Last week, Mia’s Community Commons was buzzing with student artists eager to show their family and friends what they have spent the year creating. Now in its sixth year, Mia’s Creativity Academy program launched its annual exhibition, up through the middle of April. It features artwork from nearly 500 fourth-grade students, drawn from six different Twin Cities schools: Saint Paul Music Academy and Battle Creek Elementary in St. Paul, Andersen United, Bethune Community School, Hennepin Elementary, and Prodeo Academy in Minneapolis.
The program fosters creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. Students receive four lessons, two in their classroom and two in Mia’s studios, facilitated by local arts educators. They all begin with conversation and close looking at artworks in Mia’s collection—which inspires artmaking and poetry writing of their own. The program exposes students to materials and methods they may be unfamiliar with, and gives them an opportunity to express themselves in creative ways. They learn new art forms like wire-wrapping materials to make noisemakers, drawing on fabric to create story blankets, collaging recycled materials to make self-portraits, and shaping colorful clay into pinch pots. Student artworks are then brought to Mia to be exhibited at the end-of-year celebration.
Throughout this process, students also work on creative writing. Students write a poem as a class once they have finished looking at the artwork from Mia’s collection. This writing activity prepares them for when they begin their own individual artmaking activity because that too will have a poetry component. Adaptations of haiku, diamante, and cinquain poems help students practice parts of speech but also encourage them to reflect and respond to their own art. When Mia staff evaluates the program later on, they use the poems and artworks to look for sparks of creativity and connections through synthesis. Lessons learned from the evaluation report help shape the upcoming year’s curriculum planning.
While numbers are important and evaluations can support future funding, the program’s great achievements are hard—if not impossible—to quantify. Chelsea Novotny, a first time Creativity Academy educator, noted, “It is bittersweet to be the only visual arts program for these schools because you can tell the students are eager for it.”The schools participating in Creativity Academy have little to no art programming during the academic day. Many of these students have never explored collage or worked with clay. Their excitement about learning their task for the day is contagious. “When these students are encouraged to create,” Chelsea says, “it is like a recess to them. It is a break from their day-to-day classroom curriculum. They are feeling excited, joyful, and proud about the objects that they create.”Students are beaming with pride at what they have created and written, always looking to share with those around them. Often doubting their artistic ability during the first lesson, they are confident collaborators and creatives by the final visit.
Mia hosts a private opening reception for students and their communities once the show has opened. Friends and families join the student artists for pizza before exploring the galleries. In front of their masterpieces, the students beam for the cameras of their family and teachers. Their happiness and self-confidence radiates through the Community Commons and stays with them long after the evening has ended.