Children's Video Art at NAEA

Mystery Castle with a Lot of Treasures was featured in the NY Children's Video Festival at the National Art Education Association Convention in NYC, on March 16. George Szekely, artist, writer and professor of art education at the University of Kentucky, and Renee Shaw of Barrett Elementary School in Arlington, VA, hosted this event. I was so impressed with the amazing diversity of the work produced by Renee's 2nd-5th grade students. Claymation, stop-motion, digital storytelling, the works. Beautiful, hilarious, experimental, and everything in between. Renee will curate next year's NAEA children's film fest and made a call for submissions from art/media educators. Brigid McGinn, an atelierista from Brooklyn, attended this session and remarked that the videos were refreshing because at the convention this year we had not seen nearly enough images of children themselves, but instead had been inundated with ideas (in the form of research studies about art education) and stuff (to buy from the art supply vendors who had set up booths at the convention). I agreed, and wondered what we might do to change that.

I saw a beautiful and exciting presentation given by Ricardo Rubiales of the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo at UNAM in Mexico City, who started the Reggio Emilia-inspired atelier/art studio at the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City. I was so encouraged to see the imaginative learning that took place in the museum when the children were given the time to think and question before looking at the art in the museum. The projects he showed us--of explorations of pirates and monsters--had come out of the kids being given the time to explore. Their drawings and constructions were intricate, meaningful and full of story--universal marks of truly engaged child art. Ricardo mentioned that when questioned by parents who wondered why their young children needed to stay in the atelier/art workshop for three hours, he would reply that they were working within "Reggio Time."

Also at the conference, I was happy to see Olga Hubard, my Ed.M. advisor, who does such wonderful work in her own art and in teaching in museums and at Teachers College.


Childhood Regained

This Monday and Tuesday I went to a conference that the Art and Design Education Department at Pratt hosted: Childhood Regained. Vea Vecchi, first Reggio Emilia atelierista; Kieran Egan, Imaginative Education Research Group founder/director; and many others contributed. The work of Vivian Paley was woven throughout the conference, as presented by Patsy Cooper (NYU) and Jane Katch (who worked with Paley). I was struck by the film, "My Own Backyard to Play In," a document of children playing in the streets of Hell's Kitchen, c. 1950, by Tony Schwartz. Because it combined voices from so many of my influences, with the addition of this film document that I had not known about, the conference was quite a powerful experience.

I was riveted by Vea's invocation to us as early childhood educators to "explore the digital environment." She presented the most beautiful images of a project from a school in Reggio in which the children (4-6 years old) explored the shadow/reflection of a window on a wall in the new Malaguzzi Center, created in honor of Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia schools. The children photographed, discussed, traced, and created an animation of their drawings based on this window's moving image on the wall. Children's exploratory thoughts about the shadow: "The wall is crooked." "The sun is attached to the wall." "When the sun is straight, the shadow is straight." "The shadow went back into the window." "It's a sneaky shadow." "This shadow tells lots of stories." "It's pushing hard to open." "Listen--its heart is beating." "When it goes away, it takes the memory with it."

Listening to these young children's profoundly beautiful observations about a moving shadow on the wall, I was again convinced that it is truly great work to encourage children to come into that space within which they can arrive at such conclusions. They are poets, as Richard Lewis of Touchstone Center reminds us. They teach us how to live, how to be poets, how to see.

To go one step further, seeing the inherently visual nature of Vea's presentation about an activity that for the children had been so visual, and yet scientific and literary, reminded me that the teachers at the Reggio schools have consistently showed us the power of adult facilitation of children's visual, and by extension cognitive, understandings. We have the responsibility to help young children take their explorations of the world to the next level, cognitively, by sharing with them more tools to explore, and by showing them how they can use these tools for deeper exploration. Vea showed us in her presentation how important digital media, particularly stop motion with still images like the children's drawings, have become to the Reggio atelier. She challenged the audience to mine the digital mediums available to us, to fully employ the "digital environment," as she put it, and I heard her loud and clear.


New discoveries....new lenses on children's play

Tish Shute has created a wonderful project, UgoTrade, which has as its mission "Crossing Digital Divides - tracking innovative uses of technology in new environments," and not only that, she has gone a step further with Ugonet, "a video sharing community focusing of films and videos coming from 'off-grid' communities." This is a thrilling find and I am starting to upload DSW videos.
Through Ugonet, I have discovered the good work of filmmaker/photographer/writer Marcelo Fortaleza Flores and director Dirce Carrion of Imagem da Vida (Image of Life). They're working on a lovely project called "A Meeting of Eyes," which establishes an exchange between children and communities that have similar cultural roots, but have been separated by the history of slavery. In this case they have focused on Dakar and Gorree Island in Senegal and Sao Lourenco, in Northeastern Brazil. This cross-cultural dialogue between children has massive potential and dovetails my work with Digital Story Workshop.