Saturday, January 2, 2016

Studio as Sanctuary

"We go to sanctuaries to remember the things we hold dear, the things we cherish and love. And then - our greatest challenge - we return home seeking to enact this wisdom as best we can in our daily lives."
- William Cronon

Art at the Center began as a community studio inspired by the model of ateliers in the schools of the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  In these schools, the atelier or studio is not so much an art classroom as it is a place to explore materials as languages.  The focus is on using the tools and materials of art making to represent and share experience.  These spaces deepen learning by offering children and adults opportunities to explore and share discoveries together.

The idea for Art at the Center was to offer a similar kind of space to children and families in the community.    The mix of ages and experiences enriched our gatherings and allowed children and parents from different school and neighborhood communities to connect around making and sharing materials in the studio.  We often saw families new to the area find connections to other communities through their time in the studio.  In this way, the Art at the Center studio served as a bridge and point of connection.  Another goal of the work was to begin a practice that would carry on at home and in communities.  I felt successful if children left classes ready to carry on a practice of making at home.
The best feedback from parents was when people shared how the studio provided a space to just be with their kids, to give up some of the responsibility of parenting for a bit and just enjoy time together.

For me, the studio offered a sanctuary or place apart for gathering and sharing.  The opportunities for peer relationships, shared routines and regular gathering time helped to hold this space for community to grow.

The quote at the top of this post comes from William Cronon, an environmental historian.  It was sent to me as a link to a post from Shenandoah National Park.  For me, making and spaces for making offer a similar sense of calm and quiet like what I find being in nature.

In my own practice, I increasingly find that it is less about the details of the physical location and that once I have a practice of making and sharing, the spirit of the studio travels easily with me. This past summer, I made collages aboard a small sleeping compartment on a two day train ride from Chicago to Seattle. I painted watercolors in the very back seat of a school bus traveling 6 hours into Denali National Park on a rainy hazy day.  The practice of making in both settings allowed me to create a quiet space for myself to really enjoy the beauty and natural space around me.  My creations provide traces to help me better treasure these times and to remind me to look for nature and beauty nearby now that I am home.

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