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When the St. Vrain Valley School District made the decision to start the school year online, the Firehouse Art Center launched a plan to create their own online visual arts education programs to help support area students. However, Firehouse staff discovered a huge hurdle very early on in the process.
“As I was developing our Zoom curriculum, I realized that students who were English-language learners, and students without reliable access to the internet, were disproportionately affected by school moving online,” said Elaine Waterman, the center’s executive director.
She contacted Joyanna Gittings, the owner of Longmont’s Obra Arts and the Firehouse’s Art Attack educator, and the two brainstormed about ways to bridge the digital and language divide. They eventually contacted the folks at Longmont Public Media, or LPM, “and it was like a million questions were answered at once,” said Waterman. Since August, LPM staff have been helping Waterman and Gittings learn how to produce their own videos in LPM’s media makerspace.
Art Adventures is the resulting collaboration between the Firehouse, Obra Arts and LPM, with additional support from the Longmont Rotary, Colorado Humanities and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. The bilingual art classes taught by Gittings, which are free and available to all, begin airing Saturday, October 3, at 9 a.m. on Longmont’s public access station, Channel 8.
“As a public access TV station and media makerspace, Longmont Public Media devotes itself to the education, production and distribution of local media that matters,” said Sergio Angeles, LPM’s president and Channel 8 station manager. “Working with Elaine and Joyanna from the Firehouse Art Center is a great example of how we collaborate with local organizations to produce local programming and also advance organizational missions."
For the program’s first art project, Gittings chose a fairy or troll house that can easily be made using found materials. “Many of our art projects will feature found or recycled materials,” she said. “Using these materials reinforces one of the main messages of the Art Adventures program, that you can be voraciously creative with very limited resources, and you don’t need to spend lots on expensive materials to create art.”
Primarily, though, Gittings and Waterman want those viewing the program to experience true language immersion, as the art instruction will be taught in both English and Spanish.
“Sometimes Joyanna teaches it first in English, then in Spanish, and other times the reverse, and it all flows together really well,” explained Waterman. “We are trying to offer children the opportunity to hear conversational language that is different from their native tongue, so we chose a format that includes both, as opposed to offering two different classes. We also want to normalize the experience of speaking different languages to foster a spirit of inclusivity and diversity.”
Gittings added that she hopes the bilingual format will aid in the development of language, “especially for young people who are not spending time with other speakers outside the home right now.”
She also explained that she’s somewhat modeling the program on a public access art program she enjoyed growing up. “It was called the Art Chest, and we would watch it in class and then make the featured project. I’m drawing memories of that show for this one, because it was a delight for me as a child. I hope this program will inspire those same feelings.”