itself.
Why is Let Art Freedom Ring © (and other arts-based models of education) so important for students? This project allowed students to apply their study of American history and the important documents on which our country was built into a visual context that not only has helped them to better grasp the meaning behind their studies but also initiated a dialogue with fellow students who were constantly asking questions about the history the bell represented.
What other valuable skills do you think the students learned from this project? This was a larger and more intense project then most of these students had ever been involved in. The fact that they were able, through hard work and dedication, finish and do such a wonderful job on it taught them a valuable lesson in the fruits of perseverance.
Stay tuned next week when we introduce Lisa Volta who worked with St. Gabriel Elementary School. In the meantime, don’t forget to vote for your favorite bell!