BENNINGTON>>The Village School of North Bennington (VSNB) and the Vermont Arts Exchange (VAE) have a history of creating art in the classroom and in the community, and on April 2, the organizations will debut an art installation for the first time at the Brown Cow Cafe.
As academic curriculum is planned accordingly, VAE teachers have worked with the VSNB teaching artists to generate aligning projects. Once a week, VAE works with children preschool through sixth grade with a focus on brainstorming project ideas, working through an artistic process and then formulating a product.
Projects displayed at the cafe include classroom studies about native flora and fauna, Night of the Notables and Invention Convention pieces, community-designed projects and public art as well as individual expression by solving problems through creativity.
VAE teaching artist Gabrielle Rynes works with grades three through six while Kristen Blaker works with preschool, first and second grade students.
Executive Director Matthew Perry explained that with the younger students, their learning is more about the creative process rather than achieving a product. It's also a change in practice to have youth work on a project for a month rather than just days or weeks at a time, something Rynes commented on.
"We take cues from the kids and align it with what's being taught in the classroom," Rynes said. "If there's an exciting point we'll latch on and build off it. This held their attention span for a month once a week. It was hard for them to think about their products."
Each grade had a different theme or output and some involved work from last year. The sixth graders, who are currently busy with a public art project for earth day, will present their village portrait study from last year in which students sought out figures in the community, interviewed them and recreated them along with their associated organization. These include Amy Anselmo from the Left Bank, Galen Rhodes from the North Bennington Variety Store, Norm Leblanc from the North Bennington Highway Department and many others.
The teaching artists meet with school staff at the beginning of the year to plan out what art projects can be integrated throughout the year. This effort has been ongoing for two years now.
At the cafe, observers will find three dimensional sculptures of native plants, made by fourth graders, executed with plaster, wire, wood and mixed media defined by the figure's actual size, design and color.
The Night of the Notables artwork by the fifth graders displays sculptured replicas of historical notable figures such as Princess Diana or Martin Luther King Jr.
"It's a really joyful experience. I really love it," Rynes said. "They're so full of ideas and it's nice to see their creativity. It's a yearlong process and a big part of the community."
For Blaker, working with the younger children was enjoyable because of their infinite imagination. They worked mostly on printmaking in relation to animals and animal tracks. With each print, a student wrote an artist testimony.
"For that age, developmentally, it's just about making and being creative, so that might mean color mixing or seeing how clay feels with different textures," she explained. "It's all about exploring and curiosity. They're not thinking about the end product at all so it's really fun working with that age. They're not thinking about what it'll look like on the wall, so there's no judgement."
Before the work was hung in the cafe, Blaker said the she did a critique exercise with the second graders so that they could experience what it feels like to have the public view their artwork. She said that this allowed them to realize things they wanted to change, but it still got them excited.
"We still tie into what they're doing in class in some ways so we might involve shapes because they're learning about shapes and that age is more open and flexible," she said. "They might learn about certain colors so we use that in their classes rather than the scientific process or something like that."
This installation is currently hanging in the Brown Cow Cafe at 139 Main St.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.