“I want to do at least one project a year in which students work with the community outside the school,” said The New Century School art teacher Jenny Miller. “Doing community art is good for them.” Working for and with the larger Baltimore community is also an important TNCS value.
So, in continuing his 2013 “Hack the Trash” campaign, when environmental advocate and photographer Brian Schneider invited six area schools to contribute new trash drums as part of a larger initiative to beautify Baltimore’s parks (called “Hack the Parks”), TNCS was in! Mr. Schneider especially hoped for TNCS’s participation and was thrilled when Ms. Miller requested six cans for her upper elementary class to paint. Said Mr. Schneider, “I’m excited to see what TNCS produced and to have them debut in the park along with the other schools participating: Patterson Park Charter, Highlandtown Elementary/Middle, Hampstead Hill Academy, The John Rogers School, and Christo Rey Jesuit.”
Pop the Trash in the Can
Instead of using stencils as has been done in Patterson Park’s existing “hacked” cans, Ms. Miller seized the opportunity to hone her students’ brush skills while simultaneously introducing them to Pop Art. As such, “Pop the Trash in the Can” was born, a project spanning the last 8 weeks of the 2013–2014 academic year. Students created their own designs based on the Pop Art artists they studied—Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Yayoi Kusama, and Takashi Murakami. These artists use imagery from popular culture, simple shapes, cartoon-like images, bright colors, and lots of patterns to create their own special brand of fine art.
Another aspect of this fun, educational, multidimensional art project is that students were asked to collaborate on the cans. Working in pairs or trios, they brainstormed their ideas, drew up their designs, and then transferred them onto transparencies, which were projected onto the trash drums on a larger scale for the students to trace and fill in. Incidentally, this is not only how some of the pop artists they studied also work, but also a process familiar to them from their mural creation with the Baltimore Love Project artists.
“It’s been fun just painting the cans,” said Ms. Miller. “They’ve been really into it, making little impromptu adjustments as they go along and see what works and what doesn’t.” Once the basic design had been painted onto the cans, Ms. Miller next had the students add the bold black outlines and clean lines so characteristic of pop art. “Outlining something can make it look better and hide mistakes!” It will also help the cans be seen from a distant across the park. “They really want people to throw their trash in these cans,” said Ms. Miller. “They’re proud of them and really understand the environmental benefit.”
TNCS elementary students thoroughly enjoyed “Pop the Trash in the Can.” “They loved working ‘big,’ they loved working for the public and knowing that lots of people would see their work, and they actually liked working together on this,” said Ms. Miller. They worked through disagreements about design, palette, and approach as they arose and figured out how to resolve their conflicts as a team. It was the ideal TNCS assignment, bringing together creativity, investigation, and problem-solving. “They were true collaborators,” said Ms. Miller. “They treated each other’s work with respect and always asked before painting someone else’s side.”
Don’t Throw It All Away!
As the project drew to an end, catastrophe nearly thwarted the students’ efforts when they discovered that their initial painting did not produce the desired results on the cans. “The paint was thin and transparent and not nearly as bright as they had been anticipating. “Some were very unhappy and ready to abandon their efforts,” said Ms. Miller, “but they were encouraged to rework some of the areas, and this perseverance has yielded results that they are very proud of. It was a great learning experience.”
We have to agree, Ms. Miller! Don’t forget to look for these cans any day now in Patterson Park after Mr. Schneider clear-coats and unveils them—finding all six would make a great scavenger hunt!