Ravenwood students flock together for aerial art project

Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 12:39

Oohs and ahhs — and a few raven caws — filled the gymnasium at Ravenwood Elementary Thursday as students got their first look at a new piece of artwork they created using a very special medium: Themselves.

The day before, about 500 Ravenwood students gathered outside the school, where they each crouched down inside a grid laid out in black, loamy peat on the grassy lawn. Perched high above in a bucket truck, a photographer captured a picture of the kids, who wore red, black or blue t-shirts.

When seen from overhead, the purpose behind the students’ crouching became clear, as the photo revealed a massive, colorful raven carrying the sun in its beak — a “living art” image Oregon artist Daniel Dancer said was based on Native American mythology about the bird, which is sacred to many Alaska Natives.

When the full artwork was finally revealed at Thursday’s assembly, the students in the gym broke into cheers, applause and raven’s calls.

“What an incredible experience for us to be a part of,” said Ravenwood principal Kim Bautista.

The art project was coordinated by Dancer and paid for by a donation from the school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Organization (PTSO). Dancer, who calls his project “Art for the Sky,” spent four days at the school, working with students on the project and sharing his message of environmental activism.

“All my life I’ve been working on environmental issues,” Dancer said during the assembly.

Dancer spent his time at the school teaching the students his philosophies, which include seeing the world with “Sky Sight,” a process of learning in which people view the world “through the eyes of all beings and through the eyes of future generations.”

Dancer said he hopes the Sky Sight philosophy will become part of the school’s culture. He said his artistic philosophy is based on “the 6 teachings,” which include Intention, Collaboration, Interconnection, Sky-Sight, Gratitude and Apology, and Impermanence.

“We’re all one. It’s one school, one species on the planet. What we do here affects people over there, it’s just that way all over the world,” said Dancer, who has created similar sky art projects at about 250 schools nationwide over the past decade.

In order for the sky art project to come together, students had to collaborate closely. Some were tasked with scaling up the grid, others laid out the grid and still others dumped the dark peat outline on the grass. Then, everyone had to stay extremely still and quiet while the photo was taken.

For a bunch of kids ranging from preschool age to preteens, that may have been the hardest part.

“It was very hard to stay in that position,” said sixth-grader Haven White, who helped lay out the peat with classmate Mercy Adetunji.

Adetunji said the wet, dirty peat was a bit awkward to handle.

“It was fun — even though our hands felt weird after,” she said.

White described the material as “wet and weird and damp.”

Sixth-graders Cody Blaum and Jenna Lovette helped lay out grid, which was based on a 1:7 scale taken from a model drawn indoors.

“We had to measure a lot,” Lovette said.

All four students said they were thrilled with the finished project, saying they thought it turned out much better than expected.

“I thought there would be more heads sticking up,” Blaum said.

Dancer said having the students collaborate closely on the artwork is a big part of the message.

“Remember that as you get older, how important it is to work with people,” he told the students. “Work with other people and you can get amazing things done. That’s what we need to do on a worldwide level to solve problems like climate change — we have to collaborate big time.”

He said he hopes the project empowers kids to speak out about environmental and other issues in their communities.

“I also want you to remember how powerful your voice is as a young person growing up in this country, to never be afraid to speak out when you see a problem in your community, your school, wherever you are,” he said. “We really need youth to speak out about things like climate change and various environmental problems. Because in a room full of adults, there’s nothing more powerful than a child, a young person, that’s not afraid to speak out about a problem they see. Adults will listen, so just try to find your voice and remember how powerful your voice is.”

For more information about the Art for the Sky project, visit Dancer’s website at artforthesky.com.

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