Family Center Reimagines Art Experiences through Virtual Exhibition

screenshot of virtual art exhibitionThis summer, the Bank Street Family Center launched the College’s first-ever virtual art exhibition to celebrate children as both creators and observers of art. Part of the Reimagining Art Experiences for Children & Families series, which was launched by the center’s Parent Staff Advisory Committee during the 2019-20 school year, the project embraces and reflects the collaborative community at Bank Street and exemplifies the College’s long-standing belief that individuals learn best when they are actively engaged with the materials, ideas, and people around them.

Created by Family Center parents Jennifer Olayon and Jean Wang, as well as parent alumna Cathleen Wiggins, GSE ’92, Supervised Fieldwork Advisor and Course Instructor, Bank Street Graduate School of Education, the Reimaging Art initiative encourages children, their families, and teachers to deeply engage in the practices of making and looking at art through workshops and other immersive experiences. Innovatively responding to the impact of the pandemic, the project team secured invaluable support from Brett Dion, Archivist & Special Collections Librarian and Lobby Exhibitions Volunteer Co-Chair, Bank Street College, who curated and built a virtual gallery space to allow the community to safely display and view the children’s artwork from afar.

“Our new normal has challenged us in a myriad of ways, and it has given new meaning to the core theme of our workshop series: reimagining. We hope this virtual gallery—which features various collections in culmination of our artmaking and art-looking efforts, including collages, videos, and community murals—offers a silver lining, giving us an opportunity to deepen our children’s arc of art in ways that we could not imagine were even possible a few short months ago,” said Olayon. “We are grateful to Brett Dion and all of our partners for creating a space to appreciate the intersection of arts, education, and community in a reimagined way at Bank Street.”

Family Center parent and child at The GIANT Room's Reimagining Art outingThe project also incorporated work with Bank Street partners The GIANT Room in Chelsea, an educational innovator helping to develop science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) programming for children ages 2 to 12 years old, and the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling in Harlem. A family outing at each location in early 2019 provided unique opportunities for children to discover and interact with art in new ways. Nicki Calfee, GSE ’20, former Teacher, Bank Street Family Center, lent her photography skills to capture the enthusiasm and joy at these outings. At the outings, Family Center children also began creating colorful and energizing community murals titled “Adventures in Tech and Art” and “Art in our Neighborhood,” which were later hung outside the building for families to revisit and add to in a socially distanced manner.

Cathleen Wiggins presents a Reimagining Art workshop

Additionally, the program provided professional development sessions for teachers and several art workshops for parents on topics such as “Children as Artists: Support Art Making at Home” and “Art Appreciation Toolbox.” Family Center parent Diana Jensen, Art Teacher, Bank Street Family Center and School for Children, and Wiggins facilitated the creative workshops.

“Family partnerships have always been a hallmark of life at the Family Center. This has been especially true during these unprecedented times when the Reimagining Art series became a vital component during some of our darkest days as a collective,” said Jeannette Corey, Director, Bank Street Family Center. “I think this project reflects the ongoing work we do at the Family Center and how we live out our values: the building of a diverse set of relationships with those who love and support our students within and outside of Bank Street.”

screenshot of Reimagining Art Social StoryTo further capture the memories of this meaningful project, Jennifer Olayon authored a three-part social story filled with lively photographs of students and their artwork, along with interactions with their teachers, families, and the Bank Street community. The social story highlights pre-pandemic art activities from the classroom, at-home art and learning experiences, and art discoveries from the community expeditions.

The Bank Street Library also participated in the initiative, with Peter Hare, Reference Librarian, and Kharissa Khenner, Children’s Librarian, creating a comprehensive guide on art appreciation and artmaking that includes recommended book lists and other resources.

“This is an amazing project for so many reasons: the art of the children, the virtual nature of the exhibition, the cross-College collaboration, and parent-program leader partnership,” said Doug Knecht, Interim Dean of Children’s Programs, Bank Street College of Education. “It is a joy to see young children and their families express themselves, expand their thinking and learning, and connect through the power of art.”