How can you draw your friend on a Zoom call? How can you explore identity with a can opener and a spoon? Despite the challenges brought forth from necessary distance learning approaches, Oak Hill School students found ways to do just that through our Arts Unite Us program.
Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman had just started her 10-week residency with educator Danya Lebell’s class when the pandemic forced the school to close abruptly. Using what students had on hand at home, Cathy changed the curriculum to focus on self portraits and identity, working with both students and paraprofessionals.
For the first online class, we took turns making different faces and posing for each other. We quickly found out that it was a challenge to work on Zoom, as staring at the tiny green dot of the camera isn’t the same as looking into someone’s eyes. For artists experiencing disabilities, eye contact is especially crucial for interpersonal engagement. Despite these challenges, the activity was a perfect fit for students as they begin exploring job opportunities. Learning to read facial expressions is key!
The following week we explored drawing profiles while making different expressions. A week later we practiced blind contour drawing. We hid our paper and drawing hand in a grocery bag and drew each other without lifting our pencils or peeking inside our bags. The faces didn’t look like we expected, but we made some interesting line drawings.
For our final class, we used kitchen utensils and other objects. Students and paraprofessionals made four different portraits, each time rearranging the items in a different way. It was amazing to see how many expressions a can opener could make.
“I wanted students to use art to explore thinking outside the box,” Cathy said. “Given the complex challenges of our world, staying flexible and confident in our choices is more important than ever.”