That’s right folks, ArtLight Global is truly going global. A month ago we were asked by the Global partnership for Education to write about our mission and the reasons we thought art and math were a conduit for creating positive learning opportunities for under resourced students. This week our post is highlighted on their website and we are so happy that our mission will reach a wider audience of people who are just as interested in global education topics as we are. We hope that this post will allow others to see that art has an important role in helping students achieve and understand the world around them. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or comments, we’d love to keep the dialogue going!
Since I’ve been back from India (a whole year), I’ve been working really hard on another education initiative with a fellow Fulbright Scholar. We met in Jaipur at the Fulbright conference and immediately decided we needed to stay in touch. You never know where a journey can take you, but connecting and collaborating with her has allowed us to launch something together. We also connected with another individual who was just as passionate about integrating arts into education as we were, and now we have ArtLight Global. This is our non-profit organization that aims to merge the fields of art and mathematics to improve learning and motivation for minority students!
Check us out and share: www.artlightglobal.com
Ignite ArtLight Global!
I was asked to write a little update:
The Fulbright DAT experience has remained with me every single day, even one full year later. In January 2016, I traveled to Chennai, India to research and work with an arts education non-profit organization called NalandaWay. Through that experience I was able to investigate the challenges of bringing art education to marginalized youth in urban and rural settings throughout the state of Tamil Nadu. By visiting schools, making presentations, providing workshops, and attending arts and yoga related courses I was able to gain a perspective of how rich and integrated art is within the culture and community, but often missing in poorer schools.
One of the most memorable experiences I had with NalandaWay was visiting an arts camp they facilitated in a beautiful rural area on the border of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. A group of 30 students came from a local school in an effort to build leadership skills through collaboration projects based in art. Although I was primarily there as an observer, I was given the opportunity to lead and facilitate several group art activities and teach yoga as a transition activity. This was an exciting moment for me because I was able to connect with the students in a different way and they no longer saw me as a visitor or an observer, but someone who was there to be a part of the experience and learn from them as well.
After the arts camp experience, I met with my adviser and we talked about the lessons I taught at the camp. She was interested in learning more about my teaching philosophy and the other lessons I developed in my school back in the United States. I shared and adapted more of my curriculum so NalandaWay could use the lessons in their own context. This type of dialogue and collaboration spawned many ideas of how to implement art into schools in a much deeper way. My adviser was encouraged by my work and thought the curriculum I created was relevant and consistent with the mission and vision of the organization. At that point, she and the director approached me to create additional curriculum and offered me a consulting position to continue to work with NalandaWay after I returned home. Over the next 6 months I worked with NalandaWay to create an integrated arts curriculum for the elementary school based in science, social studies, math, and reading activities. Currently, they are piloting the lessons and training classroom teachers to use the lessons in class to augment their daily curriculum.
One of the other great experiences I had in India was attending the Fulbright Conference in Jaipur, India. All Fulbright scholars from Southeast Asia came together to share their work, and I was fortunate to be on a panel of educators. On that panel I met others interested in my work and connected with Deepa Srikantaiah, who was studying the intersection of math and arts education for marginalized youth in Bangalore, India. We discovered we both had a strong passion for arts education integration, mindfulness practices, and also lived in the DC metro area. We decided that we would plan to meet up after we completed our respective Fulbright programs. Since our first meeting back in the States, we’ve been working to create an arts startup that uses art as a conduit to improve math learning and motivation for marginalized children. We recently added a third member to our group, and we are now in the planning stages of returning to India in January of 2018 to work with Parikrma School in Bangalore. We will provide a week long workshop and art exhibition for 7th and 8th graders from that school.
When I started out on this journey I had no idea how great of an impact this experience would have on my own life and I feel that I’ve come away with a new definition for what it means to be a global citizen. I’ve felt extremely fortunate to grow personally by taking on new experiences and challenges while living in India. More importantly, I was able to find ways to collaborate with others and share ideas to forge personal and professional relationships that continued even after the Fulbright experience ended. It is these continued relationships that have developed into deeper connections and meaningful opportunities that allow the world to be a little smaller.
Tanjore painting is really hard. There are lots of steps and you need lots of patience to create one. I took a Tanjore class in Chennai for about 6 weeks and I didn’t even finish. I can see how this art is looked on with great respect. Everything about the painting needs to be perfect from the very beginning. I spent hours on this painting and I didn’t even get to the painting part. I have my work, and will finish one of these days. This style of painting is still practiced, but they are very time consuming and it takes professional artists hours and hours of painstaking skill to create one that is masterful and full of beauty. My teacher’s work was amazing. You could instantly see that his work was of high value and really special. His paintings were also four times as big as the small one I didn’t finish.
At times when I was working on this I thought it was really labor intensive, but I had to remember it was also meditative. You could do nothing but focus on what task you were doing. You had to pay attention to only that part, or else you would probably make a mistake. Oh– and I made plenty. Some days I was there for 4 hours working on the placement of the stones, or putting on extra putty to make them stick. By the end of the class I felt like my back was stiff, my arms were stiff, and my fingers were going to fall off!
But I still worked at it, it was a great challenge for me to undertake, just so I could see what it was like to create such a piece.
I also met some great people along the way. The arts center was a fun place. At the times I was there, I always talked with the other students and teachers. It was a great environment to be a part of and I thoroughly enjoyed working there.
I just realized, I don’t have a picture of the rest of the steps. I’ll have to post a finished piece when I have it finally completed. As you can see, there is a lot of work that goes on in creating a Tanjore painting. It is a dying art and it’s hard to find masters that can teach you the proper steps. It isn’t to be rushed, you can’t finish this kind of piece in a few hours, and it takes time to perfect. I was glad to have the experience and to understand how much work it takes to complete just a small one.
The other people who were in this class with me were creating pictures for their homes. People who create paintings such as this have great respect for the art, but also the art serves as a function for people who practice Hindusim, it is a blessing to have one of these paintings in your home. As you may guess, there are popular images. Many of Ganesh, like my example, but also Krishna, Durga, Rama and Sita, and others.
Hip hop has become the go-to style for many kids around the globe. It represents a lot to those who listen to the music and adopt the lifestyle. A lot of people understand that hip hop is a culture, a way of life. There are four main parts– MC, DJ, graffiti, and break dancing. In India, I saw a lot in the way of dancing, and break dancing, or hip hop dancing was definitely the mode by which hip hop culture has assimilated into the lives of youth there. Not to mention the attitude and style that goes with it.
I happened upon this group one day as I was walking back from my art class on a Sunday afternoon. It was busy in the park. People were exercising, chatting, playing. It was super hot, too. I could hear the faint music trickling out on to the sidewalk, and decided to stop and take a look. At first I watched from afar, not wanting to interrupt their flow or seem like a crazy tourist. But they invited me to sit down and watch. I sat next to a couple of kids who spoke some English and we talked about hip hop, and dance. One of the guys said that the group who was dancing were taking classes and come here almost weekly to hang out and practice. And that’s what they were doing. There wasn’t even a lot of talking happening, just dancing. It flowed as the music changed as they were just trying a variety of movements out.
I talked to the guys some more and asked them if I could take some pictures and video. They seemed ok with that, so I did. After they finished a long session of dancing, I just thanked them for letting me watch and chatting with them. They were super excited.
Dancing has a long tradition in Tamil Nadu. Mostly known for a particular South Indian style that merges with storytelling and pantomiming. Hip hop is a freedom of movement for them, a chance to experiment with their own style. Because if there’s one thing that hip hop culture allows, it’s: personal style.
I tried going back to see if I could catch them practicing again, but I never saw them again. I wish I had, because they were so fun to watch. But, it was getting super hot throughout March, and I never ran into them again. Here are a few videos that showcase the guys just hanging out, practicing, and trying their best to move to the music.
Going back to Jaipur I had a second change at a lot of things. I got to take some unexpected pictures of things that I missed the first time, or I just wanted to get that “perfect” shot. It was actually a pretty quick visit, but the crowds were gone, which meant pictures without tons of people and waiting— waiting some more to get an unobstructed view.
In this part of the trip I went to City Palace, Hawa Mahal, and Jantar Mantar. It was really hot, so we moved quickly through the spaces, and sat in the shade. I even listened to some of the recorded guides (some good, others…were something else). It was nice to have a second chance.
So after we painted our elephants, we walked them over to a grassy area with long hoses and washed them down. The elephants took turns drinking from the hose and splashing themselves with the water from their trunk. We scrubbed a little bit and they the handlers allowed us to sit on top of the elephants. Little did we know that we were about to get washed ourselves. They said,” Make sure you leave all your electronics with us”. Uh-oh, that could have been the tell-tale sign. Good thing I brought a change of clothes.
We walked over to another grassy spot and got drenched. The handlers let the elephants fill their trunks with water and splash us. It was cold, wet, and amazing. They got us pretty good. We couldn’t stop smiling.
In late February and early March I got to spend a week in Jaipur. It truly is a jewel of a city. Located in Rajasthan, it boasts one of the most visited cities on the “Golden Triangle” circuit. I can see why. It has a rich history of forts, palaces, majestic views and a number of locations for shoppers to buy all kinds of beautiful block print materials, tailors and seamstresses who can make anything you desire, and of course beautiful gems. There is a lot to do in and around the city. This time I made it to many places that were a little bit off the beaten track, but totally worth it.
The main reason for being in Jaipur was the Fulbright Conference. Each year it is hosted in a different city in India. All the Fulbright scholars that are in the country as well as neighboring countries in the Central Asia are invited to attend to share their research, listen, meet and make connections. I was on a panel of educators to present what I had been working on with NalandaWay. It was a great opportunity to listen to my colleagues, as well as listen to other researchers present on their subjects.
I felt fortunate to be a part of the whole experience. Not only were we well taken care of at the hotel, I had a chance to extend my stay and take a printmaking workshop by a master printer.
This is going to be a series of posts, because it was a week long adventure in Jaipur. It was an extremely interesting place to visit a second time. There were a lot of things I didn’t notice or experience the first time because I was mostly in heavy tourist areas. This time I ventured out into other parts of the city, had a chance to visit some real neighborhoods and interact more with local people. I also was able to compare my experiences in India. Having been in South India for two full months before traveling back to Jaipur, I realized that it was a much different place than Chennai. Jaipur seemed to be a bit more conservative, and there was a clear dividing line between tourists and citizens. I really hadn’t experienced that in Chennai, even though it was obvious that I was an outsider.
I was glad I got to observe these kinds of experiences, it made me think about how India is such a diverse place, full of possibilities, challenges, experiences, and cultures. There is no wrong, there is just different. It’s hard for me to lump India into just one package now. There isn’t just one India. It would be like saying the United States is all the same. Each region has it’s own special traditions, culture, and attitudes. The more I visited, observed and took part in the daily life, the more I learned about that particular place and myself.
It’s hard to believe that with all of these posts, I still haven’t gotten into March! One of the last events I attended in February was the Chennai Photo Biennale. It was simply one of those things you actually couldn’t avoid. BUT- Why would you want to!?! There were photo exhibitions all over the city. Some in galleries, some in restaurants, but many that were out in public. Many performances and happenings occurred around the city at different times and places. It really felt electric throughout the city, because you never knew when you would happen upon an exhibit, and when you did, it was always something intriguing, thought provoking, and surreal.
A perfect example of this occurred in my neighborhood. I lived in the oldest neighborhood in Chennai called Mylapore. It is known for it’s temples, it’s also considered the center of the city, because everything built up around it. It’s a very historic part of the city, and I loved being able to walk around and view all temples mixed into the contemporary apartment buildings, old shops and restaurants. One of the best places in the entire city is actually a park. Nageswara Rao Park is a large park where people walk, jog, play badminton, have fun on the jungle gym and swings, and of course do yoga. It’s a lively place. It got even more livelier when a photo exhibit was placed all around the park. It was an amazing exhibit, with giant poster sized photos from a group of international photographers. Their topics focused on a variety of social justice issues which included: child marriage, race relations, poverty, homelessness, and culture. The pictures were from around the world. Not just focusing on India.
I walked through this park most days, but when the exhibit was there, I made sure I passed through it everyday. One day I saw people taking down the exhibit, and soon it was gone. The park was still great, but for a while I felt like there was something missing. Art in public provides a profound experience for those who interact with it. What an amazing change for this particular community to interact with the photography and also the messages it conveyed.
I took thousands of pictures while I was in India on the Fulbright. I carried my camera around with me wherever I went. The one time where I ran out of memory and battery power was the time I spent at the arts camp in Kuppam at the Agastya Foundation. I wanted to record everything I witnessed all the days I was there. The Kanavu Pattarai arts camp was something I wasn’t sure I was going to experience. Fortunately, I did. The experience was something that I will never forget.
This particular Kanavu Pattarai camp is supported by collaboration between the NalandaWay Foundation and the Agastya Foundation. NalandaWay provides the teachers, the curriculum, the resources, and Agastya Foundation provides the space. The camp pulls from near by towns. Both boys and girls, ages 13-16, attended this camp. It was not a residential experience but a day camp for 3 full days.
The first day students were introduced to each other and jumped right in on camp activities. The teachers organized the whole camp, and when there was some spots that needed an activity I filled in with yoga and a quick lesson in making origami cranes. I also participated in a trust exercise, which was really fun for all of us.
All the students were extremely excited to participate. They made a large amount of art in just three days, and presented on topics that were important to them and their school community. It just goes to show you, that when students are given a chance to perform, act, interact, create, make, design, and do—THEY WILL! Most of the students were really into the arts projects and produced a lot of amazing work together.
Collaboration is a big piece of the puzzle for this kind of camp, especially since the goal is to build a community of peers. One of the best parts of the camp for me was when the students were tasked with creating a group song. It was a huge challenge. Many students were very happy doing visual arts, or even making posters, and speaking. BUT singing? That was a big leap for some of them. Many of the students didn’t know what to do, or how they should attempt that particular task. However, there were a few girls who would not give up. While the group took a break from song writing, a couple of girls stayed back to finish the melody and lyrics. They were the only ones in the building, and I don’t think they were even aware that I was paying attention. What I saw was true collaboration, respect for one another, and the desire to come together to accomplish the task. These girls continued working on the song until everyone came back in the room. They shared their lyrics and taught the whole group of students the melody of the song. The other students were amazed, excited and couldn’t wait to be a part of the musical task once again.
As a group they practiced (led by the girls and a few other boys). The way the girls problem solved and helped their fellow peers was amazing. They reached out as a team to put something together that would bring a lot of joy to everyone in the whole entire room.
On a whole, this group exhibited a wide variety of talents and problem solving skills. I thought that this was a strength because they all had a particular way to exhibit that strength. It made the group of 30 kids extremely strong. Students exhibited a lot of empathy and compassion for each other. Most times when one member of their group was having difficulty another would job in and say,” Maybe we try this?” The students always seemed like they were looking for ways to solve problems, think creatively, use the set limitations to their advantage, think outside the box to use limited art materials in a new way, and most importantly not give up on the project or each other. Only a few students really needed some extra help, but I think it was only because they had never had this much going on at once. Not much exposure to arts, not much exposure to group work and collaboration.
The Kanavu Pattarai camp is much more than a few days for kids to get away from school and have fun. This program is creating ways for kids to build their self-esteem, gain leaderships skills, practice problem solving, and be more self- aware. Without the arts, students are unable to see some the values that already exist within themselves. By providing arts camps, NalandaWay is essentially strengthening the school communities. The students who participate in these camps take everything back with them and share it at their school. They are able to talk about their experiences and show what they accomplished by participating in the camp.
I was delighted to collaborate with NalandaWay on this program. I was able to expand the camp to five days, and add additional components like yoga and mindfulness. The more time we spend providing meaningful programs for youth to connect to each other and their own communities, the stronger we build the future for all of us.