In summer 1990, at Allegheny College, a three-week program for children explored the interface of creative writing and creative dance. We called ourselves Children's Creative Arts. In that first summer we attracted 30 5-10 year old children and one Allegheny student intern. Each succeeding summer we added another expressive area to our curriculum and another year of age to our student population--we grew together. First we added rhythm, then visual art, then creative drama and storytelling, and finally vocal music. In the summer of 1994, the year we added the vocal music component we discovered an inquiring interdisciplinary theme--Listen, here it comes again. The theme was chosen to remind ourselves that not only do we introduce new ideas each year, we also return to ever-deeper appreciation of old ideas--in this way we evolve dimensionally.
That 1994 summer program affirmed and fulfilled our sense of the possible in arts-centered expressive inquiry. The program could not have been stronger. Coherence marked our investigations and eloquence marked student expressions. Highly imaginative, well-crafted, and meaningful work emerged from an enthusiastic community of fifty students, five faculty, six Allegheny student interns, ten classroom teachers, and many parents. We were ecstatic because we though, in this our fifth year, we had figured 'it' out.
Our euphoria was short lived. When our faculty gathered for evaluating and planning, we heard ourselves wondering if there wasn't 'more'. We were concerned that our arts faculty did not have a rich enough understanding of science to responsibly guide meaningful explorations into many of the 'why' questions our students were asking. For instance, in music class: "What makes sounds sound?" Some in dance class were asking about gravity and momentum, others in art class about the relation between light and color--and so on.
Our habitual meanings for 'interdisciplinary' and 'aesthetic' had been limited to the arts. So anxious were we to make certain that interdisciplinary inquiry included that arts in general and dance in particular that we had created our own exclusions. We had confined our worlds.
Maxine Greene inspired us: "...to interpret from as many vantage points as possible lived experience, the ways there are of being in the world". We were thinking of Maxine's powerful text Landscapes of Learning when the following year, 1995, Children's Creative Arts became Creating Landscapes for Children and Young Teens. That was the year Math and Science were added to our curriculum and Rhythms, Patterns, and Cycles became our first truly interdisciplinary theme. Our theme in summer 2012 is Circles. In between, we have explored Imagine; Energy; Tension; Transitions; Opposites; Making Connections; Time; Balance; Transformations and Change; Natural Wonders; and Darkness, Light, and Shadow, Sounds and Shapes, Bugs and Blues
In addition to Maxine Greene, Creating Landscapes has many intellectual and practical godparents. Most significant among them are American philosophers William James and John Dewey, educational psychologists Jerome Bruner and Howard Gardner, nineteenth century poet/scientist J. W. von Goethe, and twenty-first century neuroscientist/poet Antonio Damasio. Each has argued that aesthetic aliveness, full presence, 'wide-awakeness', and reflection are significant to a richer understanding of both self and world. Further, that the search for meaning is fundamental to human motivation and action and that doing science and making art are among the symbolic activities that human beings employ in the process of making meaning. When that process includes a felt emotional experience, the aesthetic dimension is present. It is our belief that the capacity for aesthetic experience is an aspect of our human endowment and is a cultivatable choice. Creating Landscapes is making that choice.
Creating Landscapes Program Coordinator
Each aspect of the Landscapes program contributes to our inquiry into serious play. Orientation is designed to familiarize program participants and their parents with the physical geography of Creating Landscapes, its faculty, and overarching navigation guidelines. Daily classes are laboratories of exploration where participants discover, find questions, and create skills. Share is to let our parents in on our processes and to develop presence in performance. Exhibition and performances help students understand the roles craftsmanship and editing play in the presentation of creative and scientific work. Our CD of original work and its production illuminate recording processes and provide 'hard copy' of creative musical work. The same is true of our book of student writing. Weekly 4:00 pm improvisations provide opportunity for dancers and musicians to become mindful of the ways individual moment-by-moment choices contribute to group experiences. Finally, the family picnic at Robertson Field Pavillion is an invitation to parents, siblings, and friends to 'join the dance'.
Our intergenerational community of learners is made up of curious, considerate, respectful, and responsible participants. Each aspect of our population has a specific role in the evolution, shaping, and forming of processes that surround both our inquiries and our creative work. Studentsprovide questions, inspiration, and creative energy; artists/scientists/ educators/instructors provide guidance; Allegheny interns provide ongoing feedback and support; and apprentice work-study students provide both support and modeling. Landscape parents provide excited and exciting students, Allegheny College provides the physical home, and the Allegheny Dance and Movement Studies Program provided the laboratory from which our philosophy of learning and teaching evolved. Finally, financial support for our scholarship program continues to come from the Meadville Community and from the friends of Creating Landscapes.
Intergenerational Learning Programs that foster Critical Thinking, Imaginative Expression, and Aesthetic Experience
CLLC Inc. 596 Chestnut Street, Meadville, Pennsylvania 16335
Allegheny College/Summer Landscapes Box 25, 520 North Main Street, Meadville, Pennsylvania 16335
Background artwork by D.P. Warner