How Middle School Art Installation Can Prompt Conversations

Amy Bilden Budzelek

Amy Bilden Budzelek

In preparation for Whitby School's upcoming production of 13: The Musical, Art Teacher Amy Bilden Budzelek reflects on her experience as an adolescent, and on how the art installation program provides an outlet for her own middle school students.

As a 13 year old living on the prairies of Eastern Montana I felt trapped in rural ranch lands and wranglers.

I felt I never quite fit in that scene and my window out was an RCA television where I would watch MTV every day after school. It was here that I had a few hours of release from the confinements of small town living.  The music videos gave me diversity, excitement, culture.  It gave me an education and curiosity in what was beyond my little town on the prairie. Insights into experiences I could only dream of and my view finder was that television.

Flash forward and I am now living on the East Coast. I have slowly adapted from small town USA to greater NYC.  My scenario is not uncommon; the situation is essentially the reverse of what our lead, Evan experienced. As I shared my personal experiences and lexicon of rural life with our Whitby artists, they tried to imagine what it would be like to move to a rural town in Indiana.  This gave them a place to share their experiences and imagine how the scenes we were creating might look.



Looking at their set I see them reaching to create something they may not completely understand.  I see how the students drew from their own experiences and created not just the character's homes but their homes, their colors, and once and awhile I see them stretch to imagine another scene different from their own.

The characters our students depict and discuss are more complex than what we read in the script. They show their complexity with little clues and considered the possibility of giving insights though opening a locker door to their rooms and scenes; thinking what these kids may be and what might be below the surface. 

Middle school is that unique time where students border childhood and adulthood.  It is being trapped between one door closing and another door opening.

Art was where I found my place in middle school. It was what gave me confidence and what allowed me to share what mattered.

Art was what I would do when I didn't have the words to share my thinking, my feelings, or what I understood of the world around me.  But I never wrote a statement, I never had a discussion about what I created, and I never shared the feelings I poured into my work.

Over the past few weeks art installation hasn't just been a place of creating and making, but the work has been prompting conversations about the topics in the play.  It has inspired the students to discuss the content as well as the characters and allowed us all to stretch our thinking.  By creating we are asking to continue the dialog and we hope you also participate in the conversations.

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Amy Bilden Budzelek

Amy Bilden Budzelek

Amy Bilden Budzelek is a working artist and Upper School Visual Arts teacher at Whitby School. She is passionate about unlocking a student's potential and getting kids excited about Art. Budzelek presents a variety of ideas in Visual Arts as a catalyst to spark a student's creativity and vision. Art is an avenue that will open doors, give voice, and create controversy and propose questions.