By Education & Media Intern, Vanessa Chung
As a part of our Community Engagement program, P.S. ARTS has been hosting Family Art Nights at our partner schools for the past six years. This year, I was given the responsibility of creating a new Family Art Night project to be used with our diverse school communities. These projects are free, hands-on activities that are accessible to our multigenerational school families and fit into our P.S. ARTS Program Theme.
Every year, our Programs staff and Teaching Artists gather to create a classroom theme for the school year. Our past themes include Exploring Our Dreams, Expanding Our Universe (2013-2014), Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers (2014-2015), and All the Colors I am Inside (2015-2016). These themes are accompanied with masterworks from every arts discipline we offer: music, dance, visual arts, and theater. This year, our theme is The Courage to Create, and our visual arts masterwork, “The Eclipse,” by Alma Woodsey Thomas fits the theme perfectly.
When brainstorming for the Family Art Night lesson, I was inspired by Alma Woodsey Thomas’ biography. She was born in Georgia in 1891 and moved with her family to Washington D.C. in 1907 to leave the racial discrimination they faced in the South. Though she had dreams of being an architect, she was restricted by the racial and gender boundaries of the time. However, she chose to pursue the arts, becoming Howard University’s first Fine Arts graduate in 1921. After graduating, she became an arts teacher; after 35 years of devoting herself to her students, she was able to pursue painting full time. At 75 years old, she debuted her signature abstract paintings at an exhibition at Howard University and lived out a successful career as an artist.
After learning about her story, I decided to create an Alma Woodsey Thomas-inspired project to test with the staff at our biweekly Art Lab. During my time at P.S. ARTS, I led art lessons with the staff twice a month to test out potential Family Art Night projects. After a few weeks of trial and error, I decided to introduce two projects for our August Art Lab. I introduced my Alma Woodsey Thomas lesson along with a lesson based on Yayoi Kusama’s dotted paintings. I felt that Kusama’s persistence in creating large volumes of art along with her openness about her mental health fit with our classroom theme perfectly.
At the Art Lab, our staff created beautiful art inspired by both of these artists. While working on their Alma Woodsey Thomas projects, Jaime and Gaby had the brilliant idea of adding Kusama dots on their collages. After lots of revision and changes, I created a lesson combining the two projects. We tested this Kusama-Thomas lesson, called “Yayoi’s Eclipse,” at our last Art Lab and deemed it a success! The project satisfied the many requirements for our Family Art Nights: it is derived from our program theme, requires simple materials that can be transported to almost fifty schools in California, and is accessible for artists of all ages!
I am excited to see what families will create at this year’s Family Art Nights—we want students to understand and learn about the stories of the courageous Alma Woodsey Thomas and Yayoi Kusama and create a project inspired by their artwork.