“I’ve never gardened before,” said one of the parents in the class. This was the second round of classes for parents at Carson Elementary School that blended art and science. Our project was to build a vertical succulent garden. It hadn’t dawned on me that one of my students would not have ever gardened before. I hadn’t considered gardening to be out of reach for anyone, but it can be. As an artist, I always believe in the strength of art to cross multiple barriers. With these projects, that belief has been reinforced as the vast majority of the parents speak English as a second or third language. I would use Spanish in the classroom with the students although three or four women spoke languages other than Spanish and English.
For the first ten minutes of our first day of class, I shared a slideshow I had compiled which introduced myself and our project—upcycling trash materials to make a sculptural relief image of a sea creature effected by pollution. The women all seemed interested, and I was sure of their excitement when more women showed up on the second day of class. Word had spread. They were going to make something! Each class, I left feeling more and more impressed with their creative take on using the trash materials in new and different ways and how they expressed their ideas within their groups. When I introduced myself for the second project, I used my first slide to say hello in different languages, but hadn’t foreseen the attendance of even more women from different language and cultural backgrounds. Still, they appreciated the gesture. I think it was important that they could find a way to trust me.
The mothers and I also bonded because I was a mother-to-be when I taught the class, and they understood, as I do now, how creative all moms have to be to learn things one has never done before—like how to speak and communicate the language of a nonverbal baby, figure out schedules, function on little sleep, often work with limited resources, and learn how to do so many things independently while also caring for a new little person. They demonstrated how innately creative motherhood is.
It really was a joyful experience to see the parents working together in groups, debating aesthetic questions about color, space, and form, and problem solving the transformation of trash into art materials for the first project and the physical structure built from wood during the second project. I feel proud that all these parents—all women, all mothers—could work with other mothers of diverse backgrounds to accomplish doing things they had never done before. Most of all though, I feel humbled by their interest in art, and their trust in me. Arts education teaches people that they are capable of finding a variety of solutions to the challenges that face them, which helps people to grow and find new sources of confidence.