Press Releases/ Community Outreach

Free Art and Storytelling Workshop in JP

by Lynn Niizawa

Everyone was having fun -- kids and adults alike. We were all there at Curtis Hall Community Center for a series of three workshops in Jamaica Plain, beginning end-July and going into August this past summer, presented by Families Creating Together, Community Service Care / JPC: Tree of Life, and Curtis Hall. The series’ theme was “Art & Storytelling,” and it was being given in three languages: English, Spanish and American Sign Language. I was there as a volunteer, uncertain of my artistic abilities, but hoping to lend a hand in whatever way I might, eager to help create some art.

Our target audience was children and adults with disabilities, but everyone was welcome and encouraged to participate. Ed Pazzanese had designed the workshops to be as inclusive as possible, and he invited whole families to participate. He was pleased that one of the grandmothers was there for the first workshop, and that the series was indeed intergenerational, multicultural, multilingual and disability-friendly. It seemed appropriate that the venue was Curtis

Hall Community Center: the participants that we attracted nicely reflected the community of Jamaica Plain.

Tara, the art-instructor who led the workshops, showed us how to make a simple, four-page storybook with a cover in construction paper. She offered the idea of telling a four-part story of growth and development, and gave us the example of a caterpillar that goes through its different stages to become a butterfly. To inspire our art, Tara shared some beautiful examples of storybooks that she had made, and books like "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," by Eric Carle. Our first task was to make beautiful, vibrantly colored paper with patchwork-like prints. We would then use the colorful paper that we had made to cut out shapes and

make collages and pictures to tell the “story” that we wanted to tell (with a little guidance and help sometimes from us volunteers!).

Making the colorful paper was a good ice-breaker, with kids and adults donning makeshift aprons and getting their hands and fingers into the paints, using simple tools to make patterns and scratch abstract designs in the paint that we had spread out on the paper. It’s fun to be *told* to get your hands dirty -- no matter what your age – and liberating to hear that there’s no real way to make a mistake: at that stage, we were just making abstract designs in pretty colors! As we all got our hands dirty and everyone got more and more involved in making art, I saw even the shyest kids (and parents!) quickly start to overcome their reticence as they tried to decide what colors they wanted to paint the paper, which tools they wanted to use, and what story they wanted to tell.

It was an opportunity for everyone to create whatever they wanted. A couple of families made their storybook a collaborative, family-project. With the others, each person made their own mini-storybook, based on an idea that they had each developed, with more or less help. Some participants followed instructions closely and faithfully; others did things more “creatively,” sometimes focusing on one aspect of the production rather than on the project as a whole. One young artist just *loved* using the glue. If you consider that it’s important for a book to have individual pages that can be turned separately, his project was a small disaster: three of the four pages were glued together!

…But as far as gluing goes, this kid’s work was a minor masterpiece!

We were all making art and figuring out what stories we wanted to tell and how. Kids and families from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds were all around the same table – literally and figuratively -- sharing their tools and ideas, and their art. It was a wonderful sight to see, and a beautiful experience to be a part of. Not only were the

kids coming out of their shells, so were the parents. As the workshop went on, the creative juices started to flow more freely and the enthusiasm grew. Some of the kids were talking with their neighbors, excitedly sharing their stories and the different techniques they were using, and adults started complimenting others’ work and sharing ideas.

I didn’t have a chance to talk much with the parents, but just with these workshops, I could see how delicate the balancing act could be, to divide one’s attention between children with and without more or less challenging disabilities, in a way that could be as loving and caring as possible for everyone involved.

At the end of each workshop, it was so nice to see all the happy, smiling faces, with everyone promising that they would be back the next week to continue their project. But we never really knew, from one week to the next, how many people would actually show up and finish their books. It was something like throwing a new party every single week, with that small, nagging fear that no one was going to show up! It really was nice to see so many familiar faces again from week to week, and to be able to genuinely tell people how happy we were to see them again, and how wonderful it was to see the steady development and progress in everyone’s art, and in our social interactions. One small child who wasn’t very verbal absolutely squealed with pleasure when he heard that distinctive stapling sound that meant that his book was done! It was somehow very satisfying to help kids staple together the cover that finished their final books and that brought the workshop-series to a happy end.