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Recent upstArt Projects

When Covid closed and then restricted schools, upstArt had eight multi-week residencies in progress at Title I LPS schools, in addition to five projects outside of our LPS partnership. Here are some descriptions and highlights from those and other residencies:

Tom Meyers undertook a year-long project at Campbell Elementary with 4th graders to create a mural piece to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary. The theme was Joy, and the mural represented the word in all of the more than 20 languages spoken at the school. The content of the mural was inspired by 4th grader’s memories and conceptions of joy. The students created pieces that they gave to Tom, who incorporated the themes in to the mural design.

A musical component was to have had the students writing a school song based on the melody from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Students were introduce to Beethoven and the concept of emotion in music through a school visit and performance by Clark Potter and three other UNL professors.

This residency was unique in its scope and in the fact that it combined two artistic disciplines: art and music. In addition to the 4th graders experiencing creating art that inspired the mural, the whole school was engaged with the project, which was a new experience. An unanticipated aspect of this residency was the way students interact with Tom as he paints in the hallway. They all know him by name, and every kid who wants to has been given the chance to add to the mural. It’s a memory they won’t forget, and the piece is something they return to see long after they graduate.

At the outset of the residency 4thth graders discussed the human experience of joy, its antecedents and expressions. During the early brainstorming work students contributed ideas and images to be considered for the eventual composition of the mural. Tom then translated their ideas into the mural, figuratively and in some cases literally. As the actual painting began to take shape Tom constantly allowed students to add little bits to the mural.

Tom recalled several memories as he worked on the mural. Here are a few of his favorites:

- Three girls got to know Tom walking through the hallway each day. He let them all help a bit on the mural. One day the three girls came out of class with their violins and played Ode to Joy for him, which they had learned in secret. A crowd gathered as they played. The next day Tom brought his ukulele in and played ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ for them and several other kids who gathered in the hallway.

-- A boy with selective mutism would sit in the hallway near where Tom works, to eat lunch and do other works. Tom asked him if he’d lie to paint, and he nodded that he would. Noticing his talent, Tom let him draw a larger area. Tom showed him some techniques. The boy, though he never spoke, came back one more than one occasion to paint some more.

- Tom got to know a non-verbal wheelchair-bound student well and painted her in to the mural. He showed the girl’s father who was emotional and grateful.

-  Rahaf, a Kurdish refugee, chose Tom as the person she admired the most and wrote an essay about it. She posed for a photo with him and the essay and photo are on the wall outside the main office.

You can watch a video of the project.

At West Lincoln Elementary the 5th graders worked with artist Kiernan Lofland on a recycled materials installation. Using clear plastic water bottles and other materials the students are building a light fixture to brighten and colorize a corridor.

Working closely with LPS, upstArt tried to increasingly integrate the arts and the core curriculum. This process is becoming increasingly mature at a Calvert Elementary residency. The teaching artist is not an artist but an entomologist from UNL. He is working closely with art teacher Amy Allerheiligen to explore the scientific method with the students generally, and the properties of acids and bases specifically. Fifth graders are studying how different chemical solutions and reactions colorize paper, and how patterns reveal information about the liquids and the paper.

Elliott Elementary is also took a cross-curricular approach. Under the theme of ‘Overcoming Adversity’ the art, music and poetry teachers collaborated to work with their second graders. The poems they write about their own experiences overcoming adversity were set to music, and their poems will be illustrated in art class. Students also studied the biographies of historical figures who have overcome adversity, including Beethoven, whose 250th anniversary was in 2020. This residency was interrupted by Covid.

At McPhee Elementary art met reading. Author Tevin Hansen read a few of his children’s books to students in the language arts room, then worked with them in art to explore the ways art can tell a story. Students then wrote, illustrated and decorated their own books.

At Saratoga and Holmes Elementary Schools Doane University Ceramics professor Eric Stearns created a unique opportunity for fourth graders to create pieces that were forged in the University’s news 3D ceramics printer. Students were taught new ceramic techniques that utilize the printer, which was purchased with the assistance of the Lincoln Arts Council. At Saratoga students used leaf and plant forms for their designs, and at Holmes they created self-portraits that were incorporated in to their ceramic pieces. This residency was interrupted by Covid.

Partnering with the YMCA, the Arts Council offered two after-school music clubs at Pershing Elementary and Mickle Middle School. Percussionist Bob Snider worked with students in a drum circle. Apart from teaching the fundamentals of rhythm and pattern, the classes emphasized collaboration and sharing skills.

In addition to the above school residencies we also have done several community service organization partnerships. In partnership with South Downtown we offered free bilingual cultural art classes at their facility. We also joined up with Mourning Hope to offer a music activity for children who have experienced the loss of a parent or loved one. At a haircut and coat drive organized by VisionarYouth this past December, we provided several art activities for families. We also worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Lincoln, as well as the Crossroads Music Festival and the Asian Community and Cultural Center.

Other notable projects from the past few years include Click, Clack Moo, in which students at five elementary LPS schools were fortunate to experience a Theatreworks USA Professional Equity Tour production of the beloved children’s classic. Read more here.

The Lincoln Arts Council and BLIXT, a Lincoln-based organization committed to improving the lives of children and families through the arts, jpined forces to address the needs of Lincoln children through a powerful one-woman show written and performed by award-winning playwright Becky Boesen titled, Snowcatcher.

Co-commissioned by Lincoln Arts Council and Midwest Theater in Scottsbluff and created in partnership with Mourning Hope Grief Services and Homestead National Monument, Snowcatcher centered on Hattie, a six-year-old caught in a ferocious blizzard. Snowcatcher aimed to give a voice to the forgotten young people who navigated the blizzard of 1888, better known as the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard. The storm, which appeared unexpectedly and suddenly, stranded and killed many, including children in one room school houses across the Great Plains. According to Boesen, the play was also designed to give a voice to children living in present day who are navigating challenges like poverty, isolation, and grief.

"Never undervalue the impact that even a casual or short-term connection can make in a young persons life." - Linda Robison, Prescott Elementary School

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