Reflections: Art + Music: More Than a Feeling 

Education Assistant Davinna Barkers-Woode shares her experience helping facilitate a school partnership with Washington School for Girls which culminated in an exhibition. 

Lloyd McNeill and Lou Stovall, Roberta Flack, 1967, Silkscreen poster, 17 x 11 in., Courtesy of Stovall Family

Working with the Washington School for Girls this past June allowed the Phillips Education Department to expand on the ideas presented in our recent Lou Stovall exhibition. The exhibition centered on themes of community, collaboration, accessibility within the arts, experimentation, and calls for social change. When we merge these concepts with a real-life application we can uncover what these concepts mean in our reality. With Art + Music: More Than a Feeling, we focused on Stovall’s love of community: he stayed connected to his community through creating music festival posters that would hang in the streets of D.C. Musicians, artists, and activists for Black liberation often worked with each other to host these festivals and donate a portion of the proceeds back into the community—emphasizing the cyclical nature that goes into sustaining a community.  

Looking at these music festival posters featured in Stovall’s exhibition, color, shape, rhythm, and repetition are emphasized. We encouraged the students to listen to their favorite songs and explore how these musicians use rhythm, repetition, tone, and mood. They also looked closely at their song lyrics and underlined any repeating words or phrases that stood out to them. With these elements in mind, the students began to sketch their ideas for their print. Many of them were clever enough to translate the sonic aspects of their songs into different shapes to create a visual language.  

The students transferred their sketches onto cardstock and cut out their forms.

The cutout shapes allowed them to explore many possibilities with the composition. Many took advantage of layering their cutouts, creating more dynamism within their print. Next, they brushed their cutouts with a thin layer of glue and let them dry completely before arranging them one last time on their inking plates.  

Experimentation had a chance to shine when it came to choosing the colors they wanted to incorporate.

Watching the students cover their inking plates and shapes with all these crazy colors would be a nightmare for some. Still, I found it fascinating to see how confident they were in their decision-making and their ability to capture their song’s mood visually through color. With the help of teaching artist Gail-Shaw Clemons, students sent their inking plates through the printing press and were able to carefully remove their prints and reveal their final results. Each student had the opportunity to write their own wall text that accompanied their finished print in the exhibition, which gave them a chance to reflect and articulate the reasoning for how they depicted their song.  

Showing the students the possibilities with printmaking made way for understanding that artmaking does not have to be reserved for traditional mediums like painting. If you have a message, find whatever means to communicate it best. Also, experimentation shouldn’t be scary or something we should try and avoid. You never know the possibilities that will come from thinking outside the box and trying something new. Lastly, we created an atmosphere invested in the students’ self-expression and honored them as individuals to make their own decisions. As educators, we came together with our various skill sets and bonded over this common goal—we created a community that desired to uphold the students’ visions.  

Critical engagement with artists and their work elevates their contributions and allows us to explore contemporary issues and new perspectives. Keeping this objective at the forefront of our school partnerships has made us cultivate youth activities that nurture their foundation with love, respect, and compassion, while providing them with the tools necessary to build on the work of influential artists in personally relevant ways. 

“The meaning we make”—a teacher’s reflection

Laure Veissiere is a Preschool/Pre-K teacher at Washington International School and participated in The Phillips Collection’s Summer Teacher Institute.

A print I created in the workshop about equitable society.

My interest in Art Integration started when I experienced my own limitations as a novice teacher, frustrations with some school systems and society as a whole, and the need to grow, collaborate, learn, and change while working with an underserved population in Anacostia five years ago.

Art Integration has the potential to enhance academics, democracy, and humanity by engaging students in meaningful conversations and proposing an alternative to the violence of the current political and educational climate. To fight against the school-to-prison pipeline, enhance engagement, dismantle some systems of oppression, and decrease violence, Art Integration practices have led to a culturally relevant approach to education.

The Summer Teacher Institute at the Phillips was pivotal in thinking about how we bring our own meaning to our classrooms, our artmaking practices, and our communities of teachers and communities of origin. It got me thinking about how our students can make meaningful connections with each other through art. Also, it allowed me to examine how using art in the classroom can support me in recognizing my own biases and the meanings students bring with them from their own backgrounds and experiences.

Phillips educators had us undergo a process of self-reflection by looking at ourselves, our values, communities, and interests as they transpire into the class. The Phillips Collection Head of Teaching & Learning Hilary Katz, said, “While looking at your personal identity, it is important to be clear about your position (your perspectives, power, and identities) when teaching an arts integration lesson to students.”

During one of our arts integration lessons, we recreated a work of art as a way to confront our biases in the process.

Simone Leigh, No Face (Crown Heights), 2018; My recreation of No Face.

I was drawn to reproducing the artwork by Simone Leigh because I connected to the feeling of discomfort that I felt when looking at it. I learned that she explores historical and contemporary racism in the United States. I connected to the feeling of struggle and the “subjective experience” I felt as a first-generation American woman. Looking deeper at my identity and funds of knowledge by closely looking at my communities of origins made me realize how the meaning we each bring to the classroom impacts our teaching.

Also, this workshop allowed me to think differently about the process of curating as a meaningful creative process and think about ways I could apply it in the class with some original students’ work.

In small groups, we curated the teachers’ recreations of Phillips’s artworks.

This workshop was instrumental in recognizing my power as an Artist, educator, curator, and leader in my communities.  By selecting, encouraging voices, validating students’ confidence, scaffolding talents, creating meaning and culture through inquiry, and building the classroom fund of knowledge, teachers and artists can motivate and change their communities.

Making my own prints and reflecting on their meaning made me think about what kinds of communities come together in my classroom.

My seven-word story about my prints: Communities are powerful when they value education.

This workshop made me look back at my values, my bias, and my commitment as a teacher and artist to nurture the potential in all human beings. Culture is something that is intangible and inseparable from the experience; it is flexible and always interchangeable. Hilary Katz said, “Culture is not in a box.” Culture and funds of knowledge are fluid, always changing and evolving.

Just like artists influence their communities, teachers have transformative powers. They are agents of social change in their communities because they support and nourish their students’ voices and talents and help them recognize their knowledge, cultures, and funds of knowledge.

A poem about Ellington Robinson’s Never Forget on Ice

Carla White Freyvogel is a writer and an educator at The Phillips Collection, and she often leads the Spotlight talk for Wednesday’s Guided Meditation.

Ellington Robinson, Never Forget on Ice, 2013, Acrylic, collage, found objects, glue, and wax on framed mirror, 38 in x 53 in x 2 in., Contemporaries Acquisition Fund, 2018

Ellington Robinson describes Never Forget on Ice: “This work is exploring the idea of how economics and culture are used to create political containers that we call states and countries…. So why are geographical divisions necessary? Why Racism, Imperialism, and Classism?”

The participants in our Wednesday meditation contemplated Robinson’s luminous, textural, and stunning work. Yes, we too were inspired to ask these hard political, ecological, historical questions.

The artist, who joined us for the meditation, assured us that he is “still in search of these answers by collage, found objects, and paint.”

Guiding the meditation, Aparna Sadananda framed our experience in terms of the month’s theme: time.  Viewing the artwork’s fractured forms, we considered that the “political containers we call states and countries” are evolving as time passes. Fighting, shifting, and struggling. The pressure gauge perches on the antique frame and measures … what? The expansive gulfs created by “geographic division”? The earth’s fissures as time marches on?

Deterioration of land masses?

The participants spontaneously dropped words and phrases into the Zoom chat. These insights were provocative and compelling. The words seemed to beg for some consolidation.

A collaborative poem is the result. Here we have the fusing of our thoughts and insights, inspired by Never Forget on Ice by DC’s own Ellington Robinson.


A Map of the World

One minute to midnight
Pressure is rising like bubbles
Ruined remains of a civilization
From the sky a topographical map
Antarctica in all its glory, strength, and fragility?

The bottom of the ocean
Depths and shadows
Gears grinding time away
Newspaper’s information drowning
Burnt edges, scraps of ancient paper
Color, ice, rocks, bones, and sculls,
Continents, layers
A topographical map,
Newspaper clips, remnants of life

Decay beautifully arranged
Lines of black,
Structures fallen into themselves
Bones, sculls, memories

A red splotch emerges from the ice
A reminder of human presence
Attempting to hold together
Continents of a new world