An introduction to Sarah Cornette’s Fulbright Inquiry Project
The OCAC has long been a fan of Sarah Cornette, the art teacher at Mary Scroggs Elementary School, and her choice-based classroom philosophy (read about Sarah in this Vitamin O story). Sarah continues to wow us; in 2018, she was the recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching. In January Sarah embarked on her fellowship in Athens, Greece, where she will examine how art is being used to integrate marginalized populations into society, particularly with children. We want to learn with Sarah, and have partnered with her to offer blog updates during her four months in Greece.
How Art Creates Community
By Sarah Cornette
I am an art educator with a long interest in creating community with art. Recent political and economic developments in the United States have meant that funding for the arts and public schools is on the decline, and many schools are struggling to retain their visual art programs. The students in my community school are a mix of affluent and economically disadvantaged students and refugees. Creating a cohesive and positive community is a challenge.
In addition to practicing culturally responsive teaching in my classroom, I founded an afterschool arts program, Community Art Club, to bring my students together to collaboratively create art for our community. Grant-funded and free for all kids, we recruit especially from marginalized populations in our school. The public art we create is empowering to students, who feel valued for their creativity and skill, and serves as a lasting reminder about the experiences we shared and the relationships we forged in the process.
In contemporary Greek society I see many parallels to my own culture, with a growing need to bridge populations to form a cohesive cultural identity in the midst of economic turmoil. I believe the arts are a critical intervention. Community and collaborative art making can:
● Affirm marginalized groups
● Cultivate empathy
● Create a positive and inclusive narrative for a culture.
My inquiry project involves investigating how community art and art-making is happening in Greece, especially with children. As an art teacher in a public school, I have many questions about how art education in Greece is changing to reflect these large social shifts. How is art being taught in schools currently? Are other organizations outside of schools using art with children and families to enhance a sense of community? How is public art in Greece changing to reflect this shifting cultural identity? What have the long-term outcomes been for these projects?
I plan on pursuing my questions in a variety of contexts. I hope to enter public schools to observe the art education process. I will investigate other sources of artmaking with children, for example The Museum of Greek Children’s Art, which highlights work by children and also offers art classes for children. The organization Artolution has also facilitated large mural works with community members in refugee camps in a process designed to create community through art. I’d love to see what the long-term outcomes for those projects have been.
For me, no inquiry can feel complete without a visual component as well. My students in North Carolina have created half of a mural, based on the question: “What’s important about our community?” We are hoping that children on the other side of the world will respond with their own ideas in the other half. We will be using short video narratives to explain our ideas and create a true cross-cultural dialogue.
My hope is to return to my home community with new insights, strategies, and experiences to apply to my overall goal of creating community through art. And possibly I will have an amazing mural to inspire my students to make global connections to human experiences.
Follow the “Same Difference” Mural Project on Facebook here.