Students Get Creative at the Lawncrest Branch Library

“The artist in residency program brought a creative process to the library that appealed to many children,” explains Deb Mikus, Branch Manager at Lawncrest Library. She is referring to the recent Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership event that paired artist Lynn Denton with local young students. This summer Ms. Denton worked with children to create projects that went on display at the library. We spoke with Ms. Mikus about the results of the course.

PAEP: Can you explain what this experience brought to Lawncrest?

DM: Although there have been art/craft programs in the past presented at the library, this was a chance to interact with a real artist for several weeks. Ms. Denton was a big part of why this was such a success. She not only introduced and educated the participants to new methods and materials used to create the projects, but she also developed a very positive and nurturing relationship with the class that resulted in their fantastic creativity and enjoyment.

PAEP: Did you notice a change in the students? How did education through art appeal to them?

DM: We were fortunate to be able to showcase the works in our community meeting room. Many people who attended the events held in that room throughout the summer often commented on the colorful pieces, and even more remarkable was that many of the preschoolers who attended story times in the room were entranced with the display.

I noticed that those who attended most frequently were excited to see what the “project” was for that week and eager to get started. As time passed, it became easier for some to express and share with the group what inspired them. I would say that because of the supportive nature of Ms. Denton, they gained confidence in their ability and in themselves. They learned while having fun and being creative. It was interesting to hear the kids talk about what happened each week and realize they absorbed and remembered what Ms. Denton told them.

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The Future Is Bright

We are thrilled to annouce that the Philadelphia Arts in Education [PAEP] was awarded a $1.35 million grant. Ron Tomalis, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education has recently announced that the PAEP will be one of the 61 awardees to the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant, which totals $19.78 million in funding. The grant is used to help sustain community centers and after school programs so they can further encourage and educate students in high-poverty and low-performing school districts.

PAEP is, of course, honored to receive the generous grant, and grateful for Ron Tomalis’s gesture. We look forward to using the funds to better serve the Philadelphia community. PAEP’s STEAM project, a program designed to strengthen students’ math and science skills, test scores, artistic experience, and social engagement will go to aid at-risk students in 6th-8th grades at five school districts in Philadelphia. The schools chosen for participation are Harding Middle School, Bache Martin, Dobson, George Washington, and Creighton Elementary. We are very much looking forward to working together and using art as an interactive way to educate.

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We’d Like To Thank Our Sponsors…

Through the efforts of the “Let Art Freedom Ring Liberty Bell”, Philadelphia was treated to young new age art! The program encouraged elementary and middle school students to explore their artistic abilities and contemplate the meaning of democracy and civic responsibility. The continued success of the “Let Art Freedom Ring Liberty Bell” program is in large part due to the people and organizations that stepped up to the plate and came onboard as sponsors.  Many sponsors stepped forward to ensure our “Bell Premier” at CBS 3 studios was a success! We thought we’d give them a little thank you for these most appreciated efforts!

A long time supporter of the arts and finer things in life, Blue Mountain Vineyards is a first-rate vineyard that caters to international clients.  They happily donated their finest wines to our fantastic event at CBS 3 studios.

Marabella Meatball Company, an award winning restaurant on 1211 Walnut Street, brought a variety of authentic Italian sandwiches to help fuel the audience’s creative juices.

Cupcakes Gourmet proved invaluable in their support of creative cakes to satisfy the most sophisticated palate.

Molly Malloy provided patriotic dishes and locally grown produce. Check out CBS Philly for an exclusive interview with Molly Malloy’s culinary mind and PAEP lead members!

As we look forward to next year’s promising minds, we extend our gratitude to the generosity of our peers and their support in this undertaking.

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The Bells of Let Art Freedom Ring

After much hard work and anticipation, we recently celebrated the completion of this year’s Let Art Freedom Ring Program. Each year we are proud to invite students to work in collaboration with local artists on a project that represents freedom. This year Decatur, McCall, Bache-Martin, Bridesburg, and Houston Elementary students worked with artists to create six-foot-tall Liberty Bells, all of them detailing different interpretations of civic responsibility and freedom. The bells are adorned with images and phrases that wish for a stronger community, safer schools, and unconditional equality.

We teamed up with CBS Philly studios to host an event where people could get a closer look at the bells. As you can see from the photos, we had a wildly successful evening! Student artists, parents, and friends came out to show their support for the program! The event showed that each bell is distinct and speaks to a different part of the students’ education as well as their reactions to current events.

Want to be inspired and see the bells for yourself? Head to the National Constitution Center, where they will be on display throughout the summer.

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Middle School Student Wins National Art Award

When first passing Victoria Wirkijowski in her school’s hallway, the common observer would think she was just the average 7th grade student who debates the significance of gym class and awaits the final bell’s chime. However, much like her work, she is a young woman deserving of further inspection. A promising young artist, Victoria participated in PAEP’s regional 2012 National Alliance of Young Artists and Writers’ Scholastic Art and Writing Competition. This national competition received a record-breaking number of 200,000 submissions from middle and high school students across the United States. Yet, out of the plethora of submissions, only 1,600 received national awards, with only 238 being awarded to middle school students. Victoria, who was recently granted a National Award for her piece, Nowhere Man (pictured), was given the further honor by being featured in the SPARK 2012 collection. An annual compilation of the artistic works of 52 gifted middle school students; SPARK 2012 is a testament to the creativity of America’s future.

With the celebration of Alliance’s 90th anniversary and the overwhelming success of this year’s Art and Writing Competition, this has been a truly memorable year. In hopes of encouraging the creativity of young students across the country, the Alliance is working on a new summer arts website called START.RIGHT.NOW in which PAEP’s student works will be prominently displayed, and should be up and running by early July. As a great year for PAEP draws to a close let us look forward to the continued success and creations of our most active minds.

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Shape Invaders Take Over The Free Library

For most people, math and art operate on separate ends of the brain and rarely overlap, but not when Ben Volta gets involved. The local artist and PAEP artist mentor, who works with young students to link art to learning, has yet again found a way to make a connection we typically overlook. In his latest endeavor, Shape Invaders, he was contacted by the Print and Picture Collection to help the Free Library create artwork that addresses culture and space in relation to the library. As a part of the PAEP’s Long Term Arts Residency, Volta worked with a math class from Grover Washington, Jr. Middle School to create geometric cut-out shapes in bold colors. Those cut-outs were then plastered all over the walls of the Free Library to bring attention to the idea of space and how we fill it. Using creative talent and mathematical concepts, Volta and his team of 8th graders created an installation that is both visually pleasing but also logistically stimulating.

The student artists learned how to use ratio and proportion in order to make their individual pieces. Mathematics was used in this project as a way to enhance the installation, not confine it. For Volta, though, the learning process doesn’t end with math. As he has done in the past, Volta presents questions with each project. In this case he asks the students to consider the space of the library. Volta encouraged them to think about the usage of space, and their work is a reflection of that.

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Let Art Freedom Ring: Harrisburg

Ending January 27th, the five “Let Art Freedom Ring” bells previously housed at the landmark building, The National Constitution Center, are making a home in Pennsylvania’s famed capital of Harrisburg.  On display in the historic Capitol Building Rotunda, the bells are part of the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) initiative in cooperation with the National Liberty Bell Museum.

Created two years ago, the “Let Art Freedom Ring” program is founded on the ideals of encouraging students to work alongside art teachers and a mentor artist to create an inspiring piece of art based on ideas of freedom, truth, and equality. Using art as a means by which to learn, students develop their learning skills and creativity outside the classroom. This year the students were given the task of constructing a 6-foot, 3D model of the Liberty Bell.

Each bell represents the students’ interpretation of what freedom means to them. Senator Anthony Williams, a member of the Philadelphia Council on the Arts, arranged for the bells to be placed in the Capitol building rotunda. “The expression of art keeps a student in school and it accelerates their ability to learn,” Williams said.  One of the bells, made by students from Morton Elementary, is reminiscent of floats created for Japan’s Nebuta festivals, which represent the warmth and happiness of life. Brad Vena, Morton Elementary art teacher, was impressed with the job his students did. “The driving force of this project was how ordinary people can do extraordinary things, and the kids clicked with that. They got a sense of fulfillment, seeing something from start to finish.” The students got a chance to learn about United States history outside the textbook and have fun too.

Another bell (in photo) is made up of dollar bills and decorated patriotically, “Life, Liberty, Justice”. The students loved being able to create their own ambassador version of the country’s most beloved bell. Since the bell must remain in Philadelphia, the program is a great way for people throughout PA to witness a symbol of American patriotism. As the abolitionists put it, “Ring Loud That Hollowed Bell! Ring For Freedom.” The program was highly successful this year, with eight elementary and middle schools participating. Check out the winning bell by Julia de Burgos Elementary here.

If you are in Harrisburg before Friday, be sure to stop by and take a look at the wonderful bells.

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Let Art Freedom Ring Winner

Julia de Burgos Elementary School of Philadelphia voted by nation as “Best Bell.”

The Philadelphia Arts and Education Partnership (PAEP) and the National Liberty Museum are pleased to announce Julia de Burgos Elementary School’s Bell: The Dollar Bill of Rights as the 2011 Liberty Bell Winner in the Let Art Freedom Ring program. Let Art Freedom Ring is a program of PAEP designed to make art an essential part of every child’s education. Students from eight elementary and middle schools in the Philadelphia region studied the concepts of democracy, civic responsibility and liberty; then, through art-making techniques and with a professional artist mentor, created a 6 foot high, 3-dimensional interpretation of the Liberty Bell. Bells are then judged and displayed online as well as throughout Philadelphia.

This year’s winner, The Dollar Bill of Rights, was created by students under the guidance of artist Andres Gonzales and art teacher Jean Fontaine. The Julia de Burgos team created a bell in homage to the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the U.S. economy, by building a bell out of “dollar bills.”

“The project was not only thought-provoking, but gave them hands-on experience in creating a large, symbolic sculpture,” said art teacher Jean Fontaine. “They learned about the power of art expressing ideas and how, when we work together, we can accomplish a lot.  They studied the Bill of Rights, and came to conclusions about our Constitution.  I am SO proud of them.’

The second runner-up is Grover Washington, Jr. Middle School’s Bell: Infinities and Indivisibilities. Created under the guidance of artist Ben Volta and teacher Jerry Jackson, this bell has a unique take on chemistry and the world, featuring globes that connect together to form various isomers.

“We are so proud of every one of our students, teachers, and teaching artists,” said Pearl Schaeffer Chief Executive Officer of PAEP, “We want to especially congratulate the Julia de Burgos School and Grover Washington, Jr. Middle School, both who really wowed all of us with their interesting artistic and philosophical takes on democracy and liberty.”

For more information about the Liberty Bell winners and up to date information about where you can see the bells, please visit us on our Facebook page:

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History/MyStory/OurStory: Crafting and Telling Historical Stories

PAEP believes everyone has a story to to tell. With a new pilot program, History/MyStory/OurStory, focused on using storytelling, folk arts, oral performance, we hope that the traditional storytelling practices will be integrated into arts-based curricula across the city. In the process, we hope to educate students on the history of slavery, and show the ways in which these practices offered these people a chance to build communities.

The program began during the the 2010-2011 school year, and was helmed by Denise Valentine, an accomplished Philadelphia storyteller, educator and writer, who partnered with Cliveden House, a local historical mansion in Germantown and the home of seven generations of Chew family members, to bring archival primary source documents to high school students at Lankenau Environmental Science Magnet School.

As Valentine described, “We attempted, through storytelling, to illuminate the individual lives of the enslaved Africans, drawing from African and African American folklore, culture and oral history to fill in what has been lost to distortion and neglect. The hope is to give a sense of the agency and dignity with which they faced the institution of slavery as they struggled to raise their families and build community.”

The lessons married social studies, science and math to examine the many facets of slavery, attempting to “address untruths and misconceptions about slavery.” In this process, Valentine attempted to engage students in a meaningful dialogue about slavery. As she explained, “A lot of questions are raised. There is a wealth of complexities, grey areas to work through. The challenge is not to rush through the process but to take the time to thoroughly address their concerns.”

From these discussions, Valentine taught the students the storytelling practices that empowered these slaves to speak of their experiences, and preserve their history that could so easily be forgotten. By teaching the ways folktales, hand-claps, dance, and call-and-response intersected, Valentine wanted to show “the role of expressive arts…and the struggle for liberation.”

This sense of empowerment was transferred to students, allowing them to “give voice to their innermost thoughts and feelings, and to take pride in and ownership of their stories.” The arts-based component of the project was developed as the students were asked to construct their own interactive storytelling performance based on these early lessons, and the encouraged to draw upon their own stories that arose in the the exploration of these historical documents.

Given the success of the residency at Lankenau High School, and the enthusiastic response from teachers and administration at the school, PAEP hopes to expand the program to other area schools so that students can learn, as Valentine explained, “stories about the enslavement of Africans in Philadelphia, with the exception of recent stories uncovered about the President’s House, are relatively new.”

With these expanded program, we hope to show the powerful impact these practices have had in shaping an underground history of slavery in Philadelphia, led by students through self-driven, collaborative projects that have become a hallmark of PAEP’s commitment to innovation in education.

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‘Historical Catalysts’ Helps Define Arts Innovation


While PAEP is sad to see Let Art Freedom Ring give its last bell toll for the summer, we’re excited to highlight another arts-based science and history project, Historical Catalysts, led by Benjamin Volta and Jerry Jackson, in partnership with the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of the Sciences (CPNAS) and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Taking the CPNAS African American History Program website, Volta and Brown selected 19 notable African American scientists and worked with students at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School, who then diligently researched each of these figures, leading to the creation of two distinct project components that molded digital technologies, history, and science in the creation of final products with a bold artistic vision.

Volta and Brown have described that vision succinctly, “We first imagined that each (self) portrait might function as an element on the periodic table. Similar to the way elements combine to form compounds, we imagined a large collaborative artwork that would bond together achievements in art and science.”

This larger work, the Catalyst Collider, uses the idea that these 19 voices, who represent vastly differently scientific fields, may not just bond with each. Volta and Brown imagined how they might crash into each other, creating sparks that generate new ideas, drawing inspiration from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.

As they explained, “Contemporary scientists smashing atoms together with the hopes to understand the formation of the universe led us to imagine what it would look like to collide our explorations in art and science.”

The brightly colored composition features the silhouetted seven inch by nine-and-a-half inch self portraits in ways that collide. These individual portraits were made possible by the students at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School using internet databases to find images representing the activities of a variety of scientific fields. In a hands-on process, students printed the images, overlaying them on transparencies to create the colored background that runs through the larger piece and each individual portrait.

This was to show how not only how the various African American scientific voices were connected, but also how their contributions have directly inspired individual students to select each famous scientist. Ebony R. selected George Carruthers because of his contributions to astronomy and her hopes of one day getting involved in the field.

The end result was the construction of an exhibit at the middle school, demonstrating how PAEP is committed, like Volta and Brown, to using arts-based educational models to help envision new ways of educating youth that break down barriers, changing society like the scientists featured in Historical Catalysts did.

With the 2011-2012 school year just beginning, we hope that this project, along with others, will help set the tone for an exciting year of innovation in arts education.

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