The 800 budding artists at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy in Gainesville got the opportunity to make a lasting mark on their school this month.
The school, with financial support from its Parent Teacher Association, hosted Woodruff Arts Center Young Audiences Artist in Residency, Karin Mervis, from April 12 to 19. Mervis, a South Africa native, has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years. She has worked with Young Audiences since 1996 and has completed more than 600 community canvas projects in Georgia, New York and Australia. She often works with young people, helping them uncover their creativity and using it to deepen their understanding of classroom lessons.
During her weeklong stay, Mervis helped each student at the school paint red elephants, the school system’s mascot, and student-created symbols of the school’s philosophy on four “gigantic” canvases.
The school’s motto is “It’s not how smart are you, it’s how are you smart.” Students are taught based on their individual learning styles and strengths. The school recognizes eight different “smarts,” including nature, art, self, word, math, body, people and music.
Children were challenged on the first day of the project to forget about words and come up with symbols to represent each of the different smarts. Two of the selected symbols were then painted on each canvas.
“As an art teacher, I think they were really able to use a lot of creativity through creating the symbols for the smarts rather than using words,” art teacher Julie Oliver said. “We do a lot of things where we’ll write out ‘I’m math smart’ or ‘I’m self smart’ but with this project we said ‘make sure you don’t write any words.’ We said ‘we want you to come up with something that you think symbolizes this actual smart.’ So they got to be really creative and think outside the box and it really showed. They did an awesome job.”
Oliver said news of the project traveled around the school quickly and eager students dropped by her class each day to see what they’d be working on when it was time to go to art class.
“They were really excited about it and had tons of ideas,” Oliver said. “The canvases are definitely made of everything the kids thought of, not us.”
Mervis drew out a general outline of the elephants for the students to fill in and took the canvases home to “tweak” the finished product. She will return the completed paintings to the school this weekend. The school plans to hang the art work in the gym.
Mervis said the goal was to help students feel uninhibited in their creativity and not be afraid of making mistakes.
With so many artists working on the project, mistakes were certain to happen. But Mervis made it clear there really is no reason to worry about a mess up.
“I’ve done this for 15 years, so I have it down where the children are told from the very beginning there are no mistakes, only happy mistakes,” Mervis said. “And that takes away the fear and if in fact they do make a mistake we discuss that this is paint and what do we do when it dries. They all know they can paint right over it.”
Fourth-graders Ally Cook and Caroline Pendarvis said they loved working on the project and can’t wait to see the completed paintings.
“I liked that everybody got to a little part of it,” Ally said.
Ally, who considers herself to be “word smart” meaning she likes to read and write, painted some of the circles on one of the canvases. She said it wasn’t a difficult project, but she was very careful not to get paint outside of the boundaries.
Caroline, who is art and nature smart meaning she enjoys making art and being outside, enjoyed seeing all of the school’s different smarts represented on the canvases and loved the colors.
“Maybe when it’s finished and it goes up in the gym, when we grow up and finish school we can come back and see our memories,” Caroline said.
Oliver said while the school has hosted artists before, this was the first time the school was asked to pick its own project. She said she feels confident students will always remember their involvement in the project and hopes they will come back to see the paintings even years after they’ve graduated.
“These are, I can honestly say, four masterpieces,” Mervis said. “I have no doubt that for years to come, even when they come back and visit the school when they’ve graduated from high school, will know that they took part in and will be a wonderful memorable piece for years to come.”