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The Children's Art Exchange.

The Children's Art Exchange

THIS IS THE OPENING VERSE OF a song written by third graders with our school librarian. The song was illustrated in collage with the art teacher; learned in sign language with the help of a special education instructor; and finally sung with hand-signing for our guest artist-in-residence, a hearing impaired artist from the Soviet Union. The activity was another wonderful example of the arts' integral importance in our school and of our membership in The Children's Art Exchange.

In 1983, a group of parents in northern Vermont decided that something must be done on the "grass roots" level to encourage Soviet and American children to appreciate the common humanity they share, breaking down the barriers of fear and stereotyping. An exchange of art and writing between the children seemed to be a viable direction. Since then, the dream of a Children's Art Exchange has become a reality.

At first, the art and writing were predominantly messages for world peace. We decided that a common focus would be chosen each year, allowing the children to get to know each other. The first such theme involved portraits of family, friends and self, and also work about school activities and games. A first grade class at our school made a Big Book about grandparents, using watercolors, writing, blockprints in a border and handprints on the cover. A third grade teacher had each child paint a scene about a typical activity in a school day; these became pages in an accordian-fold book. A junior high language arts teacher had the students meet state expectations for basic competency in letter writing by drafting letters to teenagers in the Soviet Union.

Last year's theme was "Animals of Our Earth" and has led to a book of Soviet and American block prints and poems. This year's theme is "Holidays and Celebrations." Many of the paintings that were part of the first year's exchange are travelling around the United States as a three-year Smithsonian Institute Travelling Exhibition.

When the Children's Art Exchange hosted a symposium for representative USA/USSR writers, illustrators and publishers of children's literature, the nineteen Soviet visitors spent their first day in this country visiting Vermont member schools of the Exchange. Genrich Igitian of Armenia, director of the world's largest museum of children's art, and Maia Kriuchkova, of the All Soviet Children's Radio, visited one of our classrooms. One child at the beginning of the year had said, "The Russians are our enemy. We should bomb them." That day he quietly said "Privyet" (hello) to Maia and she bent down, held his face in her hands, and gently replied, "Privyet." It was at that point I truly realized how powerful the arts can be in humanizing our world. The group's American liaison to the USSR said, "Now, within a generation or two, we could have world leaders who, from an early age on have had some image of the other side, and have had contact with people their own age from the other side."

Such interaction continued when the first Children's Art Exchange trip was made to the Soviet Union. A group of classroom teachers, art educators and children visited special English-speaking schools, Pioneer Palaces, art schools, Mr. Igitian's Children's Museum in Armenia, the Hermitage Art Museum in Leningrad, etc. The welcome offered by the Soviet partners could not have been more heart-warming.

The American art teachers were very impressed by the high quality of art coming out of the curriculum that is common throughout all of the Republics. A high point for these art teachers was the round table discussion on aesthetic education with prominent Soviet art educators in Moscow. A second trip is planned including a week-long residency in Tallinn, Estonia, enabling the children to establish friendships as they share artwork, song and dance. We hope that soon some Soviet children will be able to visit our schools.

Working together on collaborative projects can empower children in a very special way. A Moscow architecture teacher hopes to have children work together on construction of a small city playground. Children in my school will be collaborating on two animated films, one with children from a Rumanian film class, and another with the Rumanian class and children from France and England. Through such projects, the children will find a common language in art and cooperation.

The Nobel Prize winning poet, Cseslaw Milosz, wrote, "In difficult times, you must be an Ambassador of Dreams." The Children's Art Exchange is an ongoing dream come true, concentrating on sustained educational efforts rather than brief, superficial goodwill greetings. To learn more about membership, curriculum and resources of this non-profit educational program, contact: Children's Art Exchange, Box 503, Middlebury, Vermont 05753, (802) 388-3023.

PHOTO : A scratchboard by an 8-year-old from Leningrad.

PHOTO : An Armenian child's remembrance of a wedding scene.

PHOTO : Circus scene in tempera.

PHOTO : A Soviet child's crayon interpretation of cats and flowers.
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Title Annotation:U.S.-USSR program
Author:Stone, Nancy
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1989
Previous Article:Art education: a world view.
Next Article:Child to child.

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