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What do 3D glasses, oversized fruit, and 18 fourth graders have in common? They were all at Anna Julia Cooper School this July, where the children in the underserved neighborhood experienced the therapeutic benefits of art-making. Art for the Journey loves being a part of the wonderful family at AJC year round, which includes bringing art to the youngest incoming students every summer for two weeks.

This year the newest additions of the AJC family stole our hearts and inspired us through their creativity, sweetness, and stellar manners. We introduced them to an array of fun projects to whet their appetite for the year ahead. For some, this was their first art class, so our kind volunteers made sure it was a positive experience for them. Volunteers included big-hearted teenagers, college students, educators, and artists from all walks of life from around Richmond. The love in the room was palpable.

Painting is definitely my new career!

Students worked a little bit each day on their papier-mâché food sculptures. The tactile sensations of crumpling, shaping, and wrapping gluey paper strips inspired them to create eggplants, bananas, pineapples, watermelons, and guavas. They became visual storytellers as they sculpted their fruits and veggies in their whole, half-eaten, and leftover states. One girl named her artwork, “Moonlight Plums.” One boy layered colors to realistically represent his grandmother’s plantains. After painting, they cut paper leaves and stems, and glued it all in place with pride. They looked good enough to eat.

A favorite project for many was painting an underwater scene on canvas, which came to life through 3D glasses. The children loved tinting and blending their ocean water and coming up with original species. For one student, this project inspired her to declare, “Painting is definitely my new career!” It’s undoubtedly true that painting has a magic in it. It simultaneously calms and stimulates, no matter the age you are.

Each student also got to try ancient mosaic art by arranging ceramic pieces into scale-y designs on a wooden fish. They spread mortar like frosting and carefully puzzled the pieces together. These colorful creations will leap into life in their bedrooms. Taking a bit of beauty home is a vital aspect of art-making for these children.

Interspersed between the focused art-making, we designed name cards, read beautifully illustrated books, held clean-up competitions, sang spontaneously, and gave sticky high fives. It was a joyful space, and we can’t wait to recreate it every week this school year with even more of the AJC family.