Artist In Residence Programs for International Schools
Please take a look at the video Carol Morgan School put together regarding my Artist in Residence program there, originally posted at ow.ly/MS0Wv.
In April of 2015 I was at Carol Morgan School in Santo Domingo, DR for two weeks, doing StoryFaces performances and workshops on visual storytelling with grades K – 12. The length of the residency allowed me to offer a wide range of options for the content of the programs, and, guided by input from the faculty, I designed separate programs for the Elementary, Middle and High School students – scroll down for descriptions of each program.
—- Elementary School —–
Assembly Programs and “My Amazing StoryFace” Workshop
I asked to begin the Elementary residency with StoryFaces assembly programs for all the students. Seeing a live performance in a large audience generates excitement in the school for the full residency, and I tailor my story selection to set up what I will be doing with each grade in subsequent workshops.
With the Elementary grades my focus was on exploring why we tell stories, how stories fill our lives, and how we can share our own story. In the performances I told mostly Fables and Animal Tales, and in the follow-up workshops with the youngest kids (K-1st) I showed them how to use their hands and faces (without any facepainting) to turn themselves into some of the animals from the tales. For grades 2-5 we did the “My Amazing StoryFace” workshop, which gets students to create a visual story about themselves through words and pictures, based on one of my original stories (see The Amazing Face Video) — including the instruction that each student was to take their visual story home to “show and tell” it to a family member, since one of the tenets of my arts-in-education programs is that stories need to be shared to keep them alive.
—- Middle School —-
Assembly Programs and Teacher Workshop
The Middle School grades each had a separate full length assembly program. These StoryFaces performances included a couple of the same stories the younger grades might have heard along with additional, different stories for each grade, featuring Hero Tales for the Middle School audiences. During a school visit I will tell many different tales in performances, as I like to get the students talking to each other, and to their siblings, about what stories they each saw, and sharing one they’ve heard. My performances have a “kinetic art” effect that extends beyond the assembly, as the volunteers I have painted in a show walk through the school throughout the day and other students see them and wonder what story they are. With the Middle School faculty (and also the Elementary faculty) I had the opportunity to do a fun workshop about my visual approach to performing stories, including some physical theatre performance techniques we all did together and the background for how I developed telling tales with facepainting.
—- High School —-
“Spirit Healing Mask” Design and Facepainting Workshops
For the 9th and 12th grades I did a very different program, doing two workshops with each class. The first workshop was a special presentation on the cultural use and significance of masks (based on the material in my book and my “Before Cave Walls…” program), which led into the students designing a “Spirit Healing Mask” — this is a design task I’ve developed to get students to work on communicating information visually, through signs and symbols, based on a traditional approach to mask design, and in reference to the role of masks in some cultures to represent ancestors and other powerful spirits that protect the people. In the second workshop, the students painted their mask designs onto each other’s faces.
“Spirit Healing Mask” Design Workshop: To start, I ask each student to identify some social concern they would like to help solve — it can be anything, from the obvious ones such as “ending war” to smaller scale concerns, such as “helping stray dogs”. Next they determine what “powers” a “healing spirit” would need to achieve this task, and I present this via the idiom of modern superheroes —i.e., would your Healing Spirit need to be able to fly in order to end war all around the world? The students then choose a color or graphic symbol to represent each of the powers or “attributes” their character has, and they design the mask using those symbols — this step moves the design beyond an illustrative approach towards symbolism and abstraction, as the mask will communicate information purely through colors and graphics, giving students an experiential understanding of the thinking process that underlies visual arts, including modern art, and also allows any student to make a successful design regardless of their drawing skills.
The completed designs can be the basis for making a physical mask, which some schools have the students do with their art teachers after my visit. The process can also include a writing assignment — the 9th grade students wrote essays to accompany their designs, in which they were to describe the social concern, find media links to examples of this problem, and develop a storyline for how their Healing Spirit will solve the problem.
Facepainting Workshop: Masks are meant to be worn, it completes the transformation the mask is created to achieve. In the 2nd workshop, I demonstrated how to use makeup to paint a face, and then the students worked in pairs as each student painted their Spirit Healing Mask design onto their partner’s face, and then was painted by their partner in return.
Everyone had a lot of fun in these sessions, and it was exciting to see full classes transformed in these strange and powerful designs. In a facepainting workshop the interaction between the students is as important as the results — the goal is not to create great faces, it is to explore this collaborative process and their own creativity, and to experience the transformation of self-identity that comes with wearing the mask. I encourage the students to wear the painted face through the school day, so their peers can see it, and to know the “story” of the Healing Spirit they have become. The whole process was documented in photographs, including posed images of the finished faces which the school planned to display after my visit. A great advantage of using symbol-based designs is that there is no concrete expectation for what each face should look like, since these are invented symbolic beings, so success doesn’t depend on a student’s painting skills.
—- My Goal for Residencies —-
Plus: Bringing Some Magic into a School
StoryFaces offers a uniquely flexible platform for arts-in-education programs, incorporating Language Arts, Social Studies, and Visual Arts in an entertaining format that captures students’ attention and therefor allows me to generate real educational content, at any grade level. I want to inspire students in my performances, to get them thinking about a wider range of possibilities to communicate who they are, to see the connection between their lives today and the full human experience expressed in our stories and our art. To help them find a way to share their own story.
An important part of my role in a school is also to share my personal story, to let students see what it means to be a professional artist — how it can be a valid career path to follow your own dream and make your own way — and to talk with students about the kind of work I do before the performance they see — what a working artist’s process is like. I talk often about my love of books and how much my career has depended on the reading I do, how it has led me on this adventurous exploration of world cultures.
I also like to bring a little magic into a school in a very old-fashioned way. Part of the role of masks and transformational makeup in traditional cultures was to show the people that forms can change, that to understand the true nature of something you must look beyond form — that we may all be more than we appear to be. I think this is a valuable, positive insight to share with kids, and that they experience this in some small way when they see a classmate visually transformed into a tiger or an ancient hero, and as they see students with painted faces incongruously walking through the school hallways.
See the new video: What Is A StoryFace?
Learn about all we do at: agostinoarts.com