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Re: [teacherartexchange] Art at the Astrodome


From: lia johnson (johnsolia_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Wed Sep 07 2005 - 11:18:30 PDT

Oh YES! I salute you and am happy that the planet is blessed with
mostly good folks. What a great way to start your career and your
student teaching. Great read....really touching! Have a great year
Rachelle! lia

On 9/7/05, Rachelle Omenson <> wrote:
> > I am an art teacher in Philadelphia and recently made a trip to the
> > Astrodome to set up an impromptu art area for the evacuated
> > children. I wrote an essay and have photos and video of the
> > activities.
> >
> > Art at the Astrodome
> > By Rachelle A. Omenson
> > September 6, 2005
> >
> > 10,000 people, one stadium, and nothing to do. I have a hard time
> > waiting between commercials for a television show to come back on.
> > It seemed unimaginable that these patient people might have to wait
> > months, god forbid years, to regain some structure in their lives.
> > Of course, after wading in contaminated water or clinging
> > helplessly to your roof shingles, boredom and rest are welcome
> > respites.
> >
> > However, children bounce back quicker than some adults. Or at least
> > they may not realize the depth of the disaster that they have just
> > survived until they are much older and those shadowed images creep
> > back into consciousness. It was the children who ran giggling and
> > racing up and down the aisles of cots at the Reliant Astrodome in
> > Houston, yelling back to their mothers and fathers, "I'm right
> > here!" Their energy seemed boundless even in the face of tragedy.
> > If there were no images to go with these jubilant yells, it might
> > be another birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese or McDonald's
> > Playland. At those venues, however, the kids are whisked back into
> > the minivans stuffed with too much pizza and sugar. Here amid
> > relief workers, chronically ill elders, hundreds of police, and
> > exhausted parents, the children only have their nylon cots to go
> > back to.
> > And that gets boring.
> >
> > I wondered on the Friday night after Katrina hit New Orleans, what
> > people could possibly do to help those in need since donations were
> > no longer needed. Literally, tons of food, water, and clothing had
> > been donated and were being sorted through on the loading dock
> > behind the Reliant Center in Houston, Texas. Hundreds of volunteers
> > were continually needed around the clock but I didn't know
> > specifically what I could possibly do.
> >
> > 6am Saturday morning, I decided not to wonder anymore. There was no
> > plan to this plan because if the fuzzy logic of it didn't work, I
> > was out hundreds of dollars and a whole lot of wasted Labor Day
> > weekend.
> >
> > Let me back up for a second. For two years, I have been enrolled as
> > a graduate student in an Art Education program in Philadelphia. For
> > two years, I have heard the mantra of world-based art, art
> > criticism, art history, and the ever-popular art production. Art
> > therapy is an entirely different field; one that requires extensive
> > psychology-based training. I apologize now to the true
> > practitioners in that field because I temporarily faked being one
> > of you. But I swear it was worth it.
> >
> > I took the first flight to Houston on Saturday afternoon and rented
> > a car. The rental car agent gave me directions to the Astrodome and
> > I flew down the Texas highways toward the stadium. After being
> > hustled around to the correct door of the Reliant Center, where the
> > volunteers apply (apparently the west door), I hurried up the
> > escalator toting a carry-on size piece of luggage containing dollar-
> > store versions of sketchpads, crayons, markers, and stickers. The
> > volunteers giving out the volunteer wristbands slapped a peach
> > colored plastic band on my wrist and sent me off. I was supposed to
> > sit through a short orientation lecture but I was only going to be
> > there for 2 days and I didn't want to waste time before being
> > allowed into the Astrodome. I crossed the street and confidently
> > told the guard at the gate that I was the volunteer art therapist.
> > Clearly this sounded logical because she yelled over to the other
> > gatekeeper, "Open that gate over there, the art therapist is here."
> > Okay, that actually worked.
> >
> > I walked through and just looked down. It didn't even look like
> > people, just a slightly moving carpet of rectangles. I was slightly
> > concerned that I would be caught as some art fraud so I quickly
> > moved away from the guards but realized that everyone involved in
> > this drama was happy to have anything positive happening at all.
> > And how can art not be positive.
> >
> > I wandered through the darker concourses where typically during an
> > event at the Astrodome people would be buying popcorn, hotdogs, and
> > beverages. But now, cots lined the walls, crowded by precious
> > possessions and newly acquired relief items like clothes and shoes.
> > It was darker up here in the concourse, not like the eternal
> > daytime of the floor of the stadium. Even at 11pm, when the lights
> > dim, it's not really dark.
> >
> > "Hello, I'm the wandering art teacher. Does anyone want to draw?" I
> > said to the first awake group of kids I saw lounging on the cots up
> > there. Surprisingly, they ran over to a nearby table laden with
> > packaged snack food, and slid them aside as I removed boxes of
> > crayons and markers from my vest and sketch pads and construction
> > paper from the wheeled luggage. They never asked why I was there.
> > They never said they were too tired to draw anything. They never
> > looked suspiciously at me for one minute. They only asked if I also
> > had any clay. In a fluorescently lit, dirty concourse in section
> > 432, we set up art class. They called me teacher and raised their
> > hands when I asked them questions. They signed all of their artwork
> > and volunteered endless information about their experiences in New
> > Orleans. I asked them to draw whatever they wanted and not
> > surprisingly most of them drew houses, specifically houses
> > surrounded by water. A fifteen-year-old girl, Sjor'Monique
> > Windbush, drew a sign of sorts. In different colored bubble
> > letters, it says From our New Orleans home to the Astrodome…Because
> > of Hurricane Katrina. And it has the official hurricane symbol
> > underneath. The back is signed with her name, age, and refugee of
> > New Orleans, La. A few of the others drew before and after images
> > of their homes. The after images not only contained swirling water
> > marks but also mean-looking sharks and snakes and suns with sad
> > faces. Apparently, there was a rampant rumor that the aquarium in
> > New Orleans was going to burst and man-eating animals were suddenly
> > going to be freed and swimming into their homes and streets.
> >
> > When it became too late that first evening and I didn't want to
> > bother sleeping residents, I went back to the hotel across the
> > street and sat momentarily shocked at what I felt. In three more
> > days, I was scheduled to begin student teaching at an elementary
> > school in Pennsylvania. How on earth am I in Texas?
> >
> > The next morning, I stopped at Target to get the requested clay and
> > with my wristband wandered straight through those gates and down
> > onto the stadium floor. This time I carried with me a neon pink
> > piece of poster board and wrote "The Art Room" on it, duct-taped it
> > to the suitcase handle, and spread the supplies onto a large open
> > space on the floor. Virtually seconds later, some children were
> > standing there with gigantic eyes wanting to touch everything. But
> > they didn't. They asked first. Just like in school. And again, they
> > called me teacher. They drew houses again, But they drew spiderman
> > too. And the real little kids drew swirly stuff that could've been
> > water, but it could have been their mom. It didn't really matter.
> > They molded clay into crosses, into balls, and into snake shapes.
> > And they did one thing that is rare even in the most well stocked
> > art room. They cleaned up. It was like they needed structure in a
> > sea of chaos. A 15 year old boy, Alferd, took 3 more cots and
> > arranged them in a u-shape in front of the piece of luggage with
> > the sign and created a squared off area for creating art. Another
> > 10 year old girl, grabbed a broom and started sweeping when the
> > crayons got out of control within the square. I picked up my video
> > camera and recorded a 9-year old girl saying, "I'm Sh'anta, I'm in
> > art class and I like it."
> >
> > For the rest of Sunday afternoon, we all stayed in and around the
> > square in the center of the Astrodome. A choir showed up to stand
> > in the bleachers and sing for two hours. In our square, there were
> > colors, there was music, there were imaginary houses, and there was
> > a teacher here. So it was ok. For Sunday afternoon.
> >
> > Rachelle Omenson
> >
> >
> > ~~it's turtles all the way down~~
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> ---
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