Whitties spur kids’ creativity with stART

As arts programs get cut all around the country, a few Whitties have taken a stand against the tide. StART began two years ago and since then, its volunteers have been bringing the visual and performance arts to Walla Walla public schools.

StART began with senior Alina Holmes and a simple idea. Holmes first got the idea working for Carnegie Picture Lab, a local non-profit with the goal of providing visual arts education to Walla Walla’s children. “I had an internship there [and] I really liked their mission and their organization, but I left there feeling like, ‘this is so cool, but they only got to the classroom three times a year’–which is amazing, I mean they help out all the students of Walla Walla, but that’s not enough,” Holmes said. Holmes credits her inspiration to her own arts education, “I had art in all of my schools and I cannot imagine my education without that.”

Holmes organized stART with the help of SEC Outreach Coordinator Susan Prudente, and the work quickly picked up from there. “I applied for the [Rabinowitz grant] and I got it, and with that money I hired Meg”, she said, turning towards her sophomore associate, Meg Weisselberg, who now runs the club. Holmes has stepped down from her administrative position but continues to volunteer.

StART has evolved a lot since its inception in SEC four semesters ago. The program now operates out of three Walla Walla elementary schools: Green Park, Prospect Point and Edison, educating dozens of kindergarten to fifth grade students in three varieties of art: visual arts, theatre and music. “This semester, what we’re really focused on is expanding and getting our numbers up,” Weisselberg said. Holmes adds that, “We’re only working at three schools right now, but we’d love to work at all six, that’s the dream.”

StART hopes to provide a hands-on education experience for kids and Whitties alike. “One of my goals in starting the club was to get Whitman students some tangible experience in education,” Holmes said.

Planning is an integral part of stART’s mission. “StART meets every week. Half of the times we meet, we are volunteering at elementary schools and teaching kids. The other half of the time, we are meeting on campus and creating lesson plans for our next volunteer session,” Weisselberg said. As head of stART’s Art department, senior Katie Emory plays an integral role in the planning process. “I was expected to attend most, if not all meetings and volunteer sessions; design, contribute to and be familiar with the syllabus be able to explain the syllabus to volunteers; and be generally responsible during volunteer sessions.”

StART focuses on bridging interdisciplinary and arts education, often combining their three subjects in unique ways. Weisselberg teaches theatre for her part. “We have to see what the kids are up for…we play a lot of theatre games and we do a lot of character work.” The Art department is similarly mixed in its approach. “My first project with the kids was mask-making,” Emory said. “We brought in tons of different kinds of crafting supplies, showed the kids some example masks and let them get to work … one thing I learned from this project was that children LOVE glitter glue.”

Children are encouraged to create their own props and instruments, including their own masks and maracas. “We’re always working [with the kids] … We like to ask them, ‘what is art?'” Weisselberg said. One of their upcoming lesson plans is a make your own board game activity, in an attempt to expand the definition of art. No matter the objective, all of stART’s activities have a lot of creative flair. “They’ve been in class for six [to] seven hours, so they’re not going to just sit there and listen to you. We’re teaching, but we’re not in a classroom setting,” Holmes said.

As stART has expanded and transformed, the objective has remained the same: to inspire the creative spirit in the kids of Walla Walla. “One of the things I really enjoy is seeing the kid’s responses to our activities because I see a lot of people lose creativity as they get older, it’s a real problem and it’s part of the reason why I got involved,” Weisselberg said. She continued, “You can ask them to tell a story, make a sound from a pretend animal and see them respond–they’re just so creative and it’s just so amazing to see that in people … It inspires me to hold on to that as an adult.”

Emory holds the same ideals, “I think it’s great to see children using their own creativity to come up with something that is purely imaginative, and only theirs.”  Holmes is glad to see her mission continue and feels secure that stART will continue into the future.

StART is always on the lookout for new volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds. “You don’t have to be an Art major, you just have to care about arts education,” Holmes said. The club meets Tuesdays at 4, location to be determined. Weisselberg recommends that anyone who is interested should contact her by email. Weisselberg finishes by saying, “It’s not a full solution to the decline of creative classes, but I do think if we teach the kids enough and get them interested enough, they can pursue art on their own.”

Photo by Mika Nobles
Photo by Mika Nobles