Worcester Art Museum - ART ALL STATE - What's it all about? Artists Perspective PART 2



Artists apply for a mentorship position for the ART ALL STATE program by Halloween the previous year.  Artist's who are veteran's of the program are not usually called in for interviews, new artists are asked to come in sometime early in the New Year where they discuss the program with the AAS Committee and much like the students are asked a series of questions to see if they're a good fit for the program.

Artist's are notified in February if they've been selected-- and they will receive a package of notes as well as the itinerary for the mandatory artist's meeting usually held in late March or Early April.

As an artist/mentor it's explained quite clearly what your duties are:

1. Facilitate the group's progress
2. Guide but DON'T TEACH
3. This is the student's installation not yours
4. Methods to look for students who feel a lack of connection to the program

The meeting also covers ice breaker methods to get the students to relax and work together, which is not an easy task.  Artists are asked to review what they will say during their presentation on the morning of the start of the program in front of an audience of about 300 people.

The artist pairs are introduced to each other and sit down and discuss possibilities for their group.  The artists choose pieces from the museum's collection to tie in to their studio workshop.  About 75% of the artist mentors are veterans of the program but its still always a good idea to get the refresher.

The artists choose TWO materials to use to make their art.  This year's meeting my partner and I chose PINS and WHITE XEROX PAPER as our materials.  There will be one surprise material introduced on the day of the program that we have to use as well.

They serve lunch and the artist teams write up their proposals and prepare themselves for AAS at the end of May.  Studios are assigned.

As a veteran of nine of these programs-- I can tell you there are a few things you'll want to bring yourself to make your workshop smoother:

1. Music-- whether it's a CD player or an iPod and speakers bring along music.  There is a lot of just mindless work during the weekend and music helps.   This year I brought my iPod and speakers and just used PANDORA to provide a stream of music.

2. Glue Gun, Staple Guns & Staples -- the museum has them on hand but there are not a lot of them.  These are great for helping to get things hung.

3. Duck Tape -- the magic ingredient of any installation.

4. Your own ladder.  The museum will provide ladders but only enough that each studio gets one.  Having two will speed things up.  Not essential but it will help.


The weekend starts early on Friday morning at 8am-- the artists arrive and hang their work for the gallery show of their work in the Higgins education wing.

The artists meet for one last go round of information, are informed of any food allergies in their group and are given a list of the students who will be in their group.  Each team gets 18 students.

There is a continental breakfast served and things get started at 9am.

The entire group heads across the street to the church auditorium where AAS reps Kristi Oliver (Chairman) and Christopher Whitehead (Manager of the Program) welcome the students and introduce the artists.

The artists then present their work and discuss their process in a three minute lecture.  In past years we've had artists go 12 mins or more-- and with 16 artists that can make it a long presentation-- this year was one of the best for keeping the artists on time, with only a handful going over by 2-3 minutes.  Most stayed within their allotted time.

From there we break into our individual groups and head back to our assigned studios.

This year I was paired with uber artist Tom Grady-- Tom is an old friend who started as my assistant at WAM 13 years ago-- today he is an accomplished painter and professor at Assumption College.  We've been paired up three other times and each has been stress free, so I was looking forward to a repeat.

One of the most important components for the artist pairs is to do a suitable ice-breaker to get the kids to relax and work together.

For ours we chose to give them our chosen materials of paper and pins and ask them to build a structural stand strong enough to hold a brick that Tom brought in.

We break the students into groups of three to create their entries.  This gets them into a small enough group that they can feel a bit more comfortable.

From there we take them into the museum to look at our chosen pieces of art from the collection-- this year we chose The Hunt Mosaic, The Wall at WA and The Scarlet Letter-- all pieces we felt went well with our chosen materials.

Tom and I both consider learning every student's name extremely important-- so we go through our attendance roster and make notes-- red hair, glasses, etc-- then spend the better part of the morning quizzing each other and I'm proud to say we have their names down solid before we head out to lunch in the courtyard.

The food is provided by The Corner Grille-- and it's always good.  Turkey wraps, tuna wraps and veggie wraps.


Back in the studio we take each team of three from the icebreaker and pair them with another team of 3 so we now have three groups of six students-- they then prepare concepts they present to the entire group as to what manner of installation they'd like to do.

Artist/mentor Andy Bell works through the concept session with his group
Tom and I take notes and act as jurors for the whole process.  We GUIDE, we don't teach.  We lean them towards certain ideas and present the realistic problems of others.

One of the suggestions was to hang a giant butterfly in the middle of the room-- the trouble with this idea was the simple lack of any kind of string.  Since it wasn't one of our materials we encouraged them to try a different thought.

We meld the three ideas into one that works together and the groups start working on various components of the installation.

Peter, Taylor and Hanna working in our group
The idea is to create a wall of white paper that will interact with the display lights in the studio.  They'll create a pattern similar to the mosaic we saw and use shadow to create a pattern.  One of the students suggests placing occasional pieces of crumpled paper among the display wall to add a bit of texture to the display and to emphasize it's shadow effect.


The wall begins to take shape and as of Friday night close they're pretty far along.  Some of the pieces of paper start to come loose and its only at this point that Tom and I notice that they secured the pieces of paper together with small balls of masking tape.

From an engineering point combined with the humidity in the studio we know this will never hold up.  We contemplate having them take the whole thing down and reassemble with the proper tape, but decide to wait and see how it looks in the morning.

Remember-- the goal here is to GUIDE not TEACH.

In years past I've seen instances where it's clear the artists led the group and the students worked as assistants-- and that is not the intended goal.  The idea is that the students come up with the idea and then put the installation together.

If we walk into some parts of the wall being down it will be a learning point for them.

Saturday morning we're back bright and early again-- this time at 8-- there is an artist breakfast in basically a storage locker in the back-- again-- continental-- I need bacon and eggs-- and then its off to the second day of the program.


We walk back in to total wall collapse.
The studio got increasingly humid during the night and the result was worse than Tom and I thought.

By the time we get there, the kids are already hard at work repairing it.

This will set us behind by about 3 hours -- and we've only got about five total working hours on Saturday to begin with-- but pulling together we'll get it done.

As I've said this was my ninth go round at AAS-- and I was blown away by the professionalism and the positive attitude these students had over this setback.   No whining, no crying, no one even thought of giving up.   They recognized the error of the use of masking tape and worked quickly to repair and rebuild.



AAS Chair Kristi Oliver stopped in to observe the disaster.

"I'm not worried if you're not."

The trouble is-- I am a bit worried, we're running out of time, but these students are remarkable.


The wall goes back up with the help of some borrowed ladders from nearby studios so we can do it in one big piece.


The students create a pattern of the cut paper onto the floor, mimicking the look of the Hunt Mosaic we looked at.

Students evaluate the program
From there they opted to use a borrowed paper shredder to create waves of loose paper scraps.


The shreds are scattered with precision and thought to help create a seam effect between the wall and the floor.


The pins are used to create a sort of flower blossom effect among the walls and with the "secret" material we got for the process-- in this case silver gift bags which we cut into strips.


The display is finished and the room is cleaned-- the lights create a nice ambience and the crumpled paper casts an interesting shadow effect and the gray showing through creates an interesting pattern on the floor.

After a weekend of no phones, we lift the ban
With the work finished-- we review the process and discuss what we learned.
From there the studios are opened to the public and we meet several parents who have great questions about the program and art school in general.

Front to back-- Tom Grady and I, Dessy, Danielle and Kate
The students are then given their certificates and we return to the studios to take the installations down.
It's a great experience and one that I'll sign up for again next year.