Editor's note: We want to thank Ashley Bolling, Aurora (MO) High School art teacher and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks for their contributions to this story.
The Project for Public Spaces defines placemaking as a "process that capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, which results in the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people's health, happiness, and well being." Missouri's Placeworks program is an excellent example of a regional placemaking program that combines the talents of local artists with rural school students to the benefit of the community.
Sponsored by the Springfield (MO) Art Museum and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO), Placeworks offers customized, interdisciplinary programs for Ozarks' schools, teachers, and students. The program includes teaching artists covering a range of areas of expertise including visual art, music, theater, tableau and more.
Here's how it works: Teachers from schools involved in CFO's Rural Schools Partnership apply for Placeworks programming and specify the type of lesson they would like delivered. Past examples range from a Veterans Day photography presentation to a musical representation a butterfly's life cycle to school art installations (see more here). With teacher input, Placeworks creates an artistic lesson around the subject. If the lesson requires a field trip, it is part of the program provided to schools. The goals are curriculum knowledge, new ways of learning for students, and an enhanced community aesthetic.
"We want kids to learn how to think critically, solve problems, work collaboratively, take risks, try again after failing and have confidence in their own ideas," said Kate Baird, museum educator for the Springfield Art Museum, who started the Placeworks program in 2010. "The arts are an incredibly effective way to teach those things."
Ashley Bolling had never heard of Placeworks, but a note from a friend prompted her to learn more. "I got an email about an organization that offered field trips and in-school residencies, and I decided to apply. I'd wanted to create some kind of mural or permanent installation since I began teaching at Aurora, and Placeworks seemed like an excellent opportunity."
Bolling's application to the program was accepted, and she was soon contacted by Placeworks' teaching artists Cory Leick and Lillian Fitzpatrick to begin planning the project. "Cory and Lillian were great about cross-referencing information and adapting it to our curriculum," Boling noted. "The plan was to create a permanent mosaic installation with my foundation classes designing impressionistic tiles and my Advance Art students designing the mosaic as a whole."
With the plan in place, student work on the project began last October and continued through February. Bolling reflected on the process: "Some things I'll remember about this time were the students gluing mosaic pieces in the dark using the lights from their cell phones, their revolving playlist on Spotify, a lot of "One Direction" and Styx's "Come Sail Away," and then eventually banning the latter because it became increasingly annoying!" More significant aspects of the collaboration also left a strong impression. "As we came across challenges," Ashley recalls, "Cory and Lillian were always great about providing insight. They even recruited help from a well known mosaic artist, Bruce Anderson, who showed us what materials to use and artist Brian Fiket, who helped us hang the mosaic securely."
The installation was a large project for Bolling and her students, bigger than any they had ever attempted before. "I really wanted to bring color into the school environment on a monumental level," she said. "This was the idea from the start, but it truly represented collaborative art. Before we started I had a concept and plenty of student help, but the project would not have possible without the guidance and expertise of Placeworks."
Ashley Bolling's students literally "carry out" their mosaic art installation!
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