Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Arts4Peace Basics

In partnership with the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition and Nu Sigma Youth, BuildaBridge is conducting an ARTS 4 PEACE camp December 26-31 that combines didactic and practical conflict resolution skills with art-making. A4P integrates methods of drama, music, dance and visual arts with basic principles and practice of foundational steps for resolving conflict and proactive steps for promoting peace. The program is being offered to 50 youth ages 9-13. Classes will meet daily from 9Am-4PM. At a final celebration event, the students will demonstrate their learning through a group creative piece and the unveiling of a mobile peace mural. [Upper Left: theme poster designed by Leah Samuelson. Below Left: Jerald Bennett leads the group in learning the A4P theme song "Metaphor", which he composed for the camp held at the Eastern University School for Social Change in Philadelphia.]

ARTMAKING TO PEACEMAKING is a curriculum designed to teach peacemaking and conflict resolution skills to middle school students using the arts: creative writing, dance, drama, music and visual arts. The curriculum uses art as metaphor and art as demonstration to teach basic peacemaking, conflict resolution and negotiation skills – skills that are embodied in and reinforced by the art-making process itself. Art-making provides a vehicle for practicing and rehearsing the peacemaking skills.


1. The skills, concepts and vocabulary related to a four-step peacemaking process.
  • Four basic human needs often involved in peace-making
  • The five basic emotions
  • Articulate the five responses to conflict
  • The steps involved in the peacemaking process
  • Active listening skills
  • Creating win-win solutions to conflict
  • Working collaboratively
  • Asking for forgiveness
2. The basic elements of at least two art forms (poetry, dance, drama, music visual arts).
3. A theme song and motto embodying key character formation values

Becoming Peacemakers. Students who attend and participate actively in all sessions, who keep the peace according to the Rights & Responsibilities and BuildaBridge Rules documents, who complete all assignments, who score at least an 80 (Excellent-Good) on the knowledge & skills post-assessment, and who participate in the final authentic assessment celebration will receive a Certificate in Peacemaking for Young Citizens.

Due to the escalating violence in the city of Philadelphia over the past few years, BuildaBridge has seen a need for teaching methods of non-violence to cope with daily life issues among children and youth. When children are exposed to violence they often internalize many of their emotions that can lead to trauma. Learning strategies for resolving conflict and making peace are important social and life skills. The arts provide vital and effective methods for teaching conflict resolution and peace-making with children and youth. This has been confirmed through research from such national organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts. (Art in Peace Making, Department of Juvenile Justice and the National Endowment for the Arts, 1997). Integrating the arts with important life subjects is not new to BuildaBridge.

BuildaBridge has been developing and providing arts-integrated life skills courses for four years. Beginning with the Money News Network (MNN), funded by American Express, BuildaBridge developed and presented a financial management course for adults living in transitional housing. MNN combined drama, music and visual arts to teach basic skills in banking, budgeting, and credit. Followed by the Healing Place, a training program for recognizing and responding to trauma in children, BuildaBridge developed its first Act Out for Peace camp with youth in the Germantown community. BuildaBridge is currently developing a parenting skills curriculum.

Monday, January 19, 2009


by Leah Samuelson, Visual Arts Instructor

When we take the risk to create something, we all want the esteem of our peers- but maybe even more we desire the approval of our families. Danielle Moore demonstrated a reluctant perseverance on her panda bear mural and mask project, but her work was of good quality. During our celebration performance at the end of the arts camp the visual arts students formed a panel of production experts- open to audience questions about how they had constructed their projects. A woman from the audience shot a pointed question, “Danielle…(the room turned its gaze to Danielle and held its breath), did you ever make anything like this before?” Danielle answered no. The woman shot back, “Did you enjoy making this; would you do something like this again?” Danielle answered yes. There was a loaded pause. “It’s a wonderful job,” the woman said. Danielle looked ten feet tall in that moment. She had a smile on her face and she didn’t have to say another word. She held her work among her peers and her poise bore her pride.

I asked Danielle later the relation of her questioner. “That was my auntie,” she answered, “my mom was sitting on the other side of the audience.” I wondered at the power of standing between friends, surrounded by family while revealing our work. One publicly proclaimed affirmation may be enough fuel to power Danielle’s plunge into another ambitious artistic undertaking. A job well done brings the opportunity for encouragement. When both artist and viewer recognize the good work, self confidence is built; and that can accompany a young person as she stays more than the creative course.

Don't Worry Be Happy

by Joshua Cooper, Arts for Peace Coordinator

Sierra had a hard time being calm when other students laughed at her.

An Arts for Peace staff member moved a chair that Sierra tried to sit in, resulting in Sierra falling to the floor. When other students saw that happen, they laughed at her. Fortunately, Sierra did not act aggressively toward them. Instead, she left the room with an attitude and an angry face that was hard to miss.

Apologies from the staff member did not help. As several staff members tried talking to Sierra about what happened, she began to talk about what she should’ve done to the students that laughed at her. She began to get more and more upset.

All of a sudden, I heard her say that she was fine and she was going back in the room to sit down. Fearing the worst, I told her that she would not be allowed to go back into the room until she was visibly calm. This further upset her. She was practically irate at the idea of being told what to do and refused to follow direction. With this, I began to wonder if she should continue to be part of the program.

After 5 minutes of multiple attempts to help her calm down, many tears, and much staff involvement, she calmed down and was allowed back into the room. Information from staff who know her and her family explained that she has a challenging past and has been working on positive ways to deal with anger. I was glad that I did not send her home.

Three hours later, I walked over to Sierra to see how she was doing. As I tapped Sierra on the shoulder, she turned around with the biggest smile – the smile of a child – long gone was the anger of an adult. Everything around me froze…I was almost in tears.


by Drama Instructor, Celmali Jaime

Melbert always had a situation. He missed the first day. His shirt wasn’t the right size. He managed to get pulled out of the classroom for the umpteenth time. He didn’t feel like participating. To me, it seemed like Melbert was never in the mood to do much of anything. So why was he here? I wanted to give up. Having Melbert in my drama class was drama.

But then there was a conflict. It halted our entire drama class. We all sat in a circle and tried to move the two students through the four peacemaking steps together: Think it out, Talk it out, Work it out, and Live it out. As the students worked to solve the situation, we began a discussing of how each of us responds to conflict. One person shouted “I’m a shark!” It was clear she was the type of person to use force and bullying to get her way. Another said he was a “Fox” and used compromise to achieve his goal. Then it was Melbert’s turn. “I used to always be a shark,” he said, “but that got me into trouble at school. Now, I have to be a turtle.”

And then, it clicked. Melbert was using avoidance to respond to his conflicts. He had been doing it all along. When the challenge of drama class became too much to bear, he would simply disengage, and avoid drama class altogether.

But by the end of the program, Melbert understood the downside of avoidance. In the final performance, he played the role of the turtle. Just like a turtle would, he inched his way towards the center and powerfully delivered the lines he had written:

I am a tree

I don’t talk a lot

I don’t want to go on stage to perform by myself.

I am like the sun behind the clouds.

I am sad, lonely and invisible.

I am SHY.

Melbert had given honest voice to what was going on inside. His riveting performance left everyone speechless. Afterwards, he began to give other students tips on how to connect with the characters they were playing. The turtle had finally come out of his shell!

The Cherry On Top

by Kari Reed, Visual Arts Assistant Teacher

Isaiah and Albatin were not difficult to notice, in fact, they were both outspoken and in need of attention - the typical 'class clowns' - especially when they got together. One of the first things we did in the visual arts group was to randomly choose pairs, in which the kids would work for the remainder of the week. Somehow, Isaiah and Albatin ended up together. Needless to say, I was concerned. I knew this would mean that we would be dealing with the antics all week long, but I wrote it off because they were comfortable with each other and vowed to help them learn not to disturb the class.

My prediction about Isaiah and Albatin's behavior was not far far off, and they soon began to case problems. They were both very clear about their general disinterest and told us on several occasions that they didn't want to be there. Isaiah said time and time again that his mom was making him come and that was the only reason he was there. Despite the obstacles, we slowly began to engage Isaiah and Albatin. They spent some time in the hallways for less than desirable behavior, but they began participating in the lessons, volunteering answers, and even doing the artists' tool tai chi, something that they deemed 'stupid' in the beginning.

They continued to improve, but the real points of transformation happened when they began working on their projects. Leah Samuelson, the visual arts instructor, insisted from the beginning that the kids do as much as possible themselves - and, when working with 10 9-13 year olds, this may not seem like a practical idea. But, my mind was changed as I watched Albatin and Isaiah started to take real ownership and pride in their project. At one point during the drawing phase o the mural, the groups were asked to charcoal their portion of the mural onto the canvas they has stretched. While Albatin and Isaiah were sketching on their canvas, I took the opportunity to run to the bathroom. As I was walking back, Albatin came running out into the hallway. Gearing myself up for a reprimand, I asked him what he was doing in the hallway and why he was running around. He very confidently explained that he was looking for me because he wanted to show me his canvas. He proceeded to take me by the arm and, with a huge smile, led me back into the room explaining the whole time how good he and Isaiah had done and how proud they were of their canvas.

Their positive attitude change continued throughout the rest of the week and they became two of the most excited and participative kids we had in our group. After the showcase, Leah held a small signing ceremony, and their was nothing more rewarding as the pride in their faces as they signed their portion of the mural and asked where the mural would be displayed so that they could show more of their family and friends.

As I watched Isaiah leave with his mom, I couldn't help but overhear him ask her if there was going to be another art camp. She smiled and explained to him that she didn't know. He immediately turned to Dr. Corbitt who happened to be standing next to them and asked him - "Dr. Corbitt, is there going to be another one of these soon? You know, another art camp?"

"Well, I don't know, it all depends on..." Dr. Corbitt trailed off and was promptly interrupted.

"What about Spring Break, Dr. Corbitt? There could be another one on our Spring Break..."

That small conversation was the cherry on top of the already amazing week.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Arts4Peace:Rattlesnake Days and Almost Peace


It is the final day. More than one young person was voicing aloud, "I am nervous."

Parents gathered in the foyer full of gratitude that their children had a meaningful and structured program during the Christmas break--many work and their children are restricted to the house during the day, some without supervision. The faculty arrived very early to prepare the rooms and move their projects toward completion. From 9am to 2pm, students and teachers worked together with heightened hyperactivity, anxiety, excitement and nervousness.

The expectations were high for both teaching/learning about peace-making and creating a quality art product. Is that possible? This is always the tension in arts-integrated projects that take place in a short period of time--like this arts camp. Creative arts therapists tend to work on the process and outcomes of the relational aspects while artists tend to focus on the performance aspect of their art form. Integrating both is difficult, but possible.

Was A4P successful? Yes. There is always room for improvement. Here are some of the things that we observed:
  1. New teachers needed to learn about classroom management. Structure is important, and having clear consistent behavioral policies (rules) and following them helps everyone to focus.
  2. Parent involvement in their children's experiences is essential. In this case, parents of the youth were expected--even required--to attend the final celebration of learning of their children. This is the expectation of Brandon Brown, Director of Youth and Family Services of Nu Sigma Youth. Therefore, the kids "performed" to a packed house. See photo above. Parents are also expected to talk with their children about their experience each day.
  3. Seasoned artist teachers continued to struggle with a balance of art and teaching but always kept in mind that the kids come first. Developing any kind of art-making product can be difficult in a week, especially with behavior-based learning goals.
  4. Peace making? Yes. The first day was near chaos with several near-fights, arguments and constant impulse control problems. The last day was stressful--they all had to present their learning--but both teachers and students worked together amidst the stress. One the last day, there was still a need for discipline as kids are kids, but it was not nearly at the same level as the first day. The most striking example of learning during the week was when two of our teachers staged a mock fight between themselves (unknown to anyone but them) and it was the students who pulled them apart and helped to resolve the conflict using the steps they had learned. We are still grading the post-test, but the students began to recognize their emotions, practice peace-making behavior, use peace-making vocabulary, and practice reconciliation in smaller conflicts. Some of the individual behavioral issues are beyond a one-week arts camp.
  5. How about the art? You can view the photographs, but we saw a marked improvement in skill levels: mixing colors, painting techniques, dialogue writing and improvisation, movement interpretation, lyric writing and vocal technique, and teamwork.
  6. Was there significant learning by BuildBridge? This was one of the most comprehensive curricula Buildabridge has developed (by Dr. Vivian Nix-Early). There were 5 teacher and volunteer meetings to learn this curriculum and prepare prior to the camp. Teachers were prepared. The ongoing challenge is to organize each aspect of the program from beginning to end. Every teacher should be on the same page about learning goals, discipline practice (enforcing rules for behavior), and needs always remain flexible. While the space was good (thanks to the Eastern University School for Social Change)--the kids were secure and there was a safe environment--there was also a need for structured physical play in an open area which was not available.
  7. Were there any surprises? BuildaBridge has worked in some of the toughest places of the world. We were surprised to find two children who could not read or write, which restricted their involvement in some of the activities. Several children expressed joy at the camp because they had an opportunity to make friends--many are often not allowed to play or make friends in their own neighborhoods (remaining in their houses) because of the drugs, gang activity and violence.
  8. Parents appreciated the blog and daily pictures, "we could see what our children were doing everyday."
What would we recommend for future programs? 1. There is high interest among the parents and kids for an ongoing arts program--to learn about art, but also to have structured activities for kids who live in difficult places of the city. This is expensive, and to provide quality curriculum and instruction takes appropriate funding. 2. More training is needed in classroom management, especially for artists who have not worked with children and youth. 3. Artists have to set arts standards high for all children, but balance expectations for the childrens' skill level. For example, in the pre-assessment in the visual arts some kids had trouble even drawing stick figures. Teaching basic skills is important. 4. Finally, artists will continually need to use the art as metaphor for the subject matter, drawing life lessons from the art-making process itself.

Teaching artists and assistants for the 2008 Arts4Peace Camp.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Arts4Peace: Days Three-Five, Art-Making Begins

It is 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and students arrive early to stretch canvas, carry drums, and help in the set-up by the professional artist teachers who will begin the process of art as metaphor. Where didactic teaching has been the focus for the first two days, the teaching artists now focus on creating art projects that are based on the theme of peace-making and integrate the basic story, Rattlesnake day.
Telling the story in different art forms reinforced the major characters that represented the conflict styles.

Listen to the first take of the theme song below.