Students at John Hay Elementary School frequently make hearts with their hands. They put the knuckles of both hands together in a double-arch position and hang their thumbs below, tips of thumbs together, to outline a hollow heart.
They’ll flash each other a heart as they walk down the hallways, play outside during recess or even when entering or leaving a classroom. They make many hearts all day long.
This heart craze is thanks to Arts Crush, an annual regional program celebrating the arts. Running during October, Arts Crush provides the general public with once-a-year opportunities to get involved in a wide array of art actives, with guidance from many of the largest organizations in the region.
Jennifer Rice wanted to bring Arts Crush to John Hay. She is the mother of students at John Hay Elementary School and a public relations consultant at Rice Public Relations, which represents several arts organization in the Greater Seattle area.
“I approached the administration as a mom: ‘Can I bring one artist or two to the school for one day?’” Rice said.
Principal, Kari Hanson responded, How about lots of artists for the whole month?
“That was not what I was expecting,” Rice said.
Various art forms
Rice contacted many artists from many different art venues — from dance to drawing to music.
At first, she was concerned that since artists would not be compensated, the turnout would be minimal. “But my [e-mail] in-box was full,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Rice filled nearly every school day in October with artists to teach students their art form. Storytellers, opera singers, aerialists, dancers, chalk-drawers and other artists came to the school.
“We couldn’t interrupt the normal learning day,” Rice explained. “The structure I was working in was have artists come in during lunch, gym, drama and music periods.”
The music program at John Hay has been nearly all cut, with just one part-time music teacher who teaches kindergarten through second grade.
“When all is said and done, we will have touched each of the 22 classes at John Hay with at least one arts day,” Rice said. “We even did popcorn events to surprise the kids. Art is all around you in unexpected ways.”
Classical Indian chalk artist Annie Penta, who recently visited to the fourth-grade class, enjoyed how children soaked it up.
“It’s exciting how they start with just a dot and then draw the whole thing,” she said. “The chalk art is totally mathematical, logical and symmetrical.”
The students enjoyed the activities, as well.
“It’s a challenge, and you get to do what you want, with your own style,” said fourth-grader Caroline.
Expanding arts curriculum
Rice wants to expand the program next year.
“We need to compile the data and figure things out, but my hope is to approach other schools — maybe two schools. The plan is certainly not to abandon it,” she said.
Principal Hanson was pleased with how Rice brought Arts Crush to the school, just as the administration was pondering how to revive the school arts program.
“Over the last two years, we’ve began implement an arts instruction program school-wide — something that we had in the past but is not present now,” she said. “Bringing the arts in is something that our PTA really wanted to do, based on the needs from kids and the great things about art.
Hanson thought it was a good way to let kids experience a variety of different arts.
“We brainstormed who can come to the school, what artist groups would be free to pop in and do special things,” Hanson explained. “And, from there, Jennifer found and scheduled a variety of groups — everything from aerialists to opera singers to cultural storytellers.”
Arts Crush is “enhancing and focusing our awareness of art, but also really getting people to get in touch what it was like when they first fell in love with art,” she added.
Hanson said the outcome is two-fold: to raise students’ awareness and appreciation of the arts, and to give them an idea of how it can become a part of their world.
Several students seconded that sentiment.
“My favorite thing to do is art, and I like how you get to do art at school,” said Tess, a fourth-grader. “School is not just the same thing every day.”
More than 12,000 patrons and 120 arts organizations are expected to participate in the nearly 200 events of Arts Crush. Most activities are free and open to the public. Previous arts experience is not required for participation. For more information, visit www.artscrush.org.