Today I was fortunate enough to help out at a class at Inner City Arts (http://www.inner-cityarts.org/who-we-are.php). I and six others who I work with met at 7am for the drive to downtown LA. We arrived a bit groggy but eager to be part of the final meeting of a three session creativity lab exercise. As participants in the program, about 35 fifth grade students from a local elementary school spent part of their day, once a week for three weeks, at Inner City Arts to learn about brainstorming, team work, creativity, design and storytelling.
The assignment given to the students this session had been to design their own planet. They had to think about what would life be like on their planet, who lived there, what buildings were on the planet, etc.. After brainstorming among their team to come up with these answers – which resulted in a board covered in post-it-notes (see photo below) – they were given an eclectic assortment of materials from which to actually build their planet. Those activities took up sessions 1 & 2. In my session, 3, they were putting the finishing touches on their planets and creating the narrative. Each group had to tell the others what a visitor (Bob) would see upon arrival on their planet, what he would do, how he would be transported to and from the planet and any other details they cared to share.
The stories they made up were so inventive yet, sadly, all contained attacks, being eaten by monsters, having to do battle, winners and loser. No planet was a happy place where Bob could enjoy the richness of what the planet had to offer. I don’t know if the warring aspects of their stories were the result of media influences or their home lives. Either way, I was sorry it was part of their worlds. Still their enthusiasm and appreciation for being given a creative outlet overcame any negative feelings.
When each planet had been visited by Bob and the story told, the students received a special certificate and a round of applause. One young Hispanic boy clutched his certificate to his chest like a shield and just beamed happiness. We were asked not to take any pictures of the kids or I would have shared that image with you.
As excited as the kids were to get the certificates, they were beyond thrilled when they were told that any portion of the planet that they had worked on and wanted, they could take with them. Those planets were dismantled in seconds as children eagerly collected the pieces they’d had a hand in so they could show their parents what they had made. The pride and joy on their faces as they happily exited, arms full, was wonderful to see.
Inner City Arts, just a block from skid row, is a beautiful campus. The white walls are relaxing and are perfect for displaying the hundreds of works of art on hand – all made by the students. In addition to the creativity lab, there are buildings devoted to ceramics, painting and other art forms. With arts education vanishing from school curriculum, an organization like Inner City Arts is not a luxury but an essential piece in the development of the children. Yes, students need English and Math but they also need art and music and dance and the opportunity to explore their artistic side.
I’m proud to have played a small part in furthering the mission of Inner City Arts.
Some of the art on display: