Learning about the artists themselves can be compelling. Jarrett and Fletcher make a point to involve artists who are good role models; who challenge conceptions of what art can be; who have national and international recognition; and to whom the student body—primarily children of color—can relate. “We’re always looking for a really rich dynamic where the students are being exposed to things that, in theory, they could see themselves in, places and roles, so that it’s easier to identify,” Jarrett explained.
After each workshop, the kids curate an exhibition of their own work and that of the artist in the hallways of their school. The students act as docents, guiding teachers and parents through the show. “It’s a really great opportunity to step back and see what they do when they’re in charge,” Jarrett reflected. It’s also a confidence-building exercise, she noted; the kids walk away feeling proud of what they’ve learned, and are able to share it with adults and peers.
While you may not be able to personally introduce your kids to living artists, you can introduce them to their work via exhibitions, or by looking them up online. This, too, can be a confidence-building exercise, whereby children can learn about an artist—just as they might about an athlete, actor, or musician—and then feel compelled to tell others.
Contemporary art is also a valuable means through which to understand current events. Richa recently introduced a class of 9- and 10-year-olds to the work of Oakland artist Favianna Rodriguez, who creates murals of butterfly wings to discuss migration. In another lesson this year, she introduced a class to the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, to discuss community.