(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
When Sara Demeter’s son began kindergarten at Josiah Quincy Elementary School last fall, she was alarmed to find that the school had no art teacher. But Demeter didn’t just grumble to friends or send her son to private lessons; she began working with other parents and administrators to create an all-volunteer art program.
“My idea was to bring artists from everywhere and have all our community gather to give that rich experience for our kids and to kind of fill that void,” Demeter said in a recent interview at the school.
The school had a visual arts committee, but at that time it's only members were Principal Simon Ho and another parent, Elizabeth McGarry.
Demeter worked with them to begin outreach that would bring in arts professionals, student artists, and parent volunteers to lead projects that would reflect the school’s multiethnic student population.
“The most important component of this is that it’s not only giving art classes; it’s about diversity,” Demeter said. “Representing and transforming, reflecting our own student body. Most of the projects also talk about that, like our neighborhoods, how do you see your home … how do you see your world?”
To reflect her own culture, Demeter, who came to the US from Jordan more than 20 years ago, invited a teacher of Arabic calligraphy. “I brought him because I’m interested in opening dialogue between students and artists and also the world,” she said.
“Diversity Through Art” began with workshops for kindergarten through second grade on March 1 and 2 and continued with classes for third through fifth grades on April 12 and 13.
The effort will culminate on April 27 with an exhibit and sale of student art in the school’s gymnasium beginning at 6 p.m. Proceeds will go to support an after-school art program for the 2012–2013 school year.
To plan the arts days, Demeter received assistance from Marian Brown, a student in the Arts in Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who also helped recruit artists from the graduate program.
“They did a wonderful job at really reaching out to different communities, both through college and university campuses and also reaching out to different museum groups, really a myriad of things,” Brown said.
Brown also helped connect the committee with Artists for Alzheimer’s, an organization that brings seniors with dementia together with artists to evoke untapped creativity. Demeter said partnering the seniors with children was beneficial to both.
“It’s so therapeutic for them, it’s so expressive,” she said. “It’s just incredible how they were smiling and happy. You could tell that.”
One of the volunteers on April 12 was City Councilor Michael P. Ross, who creates lifelike oil paintings of food and other household items in his free time. Ross led fourth-grade students in using markers to color in small images that would be pieced together to create an Earth Day mural.
“Why are you coloring these?” Ross asked the students. “Anybody know why?”
“Because we need to make a nice picture!” called out Kenny Chen, an exuberant 10-year-old.
Kenny said he enjoys coloring and making art and had recently completed a picture of the Easter Bunny in his spare time.
Ross said there was a lesson in teamwork here, alongside the opportunity to be creative.
“We’re teaching them about how we all can work on something together, and it can get done faster than if just one of us was working on one sheet of paper,” he said.
In Donna Cataldo’s fifth-grade class, South End artist Marian Dioguardi led students in creating aboriginal dreamtime paintings by combining traditional symbols representing figures and concepts such as humans, kangaroos, wild turkeys, rainbows, and smoke.
Makayla Reid, 10, created a village featuring a cloud, a star, a campsite, a river, a child a dog, and the image that represents a women’s ceremony. Across the table from Reid, 11-year-old Jason Depina described his drawing.
“This is grass and a footprint. And this is an ancestor,” Depina said. “And the ancestor’s going up to heaven, and this is, like, God’s footprint.”
Demeter considers the work at the Quincy School a pilot program. She has begun the process of registering the group as a non-profit organization and hopes to take this volunteer-driven model to other schools that lack a formal arts program.
“The most important thing at the end of the day is the kids,” Demeter said. “Ultimately, the goal is to provide quality visual art experiences with full access [for] not only the students who are in a general class [but also those in] an inclusion class,” where children from the general student population learn alongside students who are in special education or have Individualized education programs.
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)