Children's Art Walk

Visionaries of the future

Monday, April 28, 2014

Although he secured his education at San Francisco’s Academy of Art, in 1999 Bellingham-based artist Ben Mann made a conscious decision to return to his hometown to ply his trade.

One of the first things Mann did when he got back was to join the Whatcom County creative collective known as Allied Arts. He says it’s served him well as a networking base, but has also allowed him to explore another aspect of being an artist. For years, he’s been part of the Allied Arts Education Project; the program secures grants from the state to pay artists to go into grade-school classrooms to supplement where art lessons are missing.

“My teaching success is simply the result of many years of making art and waiting tables, in tandem,” Mann says. “The skill sets fuse well for teaching—there is a great deal of improvisation and public speaking involved. I have developed a style of teaching that brings together tools, techniques and a sense of humor.”

Mann notes that because part of his painting process includes making art via salvaged materials, he’s able to expand his educational repertoire beyond what it takes to commit an image to paper (or wood, as the case may be). He’s also able to incorporate lessons on ecology, economy, invention and what he calls “the blatant abandonment of ‘rules.’”

Like many of the participating artists, Mann says when the school year wraps up, he will have spent close to 100 hours in more than 20 classrooms influencing as many as 2,000 children. Community members can see the fruits of this countywide program Fri., May 3, during the Children’s Art Walk.

In addition to dedicated events at spaces such as Allied Arts, Make.Shift Art Space, and Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, the annual event also features artwork from kids in kindergarten through sixth grade plastered in windows and storefronts throughout the downtown corridor. It’s a visible reminder that art is important to growing minds.

As a teacher, Mann says one of the most important lessons he tries to impart on the kids he works with is that they are indeed artists, and that nobody should tell them they aren’t.

On the other hand, Mann says, the kids have also helped him grow as an artist in the years he’s been teaching them.

“I am downright conservative compared to the color palette and vision of the average 5-year-old,” he says. “I dole out wisdom about line, shape, color—the basics. Meanwhile, my tank is constantly being refilled by their levity. There are some amazingly creative risk-takers in a kindergarten classroom.”

When it comes to the Children’s Art Walk, Mann says he hopes community members will make the trek through downtown to see what’s on display, and find out more about what local kids have learned by being exposed to the arts.

“Families have a reason to go out together and maybe have a new conversation that stems from a child’s experience,” Mann says. “Maybe they take that conversation home. In turn, making art together at home could blur the lines between two or three generations. We are a town rich in the arts, from the pre-schooler on up. Unlike in much bigger cities, we have a chance to take in a lot in a three-block radius, and that makes our sense of community richer and more sustainable.”

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