Hi I’m Nicole Bowers and I’m this summer’s marketing intern at Saugatuck Center for the Arts. I’m a soon-to-be senior at Central Michigan University where I’m studying integrative public relations and journalism. Follow me as I take a peek into the classrooms of our Growing Young Artists program. I’m so happy to see what this year brings!
Each day new little faces fill the blue plastic chairs of Fennville Elementary School. The Michigan blueberry season is two weeks behind this year, meaning some migrant families have yet to arrive in Fennville. A number of students are returners to Saugatuck Center for the Arts’ Growing Young Artists program but many are coming for the first time. More than a hundred children each summer have participated in GYA over the past eight years. The program helps both Title 1 and migrant children in the area learn core educational skills through creative experiences.
The first week is full of energy and anticipation of the unknown. Each year a different professional artist partners with the program. This year’s artist is Mandy Cano Villalobos. Her work focuses on visual storytelling, capturing, celebrating and honoring our memories. She often uses “found objects”, or everyday items you can turn into art. Much of Mandy’s work centers around family and her personal history is easily relatable for many of the at-risk students. Beyond excited to meet her, some of the kids even conducted their own research, looking up her art page on Instagram.
”We’ve found that it’s incredibly valuable to select an artist who shares a similar life story, culture and language which allows students the opportunity to connect with a working professional in an authentic way. Mandy speaks to the theme of family, memory-making and building community and we’re so eager to see how the students respond to her”.
-SCA Education Manager Whitney Valentine
Eager to meet Mandy, children clump closely together on the library floor. She begins sharing her artwork with the kids, asking them questions only to be met with silence. “What did you learn yesterday?” she said. Gentle whispers rise from around the room. It wasn’t distracted chatter like I first thought but the kids answering Mandy’s questions in hushed tones. “¿Qué aprendiste ayer?” she repeats. Excited voices fill the room. “La Familia!”, they respond.
In an instant the barriers began to break. The kids quickly warmed to her honest personality and giggles filled the room as she described an art piece where she borrowed yarn from the sweaters of her neighbors and family members.
Just like Mandy, students used found items like alphabet shaped pasta noodles, wooden blocks, and even an old computer mouse to create their own stamps. “Each object is a living thing with a life and stories of their own,” said Mandy. She uses art to capture the memories associated with these items.
As my eyes scanned the room for Mandy, I often found her at the tables, blending in among the kids as they both work on their print-making skills. They stamp a rainbow of blues, yellows and reds onto the construction paper. One little girl shyly begins to copy the pattern of Mandy’s print. She looks up at her new role model, eyes glowing. I’m in awe of the connection between Mandy and the migrant children and her ability to make them feel known, seen and understood.
The Students at Fennville have been amazing. They are mature and extremely invested in our projects. I’ve also had such a wonderful experience working with all of the staff members for the GYA. I can’t wait to see what they do next week!
– Artist in Residence Mandy Cano Villalobos