Singing for Arts in Education; Supporting Muscular Dystrophy

Neil Brewer, Professor, poet and songwriter

If you’ve been to school, have siblings who annoy you, or want the arts to be integral to the curriculum, meet Neil Brewer, whose album The 8 O’Clock Bell, came from a poetry book of the same name that prompted Former First Lady Barbara Bush to say, “I love this book.”

Brewer’s day job is educating college students who are training to become teachers and his specialty is showing them how to creatively incorporate arts into the core curriculum. A poet, musician and songwriter, Brewer uses an arsenal of creative talent to bring students, teachers and the public he performs for to think in new ways, and he does it in ways that are so entertaining that they often don’t notice they’re learning. When not teaching, Brewer takes his songs and presentations on the road to promote book and music sales, then he donates 100% of the proceeds to The Harvard Stem Cell Institute to fund research to end muscular dystrophy.

His 8 O’Clock Bell, has been called, “a delightful journey through the life experiences common to all of us.” And his sibling smack down song, Three Kids in a Car from his Neil Brewer and Friends are Back in School album, is now a Night Mill Productions animation.

Neil Brewer spent the first twenty years of his teaching career in 5th and 6th grade classrooms, and has drawn from that journey with students on many occasions in various written forms. For his epic thematic adventure, The Travels of Harmon Bidwell, Neil received The Christa McAuliffe Fellowship.He teaches graduate and undergraduate education courses at Indiana University Southeast in Indiana.

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Using Art to Help Kids at Risk: Jami Taback

Jami Taback, Artist and Founder/Director of Kids at Risk: Adventures in Printmaking

Flowers of Fire; World Trade Center; Storm Warning

 

With arts education facing funding cuts in many schools, what can artists do to make a difference in their communities?

It is difficult to get into a school program without a not-for-profit status because it validates the program. Funding has been cut drastically and the schools and shelters have not been able to write these programs into the grants they receive. Speaking with your local representatives helps to get them acquainted with you and the program and sometimes a discretionary fund is set up. I tell everyone I know what I do and ask them if they know teachers or school officials for an introduction. I always feel that once they meet me and hear about the Kids at Risk: Adventures in Printmaking program, they are at ease and willing to help.

How has teaching informed your own work as an artist?

This is a powerful question in that first I introduce the children to a process with my own idea in mind, however, in turn; they create artwork from their own interpretation which is often exciting and inspirational for me. This is the beauty of the work I do. I am constantly affected by their work, the way they absorb the mission of the program and interpret it in their own art making. It reminds me every day to preserve the creative force of my inner child in order to keep my work fresh and interesting.

Are there organizations you recommend getting involved with to make connections in this area?

Many of my connections have come from people I know. When I am involved in a program, I call the local paper and ask for a writer to come with a camera to document the experience.

This includes donations of art materials from stores.

I also have a separate website for the program I offer that is exclusively for donations. In return for the donation, artwork is available for different levels of donations. This approach requires an email list, sent out to inform everyone you know about this worthwhile cause. There is a video where I talk about the program.

What techniques are you exploring in your own work, and has digital played a part in your art?

I am currently attending an Artist in Residence Program at The Lower East Side Print Shop in NYC. In this atmosphere I am able to explore different techniques in the hopes that a new process will emerge from me, a new way to express myself while staying within the scope of printmaking which is my favorite medium these days. From the prints dealing with a specific subject matter, I can move to painting, drawing and digital explorations. Digital processes have played a part in printmaking. I do incorporate this imagery very carefully and sparingly in aspects of my work.

I once listened to a terrific talk by the artist Claes Oldenburg. He said that an artist need not search for new ideas and that one good idea can last a lifetime. I often think of this when wondering about where my next idea will be. I was showing someone the kids’ prints dealing with Crystals and Gems. After looking at them I decided to explore this subject further in my own work. This is what I am working on at the residence.

 The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang the best. —John James Audubon

Jami Taback is an artist who produces artwork through a unique process of creative collaboration with children. She visits alternative, public and private schools, shelters and foster homes using art to establish meaningful connections with children. The activity of making art serves to gain their interest, involvement and trust. She says, “I use my creative talent and sensitivity as a printmaker and painter to forge these connections. To date, I have taught and interacted with over 500 children in the last few years. This program is based on an intensive mentoring relationship with youth, particularly those with behavioral problems and special education needs. Through learning about the art of Printmaking and its history rooted in ancient civilization as a tool for communication, students immerse themselves for several weeks in the arts and education. A printmaking studio with a portable table press is set up at the school for the duration of the project where the youth visit for several hours each week to learn about and produce their own work which is then incorporated into a museum quality mural, a public installation at their school. Sometimes, it’s just to engage the kids in something creative, to think about things differently, to meet an artist, but sometimes it sparks an interest, and they find out that they are artists too.”

Donations to Kids at Risk: Adventures in Printmaking, are used to help to fund art supplies such as ink, paper and various printmaking tools for kids.

 

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