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Collaboration: The Art Of Working Together

Collaboration:  The Art Of Working Together

This is the third part in a series on the 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills – Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication – by long-time arts integration specialist, “Capt.” Josh Batenhorst – Enterprise and Development Director at ArtSpace Charter School, a K-8 public charter school of 400 students in Swannanoa, NC.

Of the 4C’s, “Collaboration” is probably the most important skill for students to develop in order to find success in their professional life.  This summer, The American Journal of Public Health published a study that found that “pro-social” skills – the ability to share, cooperate, and resolve conflicts with peers, – were a predictor of success for students 15-20 years into the future!  In short, it is absolutely imperative students learn to work on a team.  Let’s consider how the arts help develop collaboration skills in students.

The performing arts require obvious collaboration.

The performing arts require obvious collaboration.

First of all, the arts teach collaboration by giving students the opportunity to be a part of a team.  A band is not a band if it is just one instrument (One-man bands excluded!).  Theatre, music and dance are almost always done in tandem with a group of other performers (See a great ArtSpace example here).  Even one person shows and solo artists must be a part of a large support crew that takes care of direction and production elements.  Inclusion in performing arts groups teaches children how to value others’ efforts and how to develop and maintain relationships while accomplishing a common goal.

Ms. Annabell leads her class in a collaborative analysis  of a visual art piece by Henri Rousseau.

Ms. Annabell leads her class in a collaborative analysis of a visual art piece by Henri Rousseau.

But what about visual art? Art projects tend to strike me as individual accomplishments, not “team sports.”  I tend to think of Picasso, not Picasso & Company.  

Since I am not a visual artist myself, I took this question to a number of members of the ArtSpace staff who have significant experience in the visual arts:  2nd grade teacher, Ms. Annabell Lisa, 7/8th grade science teacher, Mr. Nick Rogowski, and 5th grade Science/Math teacher, Marni Flanigan.

Annabell (2nd Grade): “Collaborating on a piece can be very hard in visual art. Nevertheless, we do it in the classroom all of the time.  For example, today we are each making colored paper that we will use for an all-class project that coincides with our study of Matisse.  The key is giving the students some time to do individual work, and then time to also work collaboratively.”

A group art piece created by 2nd graders during their study of Matisse - "Painting With Scissors."

A group art piece created by 2nd graders during their study of Matisse – “Painting With Scissors.”

When asked about how she collaborates to create her own art she said, “Sometimes it can be as simple as finding the time resources and support to do it.  As a mother of a pre-school age child, I may not collaborate with another artist, but I definitely use support to help balance everything.  However, I collaborate on art work with my students a lot.  They often build off of my ideas and I build off of theirs.”  

Nick (7/8th grade):  “Actually, I have collaborated with my wife (artist and ArtSpace parent Mae Creadick) on several pieces.  Sometimes she will draw a piece for a specific print, since that is her specialty.  

Mr. Nick prepares 7th grade science students for their next visual art project.

Mr. Nick prepares 7th grade science students for their next visual art project.

Then, I may carve a lino-cut, since that is my area of skill, in order to make the print.  In fact, while we’re talking about prints, the printer often gets left out as being valuable in the art making process, but a bad print can be really bad, while a great print is a work of art in itself.”

Ms. Marni (5th grade):  “Recently we completed a visual art/science project that was very collaborative (You can see more  about that project here).  Students studied different body systems and then created life size replications of those systems.  They also created songs and dances that reinforced the learning.”

Completed 5th grade body systems "life size" art work.

Completed 5th grade body systems “life size” art work.

ArtSpace is fortunate to have a number of visual artists on staff to help students learn to build collaboration skills in all of the art forms – even the ones that don’t seem like an obvious fit.  Students who learn to collaborate are set up for success, and they are learning to do it through all of the arts at ArtSpace!

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