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By Amy Knutson, Programs Associate

At the end of the past three school years, P.S. ARTS’ Teaching Artists and Education & Programs staff have gathered in Grand View Blvd. Elementary’s Art Bungalow to plan out the classroom theme for the following year. Our themes have ranged from Tree of Life – Roots and Branches (2012-2013), Exploring Our Dreams, Expanding Our Universe (2013-2014), and Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers (2014-2015). It’s been such a privilege to watch our Teaching Artists adapt the theme to their respective disciplines and schools over the years!

When we gathered in May 2015, we were finishing our first school year since merging with Inside Out Community Arts and expanding into all 11 elementary schools in Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. I don’t think we realized how appropriate the Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers theme was for that year!

For our 25th anniversary school year, we really wanted students to begin exploring the ideas of identity and courage through art. We began by asking our Teaching Artists to think back to an experience that inspired them to be an artist. (Fun fact: For both Lora Cawelti and I, it was seeing Phantom of the Opera as a child!) Many of our Teaching Artists spoke about how their first experience of creating some kind of art was incredibly formative for them. We also asked them what the ultimate lesson that they wanted students to come away from their classroom with was. While the words varied, the consensus was that our Teaching Artists wanted students to know that  “… their creativity is something that is completely unique to them” and that “I’d want them to be fearless when exploring and experimenting in the arts.” With that in mind, the Teaching Artists began to identify masterworks and craft a theme for the 2015-16 school year.

This year, our classroom theme is: All the Colors I Am Inside!

We’re basing it on our literary masterwork for the year, the poem “Colors” by Shel Silverstein. We love that this poem reminds students that there is so much inside of them that can’t be categorized or labeled.

My skin is kind of sort of brownish
Pinkish yellowish white.
My eyes are greyish blueish green,
But I’m told they look orange in the night.
My hair is reddish blondish brown,
But it’s silver when it’s wet.
And all the colors I am inside
Have not been invented yet.

Our visual arts/dance masterwork for the year is Nick Cave’s Soundsuits. These suits simultaneously mask the person wearing it (thus removing any judgment of gender, class, or race) and create a second skin. These pieces are more than just something to be looked at in a museum; they’re meant to be moved in, interacted with, listened to, and danced in! The first time I saw video of these pieces with a dancer inside, I was blown away.

For our music masterwork, our Music Teaching Artists suggested Cat Stevens’ “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” as a way to encourage our students to embrace who they are with joy and confidence.

Finally, our theater masterwork is the classic musical Wizard of Oz!  What I’m most excited about is how our Theater Teaching Artists are playing off this masterwork by adapting The Wiz and planning to show clips of Wicked in their classes! 

Last week was our second round of Faculty Training with our Teaching Artists, and it was so incredible to hear how they’re planning to incorporate this theme and the masterworks in their curriculum. I can’t wait to visit our classrooms this year to see their lessons in action!



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