I had a great time presenting The Community Circle Project at the Seekonk Public Library on April 28, thanks to funding from the Seekonk Cultural Council. Also, thank you to The Seekonk Reporter for featuring me and the project on the April cover.
Families and adults were invited to participate in two virtual evening sessions. We took time to reflect on kindness, talked about its meaning to each of us on a personal level and considered ways we could show kindness to ourselves as well as to others.
A few of the circles we made during the art engagement are included here above and below.
Penelope Drown, a visual arts teacher at Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford, Conn., engaged her students in grades three to five to participate in The Community Circle Project. Her students cut out their circles, glued them to watercolor paper and added an orbital pattern inspired by artist Alma Woodsey Thomas. Here are some of their circles, which beautifully focus on positive mindset.
I recently made a mistake. It is not the first and, for sure, not the last. It wasn’t anything huge (a wrong location in an event blog post) and not many people likely saw it.
I woke up to an email from someone letting me know. They did it in the nicest way possible, but my brain did what it always does when mistakes occur—it freaked out.
“OMG! What?! I can’t believe I did that! This is my professional expertise; how could I get this wrong?! Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I hope not too many people saw this and now know that I’m not perfect.”
Raise your hand if these thoughts crop up for you at the smallest error. Don’t be afraid.
Once I corrected the mistake I began to sit with the aftermath—the dreaded hours of analysis, the thoughts and feelings. One overriding question occurred to me: Why do we fear mistakes so much?
Unless we are brain surgeons, mistakes usually are not life or death situations (although we may feel like we are dying knowing others have seen that (gasp!) we are not perfect. In fact, mistakes are necessary and have great meaning in the process of growth.
If we don’t do anything, we don’t have to risk being imperfect. And, the irony is that we are all imperfect; we are a connected community in that way. Mistakes happen when we are in the process of doing things—routine things as well as unfamiliar things. In art, we welcome “mistakes” as “happy accidents” because we realize how powerful it is to try something, get it “wrong” and then problem-solve when the unexpected arrives—be it a stray line or random splatter of paint.
Mistakes make us aware and make us slow down the next time They keep us humble and remind us that there is no perfection anywhere or in any person. If we can remember this and be OK with it, perhaps it will help us be kinder to others when they make mistakes. Kindness begins with self.
What would happen if we all were more gentle with ourselves and forgave our own mistakes when we made them and looked for the lessons in the particular situation? Would that help us to forgive the mistakes of others more easily if we practiced on ourselves?
It’s worth a try, right. However, I don’t think that “I-want-to-die” feeling when I discover my mistakes will go away any time soon because it has been a natural default for so long. I’ll just consider it a growing pain.
I am so excited to share that the Seekonk Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council have awarded me a grant to facilitate The Community Circle Project at the invitation of host Seekonk Public Library in Massachusetts. The free virtual event will be on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. There will be two sessions, one for families and children at 5 p.m., and one for adults at 6:30 p.m.
The program will be held virtually via Zoom and is open to adults and families with children of all ages.
Participants in both sessions will engage in the relaxing project that I created that uses art making and conversation to build a sense of community. Using the simple shape of a circle and basic drawing supplies, we will create art that reflects our thoughts or feelings and shows us how we are connected to each other.
No art experience is necessary. Registration is required. Space is limited. All are welcome. I would love to see you there.
I am so thankful to the Seekonk Public Library for hosting this event and to the Seekonk Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council for providing funding for the program. I want to especially thank Sharon Clarke (librarian, youth services) and Michelle Gario (senior librarian, adult services) for inviting me.
I continue to be so grateful for the opportunity to help create connections all over the country through The Community Circle Project. Friday evening, on February 26, it was my honor do this as the guest artist at “Paint Night: Your Family is a Work of Art.”
The virtual night of family art making was made possible by the generous support of a grant from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools and the Office of Equity Advancement.
There are so many challenges in the world but, luckily, there are so many good people focused on positivity and connection. That long list includes the folks who made the paint night possible and successful: Penelope Drown, a visual arts teacher at Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford, Conn.; Pamela Murphy, visual arts supervisor for the district of West Hartford; and Timothy Kessler, secondary remote learning principal for the West Connecticut Public Schools.
Penelope first learned about The Community Circle Project from Nasco Education (where I facilitated the project during a Maker Monday event at the invitation of the wonderful Kris Bakke, customer engagement manager at Nasco Education). Penelope reached out to me to find out more, and that interaction led to my guest artist presentation during the Family Paint Night series.
It was so inspiring to work with Penelope, Pam and Tim. Their professionalism and passion for supporting families is truly impressive. I was touched to be virtually invited into the homes of nearly 30 families to engage in creativity and work on circles that highlight what family members value most.
Families are, indeed, a work of art. They are portraits of the past, the present and the dreams for the future. Families shape the world generation after generation with the choices made and the values that are passed forward. In that way, we are all a part of a global family.
During my presentation, I shared a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that perfectly expresses this idea (imagine the world if we all lived these words):
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”
In the summer of 2019, I was asked to design an art engagement for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. event that is presented by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee of Greater Attleboro (Mass.). In response, I created The Community Circle Project to remind us all of our common humanity in the spirit of Dr. King and his dream for the world.
The project debuted at the 2020 event. The paintings that I created incorporating the work of the event participants were supposed to be exhibited in person, but the pandemic has put that on hold for now. So, I created this virtual reveal, part of which was shown at the organization’s 2021 virtual event on Jan. 18, 2021.
Fingers crossed that people will get to see the paintings in person sooner than later. In the meantime, this video presents an overview of the start of my contribution to the world. I believe that we can work together to make this the best place for all of us to thrive.
The Community Circle Project has grown and transformed since its debut, with the addition of facilitated conversation around important issues that illuminate the art making.
I facilitate virtual workshops as well as the creation of a large-scale collaborative paintings with corporate teams, community groups or nonprofits. Please contact me, if you are interested in booking an engagement—for fun art making, relationship building and support of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
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Dawn Louis-Jean, an art teacher at Ascend Leadership Academy in Sanford, N.C., teaches students in grades six through 12. At the start of the school year, she used The Community Circle Project as one of the first assignments.
“We are doing all virtual learning, so their whole lives have changed from last year. I wanted to let them talk about how Covid-19 has impacted and, perhaps, permanently changed their lives,” she said.
Students were given a supply list for the project and parents purchased supplies on their own. Fifty students created these amazing circles.
A big thank-you to Dawn and her students for sharing their thoughts through creativity.
Judy Hayes-Casey, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Miamisburg High School in Miamisburg, Ohio, teaches Career Prep, 10th grade, and Viking Prep, 9th grade. She reached out to share beautiful circles created by her students as well as a beautiful story:
“This year when we started in-person instruction we were asked to take the first three days of school to focus on the social emotional aspects of our students and not content. I participated in your Nasco “Maker Monday” presentation this past summer and immediately knew I wanted to start the year with your Community Circle Project.
“All of my classes participated in the project and they each made one circle giving us a grand total of around 110 circles. The prompt I used was simply, ‘What did you learn during The Covid Quarantine of 2020?’ I made a template and copied on card stock.
“I can’t tell you how much my students enjoyed this project. Many of them were so proud of their circles they took pictures to show their families. I also noticed them showing with their friends while pointing to their circles. But the best part of the project was listening to the kids talk about what they went through during quarantine and how their lives changed.
“Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful project with Nasco and allowing teachers across the country to share with their students as well.”
Don’t you just love this artwork and Judy’s imaginative way of photographing these? If you would like to participate or request a facilitation of this project, reach out to me using the contact form.
This summer Kelly Betz, an art educator in the Glenwood Elementary School District of Greenfield, used the Community Circle Project during the district’s Virtual Summer School Program in Wisconsin. In the “Art Studio” she taught Betz engaged 25 students in grades three through six, ages 7 to 11, in creating circles.
She shared two circles here made by sixth grader Piper Schick and fourth grader Maddix Malkovich.
“Due to the nature of virtual learning, connecting can be a struggle—especially in the case of my program, which had students from around the district whom I never met,” said Betz. “As a way to get to know the students, I gave them the prompt to create a circle about themselves our first day.”
Students we asked to create a self-portrait or favorite place in the center of the circle and then symbols about themselves along the outside rings. They could use as many symbols, patterns and designs as desired and whatever materials they wanted.
“What drew me to using the Community Circle Project is that it has so many possibilities for what can be created and how learners can interpreted the idea,” Betz said. “Just the idea of a portrait and symbols gave such an amazing range of results and led to discussions about their symbols and why they picked them. It was beneficial in creating a connection between myself and these students whom I never met face to face.
“I became more than just a face on a screen telling them what to do; I became someone they could ask questions of and talk to about their day as we drew together. It created community and trust during our short time ‘together,’ which is extremely important with creating.”
When students started school this fall since the mid-March break due to the pandemic, Anne Hoffman, a teacher at Wood Oaks Junior High, in Northbrook, Illinois, used The Community Circle Project to help build a sense of connection and unity among her sixth and eighth grade classes and beyond.
“I engaged students in a discussion about all the events that we have been experiencing and/or seeing in the news. It was quite a powerful experience for everyone to see it all as a whole, which at first was quite overwhelming. As we continued our discussion, however, we were able to see that there was indeed a lot of good that we could squeeze out from all of the crises. I was so impressed how each student gave such deep thought to what positive they could take away from what has been going on.”
Right before holiday break, Anne offered students the choice of two prompts that were perfect: “What does this upcoming holiday season mean to you?” “What is your hope/vision for the new year?”
Here are some of the wonderful results from all the prompts.