Tuscan School Residency: I am from…We are from…

Students at Tuscan Elementary worked with media artist Barbara Bickart to create an installation piece titled, “I Am From, We Are From.”
Tuscan School received a grant from the Artists in Education Residency Grant Program (AIE) to engage with a professional Teaching Artist.   Fourth grade students in Ms. Gina Garofalo’s homeroom and Mr. Andrew Dean’s Art Classes worked with Artist Barbara M. Bickartfor twenty-five days of hands-on workshops to create and produce a video-performance installation. This residency motivated students to develop their identity and personal narrative individually as well as what role they play within the greater context of the community.  Students produced a video-performance installation focused through the prompt: I am from… Subsequently they worked collaboratively, developing We are from…further promoting tolerance, acceptance, diversity, and positive social and community change.
Collaboration and sharing of ideas is inspiring for artists of all ages. Great learning and creation in part comes from the work of others. It is always a goal in art education to utilize and explore content that is relevant to who students are and how they see themselves.  Art education is an opportunity for students to engage with and to communicate their identity, their role in the world, who they want to be, and how they can make their world better. Color, line, shape, etc. of course are elements of focus.
However, those formal elements of art are an opportune framework for students to explore socially relevant themes. This project aimed to promote positive identity development, tolerance, acceptance, diversity, and positive social and community change through a hands-on, project-based experience.Working from a community-centered approach, students gained a sense of belonging, commitment, and responsibility to the place in which they live and learn.
This project also provided an opportunity for students to continue developing personally relevant writing skills. Students explored various mediums to express their written words in addition to their classroom writing practice.
Kimani Fowlin, movement artist and choreographer and Christopher White, percussionist were guest artists and they supported the final stages of the creative development of I am from…We are from…
The Artists in Education Residency Grant Program is a co-sponsored project of The New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania.  The program is carried out in partnership with regional partners, including Appel Farm Arts & Music Center and Morris Arts.
This program provides New Jersey schools with long-term artist residencies; 11 schools state-wide received AIE grants this year, including Tuscan School.
This work culminated in a live performance installation showcased December 13th .
Play Video
I make art because I like to open up conversations. I teach because I like to open up conversations about how art making can be used in the service of making the world a more just place. Making interdisciplinary socially engaged art in community with people is what I have been doing for more than 20 years across a broad range of communities -- in schools, in prisons, in countries where I did not speak the dominant language. And always, I am grateful for and humbled by the trust that people put in me to do this kind of collaborative work that asks everyone to lean into a creative process that is messy, sometimes meandering, and always wonderful in both small and really big ways. Charging collaborators with being fearlessly themselves is always the starting place, grounding the work in exploring our own identities and self-expression. We explore the fire in our bellies, what we carry with us, what we care about, where we struggle and where we have privilege, a process of exploration that means being courageous and honest and vulnerable, a process that gives us a chance to bear witness to our commonalities, our differences, our shared humanity…and from all of this a project grows, the collective expression of many voices.

With I am from…We are from…the students of Tuscan Elementary did all of these things. They leaned way in with all of their intelligence, wisdom, honesty and humor. I know I am coming away from this residency with a new kind of inspiration and sense of hopefulness about the leadership I saw in them --- maybe something we could all use more of right now.
Barbara M. Bickart
Teaching Artist

Teach Reflections

“The world too often views the development of children through the lens of adult experience. This project allowed kids to take ownership of their learning, their identity development, what is most important to them.  The true value of this work lies in the opportunity for kids to create and share through the lens of their perception and experience, commanding and drawing attention to profound and relevant social issues.”

Andrew Dean, M.A. Ed. Art Teacher, Tuscan School

“Students need and deserve a time and place throughout the school day to explore not only academic topics, but themselves as a member of the school community and the world. This interdisciplinary experience provided students a safe and exploratory place to learn and dig deep into who they are and how they contribute to the greater community. It was an honor to be able to support the students along in their journey.”

Ms. Gina Garofalo, 4th Grade Language Arts/Social Studies Teacher at Tuscan School

Parent and Community Reflections

I am so grateful that my son had the tremendous opportunity to participate in the “I Am From, We Are From” Video installation project at Tuscan Elementary School. From the initial stages of concept development right through the actual performance, the project gave my child rich avenues to explore his own identity and then make connection to the wider social justice issues that speak to him. The project particularly impressed me because it was entirely student driven. Barbara Bickart has somehow figured out how to get a group of nine and ten years olds to access their own inner creativity and voice and then manifest it visually through group and video performance. My son showed up excited every day to work on this project and had an unprecedented sense of pride and ownership in the work he and his classmates created. I cannot say enough “thank yous” to Barbara Bickart and her team for giving students a chance to believe in their own voices and dig deep into themselves. I hope that every child at Tuscan has the same opportunity.

Laura Booker, LCSW
When I walked into Tuscan last night, I really had no idea what to expect. What I experienced when I walked into the art room was nothing short of amazing- a synthesis of strength, emotion, bravery, compassion, humor, and self confidence- all fostered by the work of Barbara and the teachers, and brought to us by this amazing group of 4th graders. They were so self- confident as they stood in front of a crowded room of kids and adults and told us all, in their own voices, who they were and what they believed in. What an experience for these kids as they head toward adolescence- having someone ask them what they believe in and who they are, and then signaling to them that it is important enough for the whole Tuscan community to hear and see. On the way home, my second graders told me they were “from family” and “from love”, and asked if we could go see “more art like that.” For the sake of all of us at Tuscan, I hope to see programs like this continue.
Regina Hanley

I just wanted to write to thank you all for the incredible experience you provided to the students during the I am from…we are from project. I feel so lucky that Jack got to be part of such a transformative experience. It was a real treat to see him become invested in the project, to take ownership, and to experience such pride. Not only did he fully engage and learn throughout the process but he also developed a sense of community and recognition of larger social issues at the same time. You know it affected him because he interviewed Barbara for the school paper! Anyway, I just want to thank you for providing such a rich opportunity for our students. It was a real treat for us to witness their creativity, joy and wisdom on performance night. I also thought the self-portrait part of the project was fantastic as well. I know you all worked really hard to make this happen, so thank you all very much!

– S J Dodd, MSW, MSEd, Ph.D.

Barbara Bickart’s project, “I Am From/We Are From” was an exciting experience for my son and a moving art exhibition as a final product. In this age of teaching to the test and following national curriculum guidelines, I was heartened and impressed that the Tuscan administration and my son’s fourth grade teachers, Ms. Garofalo and Ms. Makasakit, supported the vision of Ms. Bickart and the art teacher, Mr. Dean, as they guided our children to dig deep and think about who they are and what they stand for. As the parent of four children and someone who is concerned with raising children who are ethically aware and socially conscious, I feel this is exactly the type of work I want my child to be involved with– in addition to memorizing his math facts and learning to write a five-paragraph essay. I watched ten-year-old children address everything from world hunger to self identity, highlighting their own ideas from the mundane (I like candy!) to the profound (understanding what it is to be in a family and in a school community). Moreover, the night of the presentation I was impressed with the overall immersive art experience that Ms. Bickart created. I thought I would show up to see some video art installations coupled with some two-dimensional drawings, but instead I was surrounded visually and aurally with multiple ongoing live action, video and two-dimensional exhibits. Ms. Bickart’s vision, both in eliciting and guiding the art from the children and then presenting it in this powerful format was nothing short of impressive. It is my sincere wish that every child in our district have the opportunity that my child had. I want to emphasize that this program would be nothing without Ms. Bickart— although the curriculum could theoretically be reproduced, it is her artistry and ability to collaborate with students that helped create a product of this caliber. 
Christina Taber-Kewene

The energy in the room was palpable. It was extremely moving to see the exhibit and performance which clearly came from such a personal place. Here, our teachers Mr. Dean and Ms. Garofalo, led by artist Barbara Bickart, had created a space in the day where the children could slow down, be introspective, to be still and thoughtful. It was thrilling to see children who didn’t see themselves previously as artists, find this new medium of spoken word, performance art and video-making so accessible and expressive. It was moving to hear them proudly say in front of their peers and grownups, what mattered most to them. I loved the respect they showed one another as students.

As an architect, my math/science skills coupled the creative side of my brain are invaluable to the work I do every day. I would love to see this program become available to the whole grade every year as a great compliment to the strong curriculum we already have at Tuscan.

Jennifer Sobol Melone

Having been a member of the Maplewood community for over 8 years and as a parent of a Tuscan elementary school student, I was so impressed by the I am from…We are from art show. I was proud to be able to contribute my photo skills to help capture the event, though no image can truly do it justice. The energy, enthusiasm and pride felt in the room was palpable. As I recognized students in the show as well as self portraits that wallpapered the space, it reminded me how lucky we are to be a part of a community that values artistic expression.


— Chad Hunt, Photographer

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