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Chrysler Museum of Art to display fifth graders’ art from residency

The art exhibit will be displayed from May 9 to June 11 at the Chrysler Museum of Art. (Photo by Connor Worley)
The art exhibit will be displayed from May 9 to June 11 at the Chrysler Museum of Art. (Photo by Connor Worley)

It might seem odd to specifically target fifth graders for an arts residency.

But there's a good reason for it.

Intentional Designs of Expression in Artistic Languages, or IDEAL, wants students to explore self-identity, collaboration and expressing themselves.

The students explore these concepts through visual art, poetry and dance.

The program is a collaboration between the Chrysler Museum of Art, Arts for Learning Virginia, the Richmond Ballet and the Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach school districts.

The residency will culminate in an art display at the museum from May to June.

Jackie Adonis, a teaching artist with Arts for Learning Virginia, works with students at College Park Elementary in Virginia Beach.

She said artistic exercises help the students express their emotions and place in the world.

“One of my students drew a knight, and then drew a flaming heart, and then drew a sword,” Adonis said. “And that was a symbol of him taking a defensive stance against his bullies. That was him defending himself and fighting back.”

The program has also placed an emphasis on heritage and cultural identity.

Aisha Noel is the school and community relationships’ coordinator with Arts for Learning.

Noel said some students made afros with black cotton balls and cowrie shells as a way to express their identities.

“Seeing how the students are turning this into art and connecting it to who they are as individuals is amazing to just see, wow, this is how you express yourself,” Noel said.

Students can interact, learn from one another and show off their artwork in peer to peer review sessions.

That type of positive collaboration is something the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted during the students’ early elementary years.

Noel said that lost development was a key component to crafting their program.

“We wanted to hone in on the fact that there was a distance and there was a disconnect, we’ve seen it, we acknowledged it, and how can we help,” Noel said.

Counselors and fine art supervisors from Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach schools provided input on the curriculum.

Stacey Shelnut-Hendrick is the Chrysler Museum's Deputy Director of Public Engagement and Learning. She said the program has shone a light on what fifth graders are going through in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“It's almost like a sample of what's happening in America to understand firsthand what they're thinking, what their hopes are, where their challenges and their needs are,” Shelnut-Hendrick said.

The program also serves as a supplement to school-based arts classes. Students are typically in arts or music class for 45-minutes a day, once a week.

IDEAL allows for a more hands-on approach.

Adonis says the smaller class sizes allow her to build stronger connections with her students.

“My classes are only like an hour each, I get an hour and a half twice a week, not just once a week with the students,” Adonis said. “I feel like I've really built a bond with them. And that's beautiful, because when kids feel connection, they learn the best.”

Adonis, Shelnut-Hendrick and Noel all agree that if students can leave IDEAL with a clearer and stronger sense of self, then they’ve done their job.

“So how can we help shape the identity so that they can go into middle school, ‘Knowing this is who I am. You can't change me to be who you think I should be because I'm from this community,’' Noel said. “Even if they move out of Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, how could they bring that sense of identity and self awareness into their next phase of life.”

This is the first year of a three-year plan for IDEAL. It will move to other schools in the three districts for its next residency.

The students’ art will go on display May 9 in the Chrysler Museum.

Connor Worley is a Missouri native who creates long-form content in coordination with WHRO’s newsroom and other departments. WHRV listeners will recognize Connor as an occasional on-air host. Connor earned his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Print from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in Journalism and Audio at the Cronkite School of Arizona State. Connor enjoys the great outdoors, technology, and music. He lives in Virginia Beach.

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