Looking Back at this Spring’s Arts in Rural Places

On June 6th, we wrapped up this year’s Arts in Rural Places program here at Franconia. This year, the program was designed to combine STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with arts learning in order to help students strengthen their associations between art-making and the world around them. The incorporation of STEM really resonated with teachers, and made it easier to incorporate arts learning into their curriculums. One teacher remarked that, “the STEM offering fit our curriculum perfectly. It was one of the best experiences we have had on a field trip that has addressed standards.”

Franconia’s Rural Arts Program targets students from schools and other youth-serving organizations from towns with populations under 20,000 in Chisago, Pine, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Anoka and Washington counties and invites them to Franconia to participate in tours and workshops. After participating in the Rural Arts Program, one group leader noted that, even though their school is in a northern suburb, “many students live in the rural area, and lead a rural life, or never get into the city where more access to arts experiences are available.” Comments like this show how important it is to invite rural student-groups to Franconia, as many of these students will not get to engage with the arts otherwise. Furthermore, many groups who participated in Rural Arts this spring indicated that, most of the time, they cannot afford transportation or admission to off-site learning programs. Because of this, Franconia’s Arts in Rural Places program is essential, as our funding ensures that there is no charge for groups enrolled in the program and reimbursement for transportation is available. In surveying participants, we also found out that 36% of the groups participating in these workshop come from schools that don’t have a designated art teacher and, even though most of these students do experience some kind of art at school, many group leaders remarked that students had not had any kind of interactive art experience out in the world before. One group leader recalled that, “It was the majority of our students’ first arts experience outside of the classroom. I can’t think of a better place to introduce future audiences/artists to visual art!”

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There were four different workshops offered this year, each targeting a different age-group: Boats Afloat (Kindergarten – 3rd grade), Art Spins Out (4th – 5th grade), Solar Fountains (6th – 8th grade) and Grid to Glory (9th – 12th grade). Each of these programs combined an hour-long tour with a sculpture-making workshop. Each workshop posed different problems and questions related to STEM learning, and combined them with the Artists’ State of Mind, which informs us that artists are risk-taking, problem-solving, use materials as media and exercise flexible purposing, meaning, they are able to adjust their methods to attain their goals.


Boats Afloat

In the Boats Afloat workshop, students first took a tour of the park to learn about the Elements of Art (color/hue, line, shape/form, texture and space) and saw how different sculptures in the park incorporated these elements in different ways. After the tour, kids took what they had learned about the elements of art in sculpture and combined that knowledge with the Engineering Design Process (define the problem, conduct background research, specify requirements, brainstorm solutions, choose the best solution, do development work, build a prototype and then test, redesign and retest) to create functional boats. After the students were given a demonstration and had constructed their boats, they placed them in swimming pools to see if they would float and hold weight. After testing their boats in the water, students made adjustments, working and reworking their sculptures with the goals of floatation and weight-bearing in mind. During the Boats Afloat workshop, group leaders remarked that the Kindergarten – 3rd Graders in attendance learned, among other things, that art is a process, art needs practice and that sculptures are art and can be big or small.


Art Spins Out

The tour portion of the Art Spins Out workshop took students all over the park but had a special focus of kinetic sculptures, like Vince Donarski’s Drawing Machine #6, on display at Franconia. After seeing sculptures, which incorporated movement, on their tours, the students set out to construct their very own drawing robots. These sculptures combined the Engineering Design Process, the Technology Process (whose components are exploring and defining tasks, generating and developing ideas, producing solutions, planning, managing and evaluating) and the science of circuits with art to create these little critters which, when completed, spun all around and drew on large pieces of paper placed over the students’ work tables One group leader noted that the students learned about team-work while building their robots and another leader remarked on how excited the students were to bring their robots home and share the experience with their families.


Solar Fountains

On their tours, the students participating in the Solar Fountains workshop saw, among other sculptures, works like Jose Emilio Rodriguez’s Surya Ratha and Asia Ward’s Solar Tree, both of which incorporate solar power. As with all of the Rural Arts Program’s tours, there was a major focus on the Elements of Art, and this seemed to be especially important to the groups participating in the Solar Fountains program, with one teacher saying, “I especially appreciated the repetition of the elements of art that was considered at every sculpture.” After their tours, the students went on a “Solar Scavenger Hunt” with solar panels hooked up to the tubes for their fountains in order to figure out what the best angles and types of light are for powering a solar fountain. Finally, students constructed their very own fountains out of waterproof clay. Teachers noted that, during sculpture-designing process, Franconia staff encouraged the students to tap into their creativity and construct their own unique fountains. This workshop combined the Engineering Design Process and the science of solar energy with art to create fountains that were not only sculptural but functional as well.


Grid to Glory

During their tours, the high-schoolers in the Grid to Glory workshop saw Peyton’s sculptures Daskarone and Black Book, which incorporate graffiti into their composition. After the tour, the students actually got to work in collaboration with Peyton to learn about using geometry and grids to design graffiti letters, emphasizing the connection between math and art. Students then used spray paint to cover wooden panels with the designs they created. These panels were combined to make large-scale sculptures, which showcased the individual creativity of each of the students involved. Group leaders noted that the students really enjoyed working large, as “large-scale projects are fun – something we don’t get to do very often because of space.” The older students also really enjoyed coming to Franconia and participating in a graffiti-based workshop, because it showed them that “art can be fun” and “not all art galleries are stuffy and/or pretentious.”


This activity is made possible, in part, by the voters of Minnesota through the Arts Learning grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.




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