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Black History Month at Lowell Elementary School February, 2014

Thank you Dr. Dianne Anderson-Nickel, Kyle Forgia, Mr. Kelly, Christy Puetz, Muslimah Hameed and the 5th & 6th grade students at Lowell Elementary School (4th Ave/Buckeye) for participation in the visual arts, art history, music and dance classroom activities during Black History month.

The goal of this Cultural Arts Coalition’s Community Outreach Program was to present an exhibition and instruction that facilitate participants' understanding of the symbolic meaning and function of beads in diverse cultural contexts. The lesson unit, Yoruba Beadwork: A Web of Significance and Meaning, examines and explores the variety and complexity of Yoruba beaded arts, drumming and dance which has a documented history of nearly one thousand years. The intergraded lesson plans Yoruba Beaded Art/Black History: Designs, Repetition, Rhythms and Movement, speaks directly to the non-profit’s mission by presenting the visual, musical, performing and literary arts during a collaborative impact, community celebration process. Yoruba Beaded Art/Black History Introduction

Traditionally, art in early civilizations developed inseparably out of material expression from ritual and ceremonial rites. Many African societies, such as the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria and Benin (Northwestern Africa), function with the beliefs of the respect for the interconnectedness of all living things and in ancestors as spirit guides. A result of these beliefs is that physical acts of communal representation in performance (masquerade), dance, music, storytelling and creative, visual expressions can influence their universe. The language lesson was constructed around how the words: Culture, Community, Communication and Celebration are integrated into actions that bond a group of people together, honoring and respecting their shared values, ideas and beliefs. These ideas are then passed down from one generation to another through the stories conveyed by their ancestors.

In Art As A Way, Frederick Franck suggests that now more than ever, art education from the beginning should nurture art's spiritual potential-- the closely interwoven roots of art and the search for meaning in life-- and explore the various multidimensional art forms in which human understandings of the mysteries of life have been crystallized. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1981.)

Yoruba-speaking peoples are among the most numerous in Africa with an estimated population of over 25 million. Their enslavement throughout the Americas, Cuba and Caribbean Islands for over three hundred years brought their arts and religion to these countries where they have flourished. Even though only 4% of those Africans enslaved came to what is now the United States, 40% of these same men, women and children were forcefully uprooted from their Yoruba villages. These persons carried little or nothing with them as personal possessions. Treasured beads became their one physical symbol of a connection to other people and family left far behind as they crossed the "Middle Passage" (that arduous journey from Africa across the Atlantic to distant lands).

Specific learning elements have been identified and integrated in this multidisciplinary arts' project including social studies and language arts. The visual arts lesson plan has been written in accordance with the Arizona Arts Standards with four broad ideas about what students should know and be able to do:

  1. Create art-knowing/applying the arts disciplines, techniques, and processes to communicate an original/interpretive work
  2. Understand art is context-demonstrating how interrelated conditions (social, economic, political time and place) influence the development concepts in the arts
  3. View art to inquire-demonstrating how the arts reveal universal themes
  4. Reflect and state upon the meaning of this lesson and the relevance it has to one’s life

Music instruction and dance have been included in the curriculum because most African people share music and dance performances as an integral part of their everyday lives. Music and rhythmic movement in Africa must be regarded first of all as a means of communication. Like African language, music and dance can convey meaning about ideas, thoughts, hopes, desires and beliefs. Musical performance in traditional Yoruba societies has a function beyond simple entertainment. One outcome of music and movement, which serves as a social function, helps to strengthen the community because it is a vehicle to communicate with ancestors. An African music and dance residency was established with Dr. Dianne Anderson –Nickel, Lowell music instructor, and CAC artist/dancer, Muslimah Hameed, to provide these integrated learning experiences to the participating youth.

Exhibition in the library of the ancestral stick figures

The "Tree of Life" is a symbol that exists in nearly every culture. With its branches reaching into the sky and its roots deep in the earth, the tree appears to unite the heavens, the earth and the underworld. Scientific information makes us aware that in the "human/plant cycles of life" the green leaves or needles of the tree provide oxygen into the atmosphere that humans breathe. The trees in return utilize the carbon dioxide exhaled by humans and use it in photosynthesis to promote plant growth.

In many African cultures, including the Yoruba, the tree contains a "Life Force" or spirit that is alive and representational of one’s ancestral spirit guides. Many beaded objects in the Yoruba culture are carved out of wood. They are thought to contain the spirit of their ancestors that continue to communicate with them even when they are no longer living.)

Again as a symbol, the tree, in the study of genealogy, represents the ancestors of the family: grandparents, great grand-parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This symbol, with its deep roots (family background), provides a strong foundation for values, ideas, and beliefs of the family, symbolized by the trunk of the tree. The branches of the tree are all the members of the family that have recently died or whom are living and are reaching out to life.

The final assembly occurred in the cafeteria/auditorium for the younger aged students at the end of the month...

Dr. Music thanked everyone for being a part of this sequential, developmental arts process and again reiterated the concept of the importance of the words Culture, Community, Communication and Celebration integrated into actions that bond a group of people together to honor and respect their shared values, ideas and beliefs. The youth then repeated it with guidance form students in the audience... Reach High and You Will Go Far by Joshua Sarantitis Philadelphia Mural Project

Lesson unit created by judy butzine, MSW and facilitated by Christy Puetz, judy & Muslimah Hameed.

Photo narrative by judy