Teaching Artists and Classroom Assistants are invaluable members of the Arts Corps community. They contribute their time, energy and creative minds in so many different ways. Without them we would be lost. Each month, we will feature a Teaching Artist or Classroom Assistant from the Arts Corps community, and invite them to share their experiences, sources of inspiration, and thoughts on social justice. Do you have a pad of paper available? Because you’ll want to take notes!
Meet Teaching Artist Mylen Huggins! Mylen Huggins believes that the arts are an essential part of becoming an educated person. She’s a visual artist, an arts advocate, coordinator, collaborator, facilitator, volunteer; her passion to bring more arts into schools resulted in the development of a thriving arts program at a neighborhood Seattle Public School that began in 2009. She’s been teaching visual arts to young learners since her earliest days at Seattle Children’s Museum in 1996. Since then, Mylen has facilitated various art-making workshops and classes from preschool cooperatives, to after-school programs, art camps and currently at elementary schools. Mylen has exhibited paintings in different venues around Seattle. As an artist, she is greatly inspired by and thrives on the super-art powers and creativity that comes from her collaborative work with students.
What inspired you to become a Teaching Artist? Actually, teaching found me. When my sons were in cooperative preschool, I always volunteered to organize the art activities – making props, creating masks, painting, sculpture, construction, whatever visual sensory activity and tactile projects the teacher needed help with. The best part of the whole experience was being a part of the wonderment and awe that children expressed when they discovered that they have just created art with their own two hands, conceived from their very own self, always blew me away. Or when I helped them realize something has always been there, like the color of shadows, or that objects when looked at from a certain light has a shady side or when they realize that writing their name is a form of drawing, and that all along, they have super artistic powers…it is so inspiring to be a part of that discovery and that building of confidence is for lack of a better expression, AMAZING!
What project(s) are you working on with youth right now? At Southern Heights Elementary School, a K-5 school without art instruction for the past 4 years, I worked with the teachers and principal to develop a curriculum that introduces and explores the fundamental language of visual art. The students learned that there’s not a day without line; that texture is the smoothness of their skin to the rough feel of the rug they sit on for story time, that green can be made by mixing blue and yellow, etc. Southern Heights students are courageous, they are trying new things, they realize that imagination and creativity is always a part of them.
In addition to Southern Heights, I am also working with a group of Kindergarten and 1st grade students at Madrona Elementary School. I designed a curriculum around books that are fun, visually engaging, familiar perhaps and hoping that it would generate a visual narrative as a collage, a line drawing, a textured painting, or as a portrait. One of the first books I read to the students was Swimmy by Leo Leoni and then we used stamping inks and markers to create thumbprint fish. One student created three-dimensional eels by accordion folding paper and drawing in eyes, others combined stamping ink and markers to create their fish. My initial plan was to have the kids glue all their fish into the shape of another big fish, just like the story, but before I made the suggestion, the eel designer exclaimed, “We should make a school of fish!!” Brilliant, I thought. I ripped a huge sheet of blue paper, laid it out on the floor and handed out scissors and glue sticks and there on the floor was a school of kids creating a school of fish. Collaboration in action!
What do you feel is most important about the mission and work of Arts Corps? I’ve been an independent teaching artist since 2009, a volunteer art docent since 2003 and advocate for the arts for as long as I can remember. I am a passionate supporter of bringing more art into public schools – a belief that I share with Arts Corps. I am so honored to be a teaching artists for Arts Corps because I am fulfilling what I feel is my civic duty of bringing quality, high art education to school children, especially those who are underserved.
How do you incorporate social justice into your teaching? Each student contributes to a community agreement that every one has to abide by in order to create a safe, supportive and collaborative environment. At the end of each lesson or session, we take the time to reflect on individual work or group work and provide encouraging and supportive words to make each person feel confident and successful about their work and themselves. I also make sure that the classroom teacher is included in our discussion and activities, the experience that occurs during art lessons is not just for the students, but also for the classroom teachers.
To view some of Mylen’s personal artwork, visit her website.
*Photographs by Mylen Huggins.