stART at Whitman Considers Art a Collaborative and Empathetic Learning Experience


Illustration by Elena Kaminskaia.

Rohan Press , A&E Reporter

In its simplest form, art is an expression of joy within labor. It’s this broader definition of art — something that transcends the simple consideration of pure aesthetic product — that drives the philosophy of the stART club at Whitman. 

stART aims to cultivate rapport across the Walla Walla community through arts education initiatives directed at younger children. The club is active across five elementary schools — Berney, Edison, Green Park, Prospect Point and Sharpstein — coordinating weekly activities to engage students in extracurricular communal learning. 

stART members volunteer in after-school programs coordinated by Camp Fire, a nonprofit organization focused on youth development. Ella Nelson, one of stART’s three co-presidents, said that the club makes an effort to correlate their weekly projects with Camp Fire’s themes, which vary from camping to animals. The club, funded by ASWC, is entirely responsible for obtaining materials for each session.

“We give them a lot of artistic freedom,” Daisy Schonder, co-president, said. 

 stART focuses on the process of creativity as a spontaneous activity while providing appropriate thematic guidelines through which students can channel that spontaneity.

Illustration by Elena Kaminskaia.

“I think [what’s important] is us giving them…attention,” Sydney Rollins, stARt’s third co-president, said. 

Keaton Sullivan, the Camp Fire coordinator in the Walla Walla region, emphasized the opportunities stART provides for young students to practice cultivating respect.

“Eyes on the speaker; ears [and] mouths quiet; keep your personal space; always say please and thank you,” Sullivan says to his students. 

The club has been popular with young students. Schonder said that kids are usually visibly upset at the end of each session when faced with the prospect of parting. 

“They always ask us … can we do this next week?” Schonder said. 

All three club presidents are inspired by the wonder, curiosity and joy of early childhood.

“We’re surrounded by people aged 18-22,” Rollins said. “To have that younger age group is nice; it’s refreshing for me”.

This year, stART members will begin to work with young people at the Walla Walla Juvenile Detention Center. The club plans to pursue various creative projects at the Center, including designing a mural for its recreation facility. This initiative presents a unique challenge for stART members — students at the Detention Center are usually older (age 12-17) and have short sentences, meaning there is little to no consistency in attendance from week to week.

There are no themes or organizing principles; instead, club members are responsible for designing their own project ideas. Nevertheless, Schonder, Nelson and Rollins are eager to embrace this opportunity and are continuing to explore unique solutions to these challenges, maintaining, across all their endeavors, a fundamental spirit of collaborative learning. 

In past years, stART’s recruitment occurred primarily through word of mouth; all three co-presidents, for instance, first learned about the club from their friends. This year, however, over 40 Whitman students signed up to participate in stART at the Activities Fair, presenting new opportunities for expansion as the club continues to evolve in its relationship with the Walla Walla community.

While the club may assume new incarnations in this expansion, its attitude remains constant: that of initiative and responsibility. Members of stART are independent and determined to make a long-lasting impact in the community. Their aim is not art for art’s sake, but rather the connections formed through sharing and practicing learning as a more active, pleasurable process.