West Loop students make a scene

Skinner West students gear up for Redmoon's Youth Spectacle 2012

05/16/2012 10:00 PM

Contributing Writer

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Esther, above, show off her commitment box. She has committed to working hard at school every day.

Kaila Williams, below left, glues her poem in her “Commitment World.” Her second grade class worked on the boxes as part of a Redmoon artist in residency at Skinner West Elementary.

Most second graders can’t spell commitment, much less discuss it. Not so for Ashley Howlett’s Skinner West Class.

“My commitment is to treat others how I want to be treated,” said Kaila Williams. “If you, like, commit to things it can, like, help you with your life.” Well, still not bad from an 8-year-old.

For the past six weeks the class has been discussing commitment as part of an artist in residency program with Redmoon, the West Town theater company known for its love of whimsy and spectacle. Students from three second grade classes at the West Loop school have been creating the world in which they are living their commitment — complete with a short poem — inside small, wooden boxes.

The boxes will be displayed later this month as part of Youth Spectacle 2012 at Notebaert Nature Center. By design, they demand interaction. Long and narrow, they will be lit from the inside and viewed through a small hole on one end. Inside, viewers will find small objects, a poem and picture of the artist.

“The aesthetic of this whole piece is the secret world of commitment,” Nikki Valeski said. She’s the Short Term Residency Coordinator for Redmoon and is currently overseeing 12 residencies in grades K-12 across Chicago.

“There’s really an amazing breadth as to what this theme has been able to tap into.”

Howlett has used it as a chance in her classroom to tie in the hot button issue of bullying by getting her students to think about making a commitment to prevent it.

“Commitment is such a unique thing because most of the students didn’t understand what it was,” she said. Now they’re talking about what steps they’ll take to make their world a better place, from caring for the birds to being nicer to their cousins to not telling lies.

The citywide efforts will culminate in the display of more than 500 art pieces created by over 650 youth across Chicago. Valeski, who is also helping direct and produce the Youth Spectacle, said it will honor the art students made with both indoor and outdoor galleries, break-out performances and a band.“There’s huge value in getting a bunch of adults together in a room and telling them to listen to what the kids are saying,” she said.

This is the second year Redmoon has staged a Youth Spectacle.

Valeski said it’s the perfect vehicle for Redmoon because it hits on their main interests: educating while engaging communities.

Williams, for one, can’t wait to see her first gallery piece on display.

“My mom’s gonna be like ‘it’s just a plain old box,’” she said. “But then she’s going to look inside and be like, ‘Woah!’”

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