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A good space for making art.

I accepted a teaching position at the Ralph M. Captain Elementary school in Clayton, Missouri, knowing that the size of the artroom had been reduced by two-thirds to accommodate a new kindergarten classroom. I did so with a promise from the school's principal that she would do all she could to bring about the creation of a new space, appropriate to the kind of program we wanted to build. She kept that promise by going to work at once to gain the support of the district superintendent and the board of education.

Stops and Starts

In early fall, the building's original architect was contracted to begin the project. A review of building space was conducted and the preliminary sketches made for a plan. By mid-year what had looked like a promising start came to an abrupt halt when the architect dropped the project. Once again the district's school board, superintendent and principal took leading roles in selecting new architects. The tone of the situation changed rapidly as a new group took over. They were excited by the possibilities of the project and undaunted by what was now becoming a serious time crunch, since it was already April and we needed the new space for the coming school year.

In a very short time the group was able to present a basic plan for board approval. The two-story music room was to be cut in half vertically by constructing a new floor, creating a new space for the music room on the first level with the artroom on the second level. This plan allowed for the elimination of acoustical problems that existed in the original music room. It also made possible the addition of two practice rooms with built-in storage for instruments and at the same time reclaimed enough space for the new artroom.

An Organized Space

One tenet of the new architect's design philosophy was that it is vital to good planning to have input from the people who will inhabit the spaces they create. As a result, I was able to spend a number of hours working with the architect to establish a list of critical needs for the room.

Our program is based on a problem-solving format within a studio setting, so we wanted the organization of the space to flow from that format. Since students often operate as independent artists solving visual problems, they require access to a variety of material as well as a variety of work settings. With this in mind, we placed student worktables and a table for the teacher in the center of the room, with spaces for clay, painting, fiber and wood radiating from that center.

We were able to realize an idea I had been thinking about for years when we created a painting station --a built-in table whose top is at an angle with a channel in front to hold paint and brushes. This station is twenty-two feet long and can accommodate about fifteen painters at a time. The wood loft is an area about twelve-feet square that has built-in counters on three sides and a woodworker's bench. The area is raised two feet above the level of the rest of the room because of a storage closet that is under it on the first floor. The loft has a cozy feeling and is a favorite of the students.

Across the room from the painting station is a long wall that contains built-in storage for paper, vertical slots for work in progress, and cube slots for storing small three-dimensional work. There is also a long counter that houses three sinks, space for a large paper cutter, and a place for pencils, glue, markers, scissors, etc. There are two rows of shelves above each of the areas, which make the necessary supplies for that area easily accessible. This accessibility greatly improves the efficiency of movement in the room as well as behavior management and work focus. We have included a room for locked storage and teacher work space.

While a stunning room does not make a good art program, a beautiful, organized and well-conceived space goes a long way toward eliminating unnecessary steps, nurturing independent learning and focusing energy on the most important aspects of making and learning about art. We feel very fortunate to have this space. We also feel it is a strong statement of our district's commitment to the arts and a good example of what can be accomplished when all the people involved in a project--teachers, principal, superintendent, board of education and architects--respect each others' expertise and work together to provide the best education possible for students.

Cate Dolan is Art Teacher at Captain School and Margaret Peeno is Art Coordinator for the Clayton, Missouri School District.
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Title Annotation:a well-designed room for art instruction in an elementary school
Author:Peeno, Margaret
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1992
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