BMAC offers three fall programs for youth

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BRATTLEBORO — It's no secret that people need art. At any age, the benefits of involvement with the arts include, among others, socialization, enhancement of hand/eye coordination, development of critical thinking, and improved academic performance. For older folks, it reduces the risk of dementia; for the young it contributes to language development.

The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center is all over this, with three different programs for students.

In a recent interview, Linda Whelihan, BMAC's education curator, explained how this year's ArtExpress outreach program to elementary schools in Windham County and Hinsdale, N.H., focuses on the museum's fall exhibit of paintings by Emily Mason, "To Another Place," on exhibit through Feb. 10.

"Mason is not trying to be representational," Whelihan said. "She uses colors, shapes, and textures in her work. As the students and I look at the paintings, I describe them as a kind of poetry, and invite the students to come up with different words that the paintings bring to mind."

The students then have the opportunity to paint on large pieces of paper to explore both colors and how they interact, and textures.

"We brought in leaves to use in the paintings," Whelihan said. "This is the perfect fall show."

When the paintings are dry, Whelihan cuts them into smaller sections, which then can be arranged and rearranged in new collages of color, texture, and pattern.

Whelihan added that senior groups visiting the museum have also done this activity, and it is a big hit.

The vivid colors in Mason's paintings evoked surprising reactions from the students.

"Their descriptions were immediate," Whelihan said. "Usually I have to coax and prompt to get things going, but the students responded very naturally and quickly to the paintings."

After the viewing and discussion of Mason's work, the students write poems.          

Rachel Mangean, art educator at Green Street School, recently brought her third grade students to the museum for a tour.

"We had done multiple lessons in the art room about abstract art," Mangean said in an email, "and the kids surprised me, as we walked through the museum, (by) recognizing Mason's (paintings) as purely abstract. I love when I can see my students apply their knowledge outside of the classroom."

When the students read their poems out loud, Mangean said, they did it with such emotion and confidence, "it really made me proud."

Mangean said she appreciates how having this local resource within walking distance of Green Street School, and having a supportive school administrator, gives her students "a chance to enter a museum, see art, and communicate with others when they might not have that chance outside of school."

The second program is BMAC's bi-annual Glasstastic exhibition, a celebration of imagination and ingenuity. Students in grades K through 6 are invited to draw fabulous imaginary creatures and send their drawings to the BMAC. Entry forms are available at the BMAC or at brattleboromuseum.org. Deadline is Dec. 30.

Every drawing submitted by the deadline will be exhibited in some manner at the museum from March 9 to June 16. A selection from these drawings will be turned into glass sculptures by artists from throughout New England and beyond. These glass sculptures will also be included in the exhibit.

The idea for Glasstastic came from the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., said Danny Lichtenfeld, BMAC's Director.

"I was hired in the fall of 2007, and my first few years here, we were looking at ways to get more kids and families in to the BMAC," he said. "Our Lego Contest and our domino event are two activities that resulted from that process. Another is Glasstastic, which evolved from a program we heard about at The Museum of Glass in Tacoma, called `Kids Design Glass,' where kids were invited to draw imaginary creatures, and then the glass-artists-in-residence on site would make them.

"We decided we would try a version of that," Lichtenfeld continued. "Obviously, we don't have glassblowers on site, but we enlisted the involvement of local glassblowers to make the creatures in their own studios and bring them to the BMAC. They took the ball and ran with it. Some of the local glass artists loaned their studio space to other glass artists from out of the area."

In 2011, the first year of Glasstastic (when it was called "Vermont Kids Design Glass," but the Tacoma museum demurred), BMAC received approximately 250 submissions. In 2014, that number grew to about 800, and "last year we had over a thousand drawings submitted," Whelihan said.

"The thing I love about Glasstastic is we're not only fostering kids' creative achievements by showcasing them at the museum," Lichtenfeld said, "we're also connecting kids with artists and artists with kids. The artists love doing this. It really stretches them. For example, Robert DuGrenier, a glassblower who has a studio in Townshend and has made pieces for Tiffany & Company, and glass chandeliers for the Harry Winston jewelry stores, said making a multi-colored inchworm for Glasstastic was one of the hardest things he's ever done. Another artist said the technique she had to develop to make her Glasstastic piece, she now uses in the work she sells."

The third program, this one for older students, is the annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The BMAC, which is the state-wide affiliate partner for this national program, encourages aspiring Vermont artists and writers in grades 7 through 12 to submit work for possible exhibition, publication, and scholarship opportunities.

Submissions are due Dec. 13, and will be judged by state-wide experts in the arts and writing. Award-winning work will be exhibited at the BMAC from Feb. 17 to March 10. Some submissions will receive further consideration for national awards.

According to its website, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards were established in 1923 and is the nation's largest, longest-running, most prestigious visual and literary arts program recognizing creative accomplishments of students in grades 7Graphic pro through 12. Affiliate Partners, a network of more than 100 organizations across the country, support educators, students, and parents when submitting work; organize local judging by professional artists and writers; recognize students at public ceremonies; and showcase awarded work through exhibitions, publications, and readings.

"There was no other organization in Vermont that wanted to be the Affiliate Partner," Whelihan said, "so the BMAC was happy to step in and do it. This award program is a significant opportunity for affirmation for students and also emphasizes the importance of the arts."

For further information on any of these programs, contact Linda Whelihan at 802-257-0124, ext. 109, or at education@brattleboromuseum.org.

Nancy A. Olson can be reached at olsonnan47@gmail.com.

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