Sponsored by the Indiana Arts Commission

Grand Canyon Project Description


We are Jane Case Vickers and Amy Rich, the directors of the children's art program at Patchwork Central, a small non-profit organization in inner-city Evansville, Indiana. We have developed a new curriculum called "The Grand Canyon Project," which we used during the spring semester in our children's program. This curriculum will continue this summer when we the directors will travel to the Grand Canyon, creating a modern day pilgrimage that retraces tourist routes that have been popular for generations. We plan to spend three weeks following the Historic Route 66 to the Grand Canyon with a stop in Las Vegas, then following Route 50 back to Evansville. On the road to the American Dream vacation, we will collect travel memorabilia at truck stops, tourist traps, hotels, and restaurants, then use it in artwork reflecting on the state of tourism at the start of the new millennium. We will share what we discover with the children by sending them post cards and regularly updating a web site.

In August we will present an exhibition of material that is related to the project and that shows both what we and the children have learned. With this show, we hope to connect the larger community with our project through the stories, images, and artwork that we collect and create on our travels. This exhibit will include stories about the land and the road from the people we meet, images from each stop, newspaper articles about our journey, and our own artwork that interprets our experiences. This show will highlight our unique process of discovery as we journey through a region of the United States where we have never been. We have drawn upon a large group of sponsors for this trip, from children collecting aluminum cans to members of our community. This exhibition extends our relationship with these contributors, allowing them to share in our experiences.

Patchwork Central is a neighborhood-based creativity center that has offered services that support and develop community in Evansville's lowest income neighborhoods for over 20 years. Arts and Smarts is one aspect of the programming at Patchwork and consists of after school and summer activities for children and their families have been an important part of this programming for the past 19 years. Currently, the Arts and Smarts program provides visual and multicultural art experiences, one-on-one academic tutoring, a reading club, a choral music group, and an urban garden program every week day for children in first through fifth grade. Youth who are in the sixth grade or above and have graduated from the Arts and Smarts program also participate as "Junior Helpers" who act as program assistants and mentors for the younger children. Each year, approximately 50 children participate in this program.

The goal of the Arts and Smarts program is to foster increased self-esteem, creative problem solving, non-violent conflict resolution and self-expression in the children through work that encourages their talents, identifies their goals and gives them experience role-playing overcoming life's obstacles. The older Junior Helpers also learn valuable life skills as they take an active role in planning and directing activities in the program. These programs have a high return rate, as many children return year after year and eventually join the growing Junior Helper program. Often adults make return visits to Patchwork where they remember spending much time as children and hope to enroll their own children.

The community surrounding Patchwork Central includes the four poorest census tracts in the city of Evansville. Patchwork Central's Meetinghouse is located at 100 Washington Ave, surrounded by tracts 12-16, in which the poverty level, according to the 1990 census figure, is 31.48% (double the level for the city as a whole). The area includes the two elementary schools with the highest poverty rates in the city, with the percentage of students on free or reduced lunch programs at Culver School at 91 percent and 92 percent at Lincoln School. Of the 1,103 Indiana elementary schools tested last year, ISTEP+ scores at Culver ranked 1,010, and Lincoln ranked 1,047. Domestic violence, drug traffic, transient renters, and large numbers of unsupervised children are predominant characteristics of the area. Young people in this neighborhood need a safe, stable, nurturing place. Patchwork Central provides this for them.

The critical look at tourism and travel that we wish to undertake during our journey is important to us because it will allow us to spend intensive time investigating and experiencing this new region of our country while we create art from something we are very interested in. In addition, this project offers us an opportunity to become better teachers by allowing us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the subject, thereby gaining first hand experience of new places, people, and things that we can pass on to the children. It also allows us time for personal exploration and career development through which we can renew our own vision. This research and time will allow us to return with fresh insights and ideas to use in the children's art program that we direct at Patchwork.

This project will also be an opportunity for the children to watch us set goals and overcome obstacles to these goals. This ties into curriculum already in place in the art program in which the children are encouraged to set personal goals for the near and distant future. Many of the children come from families with low incomes, leaving them skeptical about obtaining their dreams. This will be an opportunity for us to demonstrate the planning, persistence, and hope that it takes to develop a dream, take risks, and make things happen.

During our travels to the Grand Canyon, we will examine what the pursuit of the American leisure time dream looks like today. What traces remain from earlier decades? How much is this nostalgia effected by current cultural trends including the rise of the superstore, an ever-growing network of interstates, and the SUV? What kinds of people are making similar trips? Are families still saving every penny solely for their dream vacation? How is travel effected by the overall jitteriness of our society as we look toward a future feeling disillusioned and fearful of the moral and ethical outcomes of our expanding knowledge of ourselves and the universe? How is this reflected in the roadside rubbish and local kitsch that we will incorporate into our art? How can our art reflect our observations of life in the United States as we begin in the year 2000?

"The Grand Canyon Project" curriculum that we used this spring began to investigate these questions with the children. It also worked to increase their understanding of geography, history, and culture through several hands-on projects. It included projects that helped the children visualize the distance from Evansville to the Grand Canyon, that examined the states and landscapes that lie between the two places, and that illustrated the preparations that a traveler needs to make. It also included elements that taught the history of the land and similarities and differences between children in Evansville and those in the Southwest United States. Ultimately, this comprehensive curriculum extending through the exhibition in August will give the children in Patchwork's after school program a unique, personal connection to the land and people, helping them to understand the similarities and differences between themselves and others thousands of miles away.

One part of this project to foster understanding is a partnership with a school on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Tuba City, Arizona that was organized through the National Gardening Association. As part of this partnership, the children in Evansville have been trading gardening information through the mail with the children in Arizona, near the destination of the director's journey. The information exchanged included pictures the children took of their spring garden projects their thoughts about gardening.

This spring, we invited two special presenters to teach the children more about the history and culture of the Grand Canyon area. After consulting with University of Southern Indiana's History professor Bob Reed, an expert recommended by Nancy Conner, he directed us to Paul Doss and Michael Aackhus, also instructors at USI. After consulting with both Doss and Aackhus we decided on a visit from Aackhus concerning the history and culture of the Hopi and Zuni tribes. He brought artifacts and shared them with the children on May 1. Cheryl Soper, a local children's librarian, came in April to share stories about the Grand Canyon and introduce the children to music inspired by sunrise and sunset at the canyon.

In this spring's study of the United States, the children in Patchwork's after school art program also created their own 8' x 14' puzzle/map of the US as well as a giant banner depicting themselves at the Grand Canyon. We also studied the way that history is recorded in the strata in the earth at the Grand Canyon and applied this concept to the children's lives by working with them to draw the strata of their own lives-one for each year that they have been alive. The final project with events recorded from everyone's lives was added to the bottom of the mural.

During our trip, we will display and photograph the children's banner at every stop along the way, in addition to collecting autographs and notes to the children in Evansville on it. We will make audio recordings of travel stories from people who they meet along the way, and send updates of our travels regularly to the children in Evansville using a web page created specifically for this project by Rick Unger, co-coordinator of Patchwork's computer lab. We will also visit small town newspaper offices throughout the trip to make more local connections. All the while, we will collect souvenirs and debris to represent other travelers on the same road and use these collections to create shadow boxes and fabric costumes for travelers. We will display this art, the documentation of our trip, the finished banner, the recorded stories, and the photos of the mural in a final exhibition in August.

The exhibition will also give us a special opportunity to share both our art and reflections on the artistic process with the children and adults. Opportunities for discussion will arise as we translate our experiences into art, then discuss the exhibit and the differences between the visual art and the documentation. It will also allow us to complete our project by returning to this community with the knowledge we have gained and share it with them first hand. Because of our experiences, we will be able to provide them with a deeper understanding that they have available in books, movies, and other media. We hope to foster a thorough human connection between our region and the Southwest.

We hope to extend this discussion to the other adults and children who attend the exhibit and who view the web site. We expect 150-200 people will view the exhibit and another 300-500 will view the web site. Information about the show will also be shared with over 3000 additional people through Patchwork Central's newsletter and the Southwestern Indiana Arts Council's newsletter. The project is already documented on the Indiana Arts Commission's web site, because they have given us a grant to provide materials for us to use in our art during the trip.

The curriculum about the cultures of travel and the Southwest U.S., developed for the spring semester will be useful in years to come. Using it as a foundation, children in the art program can continue their study of different regions in the U.S. as well as their own. Links forged with reservation school in Tuba City, Arizona and its garden program may expand to include similar partnerships across the country that deal with more than just gardens. In future years, Junior Helpers may be invited to participate in the actual art and fact finding trips, traveling to destinations in Indiana that the rest of the children in the program have selected.

Our goals for this project are two-fold. First, the children in the Arts and Smarts art program will have a better understanding of the culture and countryside of a new and distant part of the United States. They will also develop a greater understanding of geography and maps by being able to relate them to a practical situation. Thus, the journey itself is what distinguishes this project from others that might simply investigate the Southwest U.S. through the internet or an atlas on CD ROM.  As a result of this project, the children will also gain an appreciation for what unites and divides people across the country and through this, a better understanding of who they are as residents of Evansville in southern Indiana. Secondly, we the exhibition  at the completion of the trip will allow us to share the knowledge we gain with our community here in southwestern Indiana, including all of the people who supported our project.  It is ultimately through the exhibition in August that we hope the stories, images, and artwork that we collect and create on our travels will strengthen the ties bind us together throughout our city and nation..

To summarize our timeline, we began the planning, researching, and writing grants for this project in August of 1999. We then received an Indiana Arts Commission Grant to partially fund the project in December. The children in our program began discussing goals and goal setting during the fall semester of 1999 and we began using "The Grand Canyon Project" curriculum in our children's program in the spring semester of 200, which includes January through May. The trip to the Grand Canyon will take place in May, and the final exhibit of art and documentation will be held during August of 2000. The evaluation phase will begin after the exhibit closes as we evaluate our guests' comments about the show and the frequency that the web site is visited. Also, we have been and will continue to evaluate the children's changing knowledge of their country.

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