Middle school art students make colorful mark on the city
When Kathleen Crocetti’s Mission Hill Middle School art students installed mosaics on the Water Street Bridge last year, the City of Santa Cruz helped pay for the art supplies. But this year, when she approached the City with a plan to place 93 mosaics depicting the agricultural products of Santa Cruz County onto the Soquel Avenue Bridge, she learned the chances for funding were slim.
“I wrote to the art commission, a proposal for doing the Soquel bridge, and they said, ‘Yes, yes, we love it, we want to do it—if we have funding,’” says Crocetti. “Well, of course, the redevelopment agency closed and everything is a mess financially in our state. And so I could see the writing on the wall that the City wasn’t going to be able to pay for this, but I’m sort of driven and I really wanted it to happen anyway.”
Since Crocetti has had friends successfully raise money via Kickstarter—an online funding platform for creative and artistic endeavors—she decided to put up a video on the website to tell people about the project. Soon, 87 donors contributed money to pay for the mosaic materials.
“I think for cities, for public art projects, that this creative funding, this alternative way to fund public art is not necessarily a bad thing,” says Crocetti. “Members of the community can vote with their dollars if they’re interested in a project or not. It might be a way to actually get the community to be more engaged about what art goes where in our town.”
Crocetti’s efforts to involve her students in community art have resulted in three awards. In 2009, she was named the California Middle School Art Teacher of the Year, and in 2010, she received a Gail Rich award from the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz. Last year, she received her highest honor yet: The California Art Education Association named Crocetti the Outstanding Visual Art Educator of the Year in California. It’s the association’s top award, whose eligibility pool includes every level of educator, including college and university professors.
“There’s two reasons I got this award: one is that I take kids’ work into the community,” she says. “But the other thing is the really high quality of work that I’m able to get my students to do.”
She’s quick to give credit to the residents of Santa Cruz and points out that twice in the last 14 years, locals have voted to tax themselves to provide art classes in elementary schools.
“My students come to me prepared. They’ve had art from kindergarten through the 5th grade,” says Crocetti. “That would not have happened without the voting support of the members of our community.”
The current project has taught students perseverance. Each pair of students first had to pick an agricultural product from a list supplied by Crocetti. They then had to research online for images that they would use in the design of their mosaic. Next, they had to carefully trace pictures of their designs using a projector, and finally, color in the picture with the colors they wanted to use.
“I really like the look of collages and I wanted to make a variety of colors,” Savannah Oskolkoff says of the English Peas mosaic she crafted with fellow student Kim Adam.
Each mosaic, which measures 14 inches across and 40 inches high, required cutting, fitting, and gluing individual pieces of glass—each about the size of a coin.
Despite the work involved, Crocetti’s students share her enthusiasm. Samantha DeHart and Emma O'Regan were thrilled when their mosaic of a carrot plant was installed on the Soquel Bridge.
“It’s cool to be … doing something we love, because we all love art here,” says DeHart.
For her part, O’Regan is thankful for the opportunity to pursue art. “I really love art. I like drawing more, and I’ll always be like, doodling on my paper,” says O’Regan, who plans to continue studying art in high school and college. “I’ve never done a mosaic, so it’s … fun to try it out.”
Aspen Schwind and Isabel Whittaker-Walker, who worked on a California Artichoke mosaic, like that their piece will be a part of the community.
“It’s like a part of you somewhere,” says Schwind, “where you can come back and say, ‘Hey, I did that—I did that in junior high.’”
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