Art Infusion | Billy Miller

“If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have an art program,” says Glencoe Elementary’s new principal. He’s speaking to a packed Cafetorium of K-5 parents who have become all too used to how budget cuts mean public schools must do more with less.

Six years ago, the principal was different. The sentiment was the same. And I was one of the parents who’d signed on for Art Infusion, about to discover what a difference an art program would make — not only in the lives of my children and their classmates, but in my own.

I’d made a short film, worked on some features and the Winter Olympics broadcast, plus produced a public television segment on hip-hop arts education. Then I was grinding away on a weekly sports television show. The deadline was a great opportunity to learn the craft and I was lucky to be assisting a gifted, Emmy award-winning director in Portland, Oregon.

At the same time, our daughters were entering Glencoe Elementary School. So I signed on to Art Infusion where once a month, parents gather to learn a lesson together and become their children’s art teachers. The program goes way beyond paint-by-numbers. These are multimedia lesson plans that introduce art concepts by age and become most children’s first exposure to masters like Picasso, Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keefe, da Vinci and more. The media is mixed from kiln-fired clay to watercolors to oil pastels. The lessons rotate. And the curriculum is tied to academics, such as students learning about photosynthesis while making art from Fall leaves.

The kids love it. And I really connected to the experience — reading artist bios, demonstrating techniques, helping stragglers or just watching their excited faces create works of childlike beauty.

Next thing I knew I was helping hang finished works on display; then the end-of-the-year art show. By the time our oldest was in fifth grade, I was a trainer, demonstrating that month’s lesson plan for parents who could be harder to keep on task than the kids! Too, it wasn’t all flowers in the classroom. I remember struggles with our kids, the tears shed at pieces gone awry and the boy who wasn’t having any of it. There were more times than I care to remember fighting off flop sweat in front of the class while eyes drifted or presentations got mangled.

Yet like these young artists, we were able to learn and grow together. A friend connected me to the youth arts and environmental education non-profit Caldera, where I started mentoring filmmaking, then teaching at their summer camp and twice-a-year intensives. This summer I taught the Hollywood Theatre’s Project Youth Doc five days a week for a month. Now I’m teaching film at da Vinci Arts Middle School, where our children go now. And even as I continue to make my own projects reality, I’ve found that nothing contributes more, nor beats the connections made, than when the teaching comes before the artistry.

I spent our youngest’s last year at Glencoe making a movie with 4th and 5th graders. One segment features Mark Brody, a teaching artist who was my first AI trainer. He made Art Infusion possible through his two sons’ time at Glencoe and worked with many generations to create the murals that not only beautify the school, but give it an identity. And what struck me this year, besides the principal’s comments at that first Art Infusion training, was how many parents were there to replace those of us who came before. So many fresh faces at their children’s lunch tables. So much old school community now possible for new.

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