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Inspiring the Hands of the Future

Diane Daily, Program Manager

STARS Residencies Offer Space for Students to Explore and Create

grade school student wearing safety google and a mask cuts wood using a coping saw
Student at JFK Elementary School in Jamaica Plain works on making a bench as part of an arts residency program. Photo: Craig Bailey.

The following describes an arts residency held in Spring 2022. It represents just one of the 244 STARS Residencies supported by Mass Cultural Council in FY22:

Each week for eight weeks, the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts is bringing wood, tools, and teaching artists to classrooms of K-2 students at the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Boston’s Jamaica Plain. It’s the JFK and Eliot Schools’ STARS residency, funded by Mass Cultural Council. STARS Residencies funds residencies at K-12 schools with cultural partners in the arts, sciences, and humanities. This residency with the Eliot School is designed to tie into the students’ construction curriculum so they can, as the grant application puts it, “learn and practice the process of construction including designing, planning, taking creative risks, making mistakes, and trying again to complete a project”.

The Eliot School promotes student agency in its work with young people, so during each step of the residency students make choices – which design elements they want for their own stool, how many nails, what colors they paint it. This week they are taking the pieces they previously measured and cut and will fit them together with nails and glue. But first, they gather on the rug to hear from wood artist Alison Croney Moses, recipient of the 2022 United States Artist Fellowship  and Associate Director of the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts. She is also the mom of one of their classmates. Alison tells the students how she became an artist working in wood and shows photos of some of her in-process and finished sculptures.

sculpture made of a thin wood shaving in the shape of a shell
White Shell, 2005, by Alison Croney Moses. Photo: Mark Johnston.

She lets the students pass around one of her pieces to feel its texture, its weight, and to see it up close. This “show and tell” has an important goal: to help the students, as the grant application puts it, “to see their identities reflected in the projects and the practicing artists…, ultimately seeing a creative path for themselves as a possibility”.  The Eliot School is planting early seeds.

The students now turn their attention to their own projects. They’re excited – today the pieces of wood become a stool. The Eliot School’s teaching artist and two college interns help as the students carefully put glue on the edges of the wood and then nail the pieces together. They learned how to use a hammer in an earlier class and are impressively good. No one hits their thumb.

The students are focused and remarkably patient. One reason is that the residency is a partnership with the classroom teachers. The teachers and the students review social and emotional strategies to help students pace through a project, stay on task, take a break when frustrated, rework mistakes, and process disappointment when they need to stop for the day or when something doesn’t turn out the way they want. In fact, patience pervades the classroom.

The class is almost over, and each student has in front of them the new stool they built themselves. They proudly carry them to a corner of the room to be kept for next session’s lesson: making the stools their own through paint and color.

Mass Cultural Council invested more than $1.2M in 244 STARS Residencies in the 2021-2022 school year. Applications for the 2022-2023 school year will open in September. For program updates, sign up for our Power of Culture e-newsletter.

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