Elementary Students Learn Environmental Stewardship From Contemporary Artists

PHOTO: Leandra Moreno-Prince - NewsPlus & Jamie Crooke Powell - Drawing Together

The original story cloth made by Michelle Glass’s community on left and drawings of students symbols of their own story cloth on right.

Green, Yellow, Orange, Red, Purple, and Maroon. These six colors represent the air quality index and depict the level of air pollution in the U.S., with Green = Good and Maroon = Hazardous. These same colors are beautifully laid out on a story cloth in the middle of the Phelan Elementary School’s multipurpose room. Among the colored tapestries are drawings and symbols of plants, people, food, and animals.

Students at Phelan Elementary learn about a story cloth that contemporary artist, Michelle Glass has made with her community.

California native and Chicana artist, Michelle Glass, presents to 5th graders at Phelan Elementary that this particular story cloth was created during the pandemic by BIPOC members of her community as an art mural near the Kern River. A story cloth is one way communities record their history and culture by including symbols to tell the story of a particular point in time. Therefore, the story cloth isn’t just art, but it represents the social and environmental justice issues of air quality & water pollution that are happening right now in Kern County. Her community art project, entitled “We Are Here/Estamos Aqui,” took two years to complete, and the story cloths spanned 2500 feet, about the equivalent of 3 football fields. On this day, students at Phelan Elementary will get the chance to create their own story cloth in an art workbook entitled Visitors: An Art & Environmental Stewardship Project provided by local Wrightwood non-profit, Drawing Together.

Michelle Glass learns from the students drawings about what they love and what they want to protect.

The Drawing Together organization has provided a unique opportunity to bring contemporary artists, like Michelle Glass, to help expose diversity and arts education in local elementary schools within the Tri-Community. This project was made possible by a grant awarded to Drawing Together from the California Arts Council and focuses on the interconnectedness of humans and nature. A total of four artists were invited to lead art lessons at both Phelan and Wrightwood Elementary in April, where each artist’s work was inspired by nature.

Michelle Glass is not only a contemporary artist but an activist, and her work is focused on bringing communities together through art. During her art assembly at Phelan Elementary, she accomplishes just that by asking students to draw something they love that THEY want to protect. As students draw pictures of their school, friends, family, and even planet Earth, Michelle notices the same connection between the elders in her community and the elementary school students. “I love that they’re sharing and collaborating together. They’re finding things they didn’t know about each other.” Just as Michelle’s elders worked together to create and stitch together the 2500 ft story cloth, the students do the same by sharing what matters to them with drawings and symbols. Most school projects are focused on having an end goal or a letter grade, but Michelle says art is different in that it’s about the process, not the end product. “Creativity doesn’t happen naturally, so when we experience the joy of making art together, the special part of it is making and creating it,” says Glass.

Students draw in their art workbooks provided by local Wrightwood non-profit, Drawing Together.

The Drawing Together organization will continue to bring arts education into the Tri-Community and advocate for the importance of community-based art projects like this. In fact, Drawing Together is offering a Summer Arts and Nature Camp this June for kids ages 5-12 at Wrightwood Elementary School to continue teaching kids about art and environmentalism. The cost is $50 per student, and registration info can be found on their website at www.drawingtogether.city/summer-art-and-nature-camp/

Also, visit the Drawing Together art installation at this year’s Wrightwood Arts & Wine Festival on May 20th. Their booth will showcase artwork from the four contemporary artists participating in the school assemblies.

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