Joe Nathan column: Fabulous, instructive celebration of kids’ creativity

 

A wall is awash with the bright colors of students' art. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

A wall is awash with the bright colors of students’ art. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

If I could take people from every Minnesota community to one place before March 5, it would be the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley. There, you can find two terrific things.

First, there are 650 well-done and, in some cases, incredible pictures and small sculptures created by youngsters, grades K-12, from 18 public, private and parochial schools in the Anoka County communities of Andover, Anoka, Blaine, Columbia Heights, Coon Rapids, Fridley and Spring Lake Park.

Second, you would see how a community, at modest cost, has decided to honor, recognize and encourage kids’ creativity.

Maddie Mueller, fourth-grader at Highland Elementary, Columbia Heights, named her picture "Capturing the Moment." (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Maddie Mueller, fourth-grader at Highland Elementary, Columbia Heights, named her picture “Capturing the Moment.” (Photo by Joe Nathan)

It’s a delightful, uplifting experience. I wish every community would do something like this. You can find more information about this effort at http://bit.ly/1QCMcsg.

Youngsters like Maddie Mueller, Kalise Lewis, Kyle Anderson and Aubrey Anderson smiled broadly, and sometimes shyly, as we discussed their work.

Maddie, a fourth-grader at Highland Elementary in Columbia Heights, depicted herself and a friend at ballet class in her picture “Capturing the Moment.”

Kyle Anderson, fourth-grader at Ramsey Elementary, titled his artwork "Pie in the Sky." (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Kyle Anderson, fourth-grader at Ramsey Elementary, titled his artwork “Pie in the Sky.” (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Lorien Mueller, Maddie’s mother, praised participating teachers and the art center: “There is a lot of recognition for sports. I’m very pleased that the teachers and Banfill-Locke are encouraging and recognizing artistic talents. This is the way many youngsters can communicate.”

David Lewis, Kalise’s father, called it “really cool that the students’ work is showcased.” Kalise, a third-grader at Highland Elementary, titled her picture “Exclusive Explosion.”

Kyle, a fourth-grader at Ramsey Elementary in the Anoka-Hennepin district, was asked to illustrate a common saying and picked “Pie in the Sky.” His sister, Aubrey, a second-grader at Ramsey, illustrated winter activities in “Winter Scene.”

"Rude Girl" is by Julia Wolf, a senior at Anoka-Hennepin Regional High School. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

“Rude Girl” is by Julia Wolf, a senior at Anoka-Hennepin Regional High School. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

"Double Exposure Portrait" is by Jasmine Booker, an eighth-grader at Columbia Academy in Columbia Heights. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

“Double Exposure Portrait” is by Jasmine Booker, an eighth-grader at Columbia Academy in Columbia Heights. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

I spent about 90 minutes looking at the exhibit. There are hundreds of pictures I’d like to mention, but two really stood out: a haunting presentation of a face in “Rude Girl” by Julia Wolf, a senior at Anoka-Hennepin Regional High School in Coon Rapids, and an exuberant multiple-exposure picture called “Double Exposure Portrait” by Jasmine Booker, an eighth-grader at Columbia Academy in Columbia Heights, which combined a youngster’s face with urban lights and traffic.

Bethany Whitehead, the art center’s executive director, invited me to see the exhibit after reading a recent column of mine. Students’ works are being presented through March 5. The exhibit is free, so it’s a great family outing.

Aubrey Anderson, in second grade at Ramsey Elementary, drew "Winter Scene." (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Aubrey Anderson, in second grade at Ramsey Elementary, drew “Winter Scene.” (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Liz Parker, education coordinator at Banfill-Locke, told me that this is the 23rd year the center has done a student art exhibit. She also mentioned that this year the Fridley-Columbia Heights Rotary Club paid for a ribbon given to each student whose work was displayed. The club also provided cookies served at the two receptions honoring those students.

Teachers at many schools were invited to submit student work. Eighteen schools responded: Anoka-Hennepin Regional High School, Calvin Christian School, Columbia Academy, Crooked Lake Elementary, Fridley High School, Hayes Elementary, Highland Elementary, Legacy Christian Academy, Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts, Mississippi Elementary, Morris Bye Elementary, North Park Elementary, Ramsey Elementary, Spring Lake Park High School, Steiner Homeschool, Stevenson Elementary, Valley View Elementary and Westwood Middle School. I wish every school and district made artistic expression a high priority.

Kalise Lewis, in third grade at Highland Elementary in Columbia Heights, titled her artwork "Exclusive Explosion." (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Kalise Lewis, in third grade at Highland Elementary in Columbia Heights, titled her artwork “Exclusive Explosion.” (Photo by Joe Nathan)

As I watched families visiting the exhibit, I was struck by how they looked at and commented on not only their own youngsters’ work, but also at what others had done.

Whitehead wrote to me that art can be “a great unifier of students from all backgrounds.” This terrific display shows she’s right.

Congratulations to the Anoka County Parks and Recreation Department, which owns Banfill-Locke, and to the center staff, teachers, students and families.

At a time when we hear so much about what’s wrong, this is an exhibit about what’s right!

 

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected].

 

One Response to Joe Nathan column: Fabulous, instructive celebration of kids’ creativity

  1. John Miller says:

    Such a simple, elegant, and cost-effective way to honor the work of ALL students (public district and charter, as well as independent) in the community. I very much hope this idea spreads!

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