As part of our professional development series, Curators for Educators, educators from child care centers and schools joined us at Brooklyn Museum for art-making activities, reflective practices, and a tour of “Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe.” The day included opportunities to connect with fellow educators and brainstorm strategies to strengthen family connections and encourage cultural exploration.
Parent coordinators, elementary school teachers, child care directors, and other educators were excited to be back in person together and began the morning getting to know the Cool Culture team and each other. They discussed the important relationships between art, activism and health, and shared art practices they’ve used for healing and emotional wellbeing including dancing to cope with stress, beautifying the community with murals, and facilitating watercolor painting with children to calm and center their classrooms. Individuals then considered cultural practices of altar-making and drew their ideal space for meditation or other spiritual traditions based on an activity from our Spiritual Wellbeing Toolkit.
Brooklyn Museum staff then guided educators through the exhibition “Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe.” The artist’s work reflects on themes of girlhood, play, and spirituality using bright colors, animals, and other familiar subject matter and materials including crayon. The exhibit highlights Nellie Mae Rowe’s “creative voice as a form of self-care and as a way to demand the respect and visibility she had long been denied as a Black woman living in the American South.” One of the museum staff was from the south and offered additional contextual insight that made the experience feel personalized. Several educators commented on the accessibility of the exhibit for families with young children and were able to do introspective art exercises based on what they saw. One included a “hand self-portrait” inspired by the artist’s frequent inclusion of her own hands portrayed in her art; another was a signature design inspired by Rowe’s which she chose to change frequently and didn’t hide in her art pieces.
Nellie Mae Rowe’s art was a helpful way to introduce the concept that art belongs to all, part of our We are All Curators framework for exchanging stories through art and culture. Rowe made most of her work in her 50s and was a self-taught artist, a factor that has been looked down on previously within cultural spaces.
The workshop culminated in a dialogue on what educators could take back to their schools and centers and how they could use what they experienced to engage families. One educator shared, “It was truly a pleasure to partake in this experience. I had never been to this museum before. It was wonderful to have time to reflect and connect to the individual beauty and personal depth of creative expression and therapeutic outlet of art. [This] was a refreshing and inspiring day!” Program staff also distributed the first round of Cool Culture’s Family Passes for educators to bring back to their schools and centers for families to start visiting cultural spaces on their own.
Are you interested in exploring art as a healing practice? Check out our Spiritual Wellbeing toolkit to inspire discussions with your family and to find the altar-making activity.