CFAM Launches Cornell After School Arts at Fern Creek Elementary

April 12, 2011

fern creek from CFAM
Photo by Nicole Parks

There’s nothing quite like the face of a child rapturously engaged in creating something from their own imagination. According to Pablo Picasso, “All children are artists,” and Fern Creek’s visual arts teacher Mary Beth Perkins couldn’t agree with more. She’s charged with the task of teaching art to all students at Fern Creek Elementary.

Up until a few years ago, Perkins held an after-school art program that was cancelled due to lack of resources. With the help of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM) and Rollins College, the art club was recently resurrected, once again fueling Fern Creek students’ intrinsic passion for the arts.

Last year, Curator of Education Nicole Parks joined the College to focus on K-12 educational programming at CFAM. “We’ve had a strong community outreach program in place for many years at CFAM with programs like CFAMilies,” said Parks, referring to the family art event CFAM presents without cost to participants on the first Sunday of every month. “But we began to notice that the participants seemed to be the same group of regulars. We wanted to reach out further and move our mission off campus.” 

Parks began thinking about creating an in-school extra-curricular art program. After speaking with Americorps VISTA member for the Office of Community Engagement Tocarra Mallard, Parks concluded that the existing strong bond between Rollins and Fern Creek Elementary made it the ideal school for launching the art outreach endeavor. “I met with the visual arts teacher, Mary Beth Perkins, who told me about the after-school art club Fern Creek once had. Resurrecting it seemed like the perfect plan.” 

Cornell After School Arts (CASA) was created and launched in February 2011, meeting from 2:30 p.m. until 4 p.m. every Wednesday. Limited to just 20 students, mostly from fourth and fifth grade, the program selected Fern Creek’s most passionate artists and the ones most likely to stick with the weekly commitment. Funds from the Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation grant supplied the money for materials so that no cost was passed on to the school or the students. 

INicole Parks
Nicole Parks with Fern Creek Students. By Laura J. Cole

“It is so wonderful to have those resources readily available to plug into for this new outreach program,” Parks shared. “It’s really important for donors to see how we are reaching out.” 

Parks worked with her intern, Kellyn Biela (Class of 2010), to move things forward. With Parks’ direction, Biela developed the curriculum for the first artist series including the design of the art project the students would dive into for the first four weeks of the program. “We chose Chakaia Booker as our first featured artist,” Parks explains. “Since we launched during Black History Month, we wanted to feature an African American artist. But also, kids are innately drawn to and curious about Booker’s work because it is so unique and engaging.” 

Earlier this spring, two of Booker’s works were on view at CFAM: a tire sculpture and a related three-dimensional print. The plan was to teach the students about her work, have them create something using similar techniques and tools, and then visit CFAM at the end of the series to see Booker’s work in person. “The kids were really intrigued right from the beginning,” Parks recalled. “They were so focused and deeply concentrated on their projects. They paid attention to detail. It was so great to see.” 

Week by week, Parks, assisted by Biela, led the art club as the students moved forward with their own art projects. During these four-weeks, students learned about color theory, the effects of positive and negative space in printmaking, as well as stamping, a process of printmaking in which a matrix is created and then repeated to make a pattern.  

Using recycled bicycle tires to create their patterns on transparency sheets, they were able to create a 3-D effect within their art prints. After critically thinking about their involvement in the creation of a 3-D print, students wrote a personal statement that reflected their feelings about the process and their completed work of art. 

When they were finished, Parks gathered up the students’ works and put them on display at CFAM. On March 23, the students gathered at CFAM not only to view Booker’s art, but also to see their own work on exhibit as well. All in all, CASA was considered a huge success by all involved, especially the students. 

“I believe this collaboration nurtures creativity; a truth exemplified by the special relationship between Fern Creek's young artists and the wonderful art leaders at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum,” Perkins shared. “All of these incredible youths have taken hold of this unique community and mentoring opportunity to successfully create finer art, greater understanding and dreams for the future.” 

CASA will continue through the school year, most likely with a project series related to Japanese works of art and the current Japanese Sharaku Interpreted exhibition.

By Kristen Manieri

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
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