Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Little Kids Make Big Impact in Student Showcase

Every year I am wowed not only by the creativity of the young artists in our student showcases but also the hard work and impact of their dedicated teachers. We just deinstalled the fifth annual Denver Public Schools Elementary and Middle School Three-Dimensional showcase. This year’s show includes sculpture, ceramics, fiber, paper, free-standing, mixed media, and installation pieces. Of all the works on display, I am probably the most struck by the powerful art installation by Ms. Felix’s 2nd grade class at Holm Elementary School (facilitated by their art teacher, Kristen Herres). Entitled Voices Rising/Voces en Aumento, the piece consists of hanging cardboard branches with multilingual phrases woven throughout, and colorful leaves and small mounted prints of fantastical animals. Behind this installation is a powerful creative story, which their art teacher Ms. Herres displayed next to it:

The students began this study by exploring how plastic waste begins from storm drains, gyres in the ocean, and daily littering. They understood that although some of the littering is not accidental, many people are unaware of the effect it plays in nature and others may think the world is so big a little trash wouldn’t hurt. The students know it is their job to speak for the animals and their world and educate others on how to keep the earth clean. The students explored their own school grounds and gathered bags of trash, some of which they recycled or disposed of, and other trash was cleaned and selected to adorn their artwork with. Each of their animals has debris on it but used in a way to express the need for change. Upon finishing their animals the students each created an inkblot landscape to place their animals on to exemplify the permanency of this global problem if actions are not taken by all members of our society to stop this problem.

The papier mâché tree is an emblem of growth and can be added to over time by other classes or groups around the world. The branches reach out to our world with messages of hope and awareness. The leaves were an oil and water experiment we conducted to show the effect an oil spill has on animals and their habitat. Lastly, the students photographed their work and used a gel medium to transfer their images onto foam so their work could be more mobile and allow room for others to join in their efforts. In this installation, art and young hands will play a role in making all aware of this global problem through visual voices.

Wow. This installation is not just visually striking and inviting a closer look. When you read about the multi-stage lesson you can imagine how many aspects of learning and discovery that these kids experienced—and these are 2nd graders! When talking about the student showcases that the DAM hosts every year, I talk about the importance of celebrating and stimulating creativity and inspiring a greater understanding and connection with our world. I also imagine and hope that these early sparks of ideas could be the seeds for creativity and innovation in the future!

We have more student showcases coming up—and all promise to inspire in different ways. Showcases are presented on the lower level of the North Building and are included with general admission.

Colorado Scholastic Art Awards

March 7-April 4

Valdez Elementary

April 9-April 27

Denver Public Library Branch Programs

May 4-24

Ellen Spangler is the school tour specialist in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum. Ellen has been at the DAM since 2008 and her favorite artwork at the DAM is Mud Woman Rolls On, for which she gained a new appreciation after having a daughter in 2012. She is in constant awe of the fresh perspective that young children bring when experiencing art together.