“Today is our third day working on our canvases,” guest artist Marlana Stoddard Hayes shares with the semi-circle of kids gathered intently around her. “What do you think we’re going to do today?”
“Paint them!” calls out more than one eager voice, a forest of arms in the air like pioneer trees after a wildfire, signaling regrowth.
These students are taking part in a four-week summer enrichment day camp at Nestucca Valley K-8 School, co-hosted by Sitka and offered to help improve student engagement after the challenges of online learning in 2020-2021.
“One thing I love about our summer program is how it creates an opportunity for immersive projects, with the same quality of time as in Sitka’s multi-day workshops for adult learners,” observes Sitka Youth Program Manager Leeauna Perry. This is an increasingly rare experience during the school year. As budgets are cut and as core academics and sports are prioritized, trained art teachers and extended time for artmaking during the academic year are scarce. “Having the ability to dive in deeply and pay focused attention to details – this will not only serve kids in their education, but also throughout their adult lives.”
“Ooh, I love that burnishing on yours,” a first grader shares, admiring the work of his neighbor and borrowing his technique. As they rub away paint with rags in circular motions, botanical inlays from the day before are revealed. “Appreciation and the ability to provide constructive peer critique are skills woven into the program. This experience help kids share feedback beyond the art studio,” Leeauna shares.
“My favorite part is being with the kids and observing Leeauna without having to teach,” reflects Aleks, who is back for a second year serving as a classroom aide as part of the Diverse Educators Pathways program offered through the Northwest Regional Education Service District. “The kids are so engaged. I get to see how Leeauna does things, and it gives me ideas and confidence for when I will be a teacher.”
“The community engagement piece is so important,” Stoddard Hayes affirms. "Bringing art and artists into communities, sharing how art making is a part of my adult life and who I am... Anything you share with kids… they sense your sincerity or its absence. Working with kids helps me re-examine my own reasons for doing what I’m doing.”
Looking ahead to our next 50 years of nonprofit service and beyond, and with the launch and growth of our Youth Program, Sitka is also in a healthy phase of re-examination. As social and environmental conditions change, what is the most important work happening at the intersection of art and ecology today? Who has access to art, nature and education, and who doesn’t? What is culturally and ecologically at risk if art and nature access are limited? How can Sitka best champion and expand access?
As you will read in this newsletter, Sitka has just been awarded a major two-year grant through the Oregon Department of Education to continue our Youth Program and explore opportunities to serve more rural kids and schools. One shared goal is strengthening how the “A” shows up in STEAM programs (science, technology, engineering, art and math) as essential to fostering student creativity and engagement. In September, Sitka will launch an Advisory Group of local and regional art and science education experts to help inform this next impactful chapter of our work.
“Anything that’s analog is a rebuttal to all this digital stuff,” observes Stoddard Hayes, commenting on the ever-presence and prioritization of technology in our lives today and on the importance of humans of all ages having personal mark-making experiences with pencils and brushes. “It’s your nervous system, and you need to learn how to control it.”
“Art is important because some kids don’t know how to express themselves other ways," observes Sydney, who will enter the 7th grade next fall, expanding art’s value into the social-emotional realm. "Through art, they can."
“Art helps people be more creative,” adds Xyla, a soon-to-be 8th grader, as she and Sydney paint side-by-side. “Some people use it as therapy almost.”
“Art is an outlet,” Stoddard Hayes agrees. “I believe that if you don’t do the interior work, it will show up somewhere in your own timeline. If kids have opportunities like this to express themselves when they’re young, it’s lifechanging. Art access changes life trajectories.”
Grateful to the artists and scientists of all ages who are shaping Sitka’s trajectory,