ABOVE PHOTO: Mount Airy Art Garage’s mural installation at Emlen. (Photo: MAAG website)
By Amy V. Simmons
More important than a work of art itself is what it will sow. Art can die, a painting can disappear. What counts is the seed.
— Joan Miro
Connections between creativity, literacy and community were thoroughly explored at the Eleanor C. Emlen School during this year’s Mount Airy Art Garage’s Community of Pride (COP) Mural and Literacy Project. The project’s student artists were celebrated during a recent reception and exhibition at Lovett Library.
Several of Emlen’s 4th and 5th grade students participated in this year’s program — now entering its third year — resulting in the installation of a permanent mural on the school’s third floor. A mural from the previous school year’s project is located on the second floor.
The students also worked on individual artwork projects, which were then framed and made available to the public for sale during a recent reception and exhibition at the Lovett Library in which nearly all of the artwork was sold. Proceeds from the sale went directly to the student artists, who were accompanied by friends and family at the reception.
“The students are being taught by real artists,” Emlen teacher Denise Veronick said during the project. “They have a chance to experiment with different mediums and they get to participate in the culminating mural. These are experiences they will carry for the rest of their lives.”
“This was a full curriculum — teaching drawing, painting, collage and silkscreen,” said MAAG co-founder and COP lead teacher Arleen Olshan. “We were there every Friday for a double period. The children were like little sponges – they loved it.”
Recent Emlen graduate Robert Corbett was inspired by the experience and was especially excited about the sale of his collage to one of the project’s guest art instructors, Mikel Elam, manager of the Artist and Craftsmen Supply store in Chestnut Hill, who was impressed with the student’s talent and envisions a future in art for him.
Robert plans to continue exploring his artistic talents as a student at Wissahickon Charter School.
The project was an affirming and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
“It brings tears to all of our eyes to see how far they’ve come, to see how proud they are, to see the medals that they’ve gotten, and to see the community support that we’ve received from bakeries and other businesses for the children.” MAAG president and cofounder Linda Slodki said.
Emlen principal Tammy Thomas, who has led the school for the past five years, has received generous support from the community for the school, especially when it comes to extracurricular programming.
“I couldn’t do any of what I’m able to do without the support of the community and community partners such as MAAG,” she said. “The Mount Airy Arts Garage artists are wonderful. I always like to make sure our students have an opportunity to participate in the arts and to do things that I think every school should have the chance to be involved in — so we’re very lucky. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for our kids.”
Olshan has big plans for the program when it returns to Emlen in the fall.
“We’ll still be working indoors, but it’s [the new mural] going to be mounted outside,” she said. “What we really want to do is to create a community of pride.”
Thomas would love to see the program expand to include the school’s younger students.
“I think everybody has artistic ability, starting in kindergarten all the way up,” she said.
It has been a community focused effort from the very start.
“It does take a village,” Elam said during the project in a statement. “When I look into the faces of these very bright students, all eager to explore art making, I think they deserve every opportunity to grow. We give them knowledge – they learn. We give them techniques – they flourish. Combine that with their dreams and we have pure gold.”
For more information about the Mount Airy Arts Garage and their programs, call (267) 240-3302 or visit: www.myairyartgarage.org.