During my Art Place residency, the initial plan was to have a couple of workshops for teens through the Somerset West Community Health Center as well as the regular session with younger kids. But unlike the group of 6-12 year olds, teens can come and go as they please and it turns out there’s a lot more going than coming.
Due to the unpredictable participation, the staff kindly offered to have me come to the after school program at Laroche for kids ages 6-13. There are participants from my current group in the after school program and you cannot get anything past these kids.
“Are you coming to Laroche??” one of the Monday group demands. “Crystal said you were. She SAID.” Word gets around quick and I confirm that I am. “Is that okay?”
It is, in fact, okay and when I show up I hear “BRENDA” screamed out the door of the field house and one of the kids who recognizes me comes down the path to meet me.
Inside the cozy field house, we get two big tables pulled together and the whole pack sits down. I’m getting the kids to draw out their plan for what kind of creature they’ll make. Drawing brought to life in 3D is a pretty magical process and the idea of planning how something could work is fascinating – to them and to me.
It’s also frustrating for them. Kids often ask “make it for me” because they want what’s in their head to come to life, skill sets or limitations be damned. I usually avoid this in favor of suggesting how something might work and I like seeing them own the triumph when they figure out how their creation can come together. One of the kids who has been in my sessions before immediately explains the best “clay softening” methods to the group. They talk about ideas and solve problems, berate and praise each other, accept and refuse help.
When I work with adults, the hardest part is often getting us back to that place of making without being self conscious, to create something as a way to process or play or tell ourselves a story. I’m reminded through Art Place that this comes so naturally and organically to a seven year old. They attack the clay and demand that it meet their expectations. When it doesn’t, they barely bat an eye before trying a different tactic. As grown-ups, we hem and haw and often chew the flavor right out of something before we do it.
Kids try and fail, refine and try again. They help each other, observe each other, suggest and refute. They tantrum out the odd demon and then they reattempt. They know, instinctively, to prioritize play first and you will figure out what needs to be done. We will all learn together through trial and error just what can be made.
Brenda Dunn has been getting in trouble for crayoning on the walls for as long as she can remember. She eventually went to art school at the University of Guelph and drew on whatever the hell she wanted. She works and plays in Ottawa where she came for grad school and just stuck around ever since. She learned a lot of busy words during her Masters in English Lit, but it turns out she actually prefers the visual to the verbal when it comes to communication. You can see all the things she makes at artinjest.com or rifle through her digital sock drawer on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram all @artinjest. She also doesn't totally get why these things are always written in the third person but concedes that it does just sort of feel right.