Archive for April, 2010

The Life-giving Force of Art

April 25, 2010



“We will serve inner city students by introducing them to world culture through art. We will help them to interact with civilizations from ancient to modern and empower them to see the life-giving force of art, each in his or her own way” – the mission statement of Art Aware.

Art Aware is a spin-off from Art Goes to School of the Delaware Valley which serves over 125,000 elementary school students yearly. Perhaps Art Aware has served only half that many inner city students in it’s 25 years of existence – hardly a drop in the bucket compared to AGTS and to the dedicated art teachers in Philadelphia and Camden.

Art Aware’s mission has expanded to recognizing and celebrating those art teachers who give the life-giving force of art to elementary school children.

The children’s artwork is the best way of showing how art teachers succeed – of how they empower their students through art.

“Drawing makes me feel peaceful and quiet,” said 5th grader, Naquan, to his art teacher, Judy Sassano. He drew the image of the left-handed artist (shown below) for the cover of the 2000 Peace Calendar. Art Aware produced and distributed ten thousand calendars of student art work a year for three years for free to Camden schools and organizations. It was a lot work for our small staff and kept us away from visiting schools with the Art Aware program so we switched to producing yearly posters of “Camden Students at Peace Doing Art” and, thanks to Betty Jean Swartz, expanded our website: The 2010 poster will soon be available.

Artwork initiated by Judy Sassano is included in the 2010 poster and has been included in every Art Aware project from 1999 to the present. How wonderful she is!

How lucky are the children of Camden to have art teachers in their schools!

They are the key for providing a well rounded education and for promoting a love of learning and self-expression in the four R’s: aRt, Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic!

Hakuna Matata and Eighth Graders

April 18, 2010

Eighth graders from Urban Promise’s Camden Forward School got a chance to “hakuna matata” or to “chill out” with “The Lion King” this week. Sitting at the top of the ampitheatre mountain of the Academy of Music, they experienced Simba’s progression into manhood together with about 1500 other people. They sat riveted to the tiny stage below as the voices and images wafted up, wrapped around and lifted each one to the plains of Africa. An interactive happening better than the computer, i-pod or TV. Magical in the impact they described at school the next day.

Art teacher, Julie Kring-Schriefels had briefed them about Julie Taymour’s artistry and had them start to create their own masks. We will post the results as soon as they’re completed.

Two younger students who had sung songs from the show at a recent school recital accompanied the eighth graders. Everyone had seen the Disney film. They knew the story backwards and forwards and yet it was new to them. That is what live theatre does for people:  it speaks to the immediacy of the moment and their involvement in it.

When the huge elephant, shown in the above picture, lumbered through the orchestra seating, gasps could be heard throughout the theatre. Up in the ampitheatre it took a while for us to see it. What a thrill!

Four years ago, Art Aware took students from Molina School to a production of “The Lion King.”

We hope to do it again for yet more students when it comes to Philadelphia again! It never gets old and it’s an experience of a lifetime!

Art of Interacting with Animals

April 11, 2010

Yesterday I went to watch a “horse whisperer,” Diane, work with her horses. Being a “dog and cat” person myself, she demonstrated to me how horses, even more than dogs, need an authority figure.
(Of course cats are their own authority figures.)

My experience with horses has not been intimate. I have ridden horses all my life but have never owned one. My cousin, Catherine, bought her first and only horse, Scarlett Moon, fifteen years ago, when she was forty-four years old. Here’s a photo of me introducing Catherine to her first ride at age three and yesterday, fifty years later, – a photo of me with her beautiful horse, Scarlett.

I learned that it’s not cute when horses “nudge” – it means they don’t respect your “space.” I love it when I get nudged by my dogs or cats and haven’t minded a gentle horse nudge, but strong horse nudges are dangerous. Horses are a lot bigger than people – and certainly than children. In addition to regular classes, Diane teaches autistic children. She must teach her horses a respect for “the spaces” of all of her students.

All animals, four- and two-legged, need their space to be respected. With great authority and kindness, Diane teaches the horse who is boss. And the horse teaches Diane about its stellar ability to perform with the right telepathy – to the point of blurring the equine/human distinction.

A talented elementary school instructor enables his or her students to perform in extraordinary ways. Look at what Lydia, a kindergartener, produced under the step-by-step direction of her art teacher, Sandra!

Joshua Bell and Kindergarteners

April 3, 2010

Joshua Bell