Former Juan Cabrillo art teacher Suzanne Demarco has created a book and video program to ensure all schools have an art program, whether they can afford an instructor or not.
By Patrick Timothy Mullikin / Special to The Malibu Times
Heck, even the cavemen had an inkling.
Take away art from the development of the brain, says Suzanne Demarco, and you are taking away the creative faculty.
“Through cave paintings they were able to explain what they were doing, where to go to get food, where not to go, where there is danger,” the former Juan Cabrillo Elementary School art teacher says from her Westlake Village home.
Art, in short, is indispensable.
Demarco, a self-confessed public-school junkie (“I love the diversification, socialization – everything about it is incredible”), is on a one-woman, national crusade to ensure all schools have an art program of some sort, even if they don’t have funding to hire a full-time art instructor. And most don’t these days. Historically, she says, art teachers are the first to go when the budget axe falls. Not even Malibu is exempt; funding for a full-time art teacher for the 2013 school year is iffy, Demarco says.
Tapping into 10 years experience of teaching art to elementary school-aged students in Santa Monica and Malibu, 50-year-old Demarco has created a cost-effective (she estimates it at 50 cents per student, per lesson) program aimed at keeping art alive in classrooms across the country through “Just Do Art, 4 Kids: The Art of Teaching Art,” a book-and-video program. The program features interactive sections on iconic artists such as Marc Chagall, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Roy Lichtenstein.
“It teaches non-art teachers how to teach art. What I’m trying to do is create a very simple version of how to just do art. I give a brief history of an artist – although you might want not want to tell kindergartners that van Gogh cut off his ear,” she says with a laugh. “I give the kids fun facts they never knew and a breakdown of how to do the project.”
For the non-art instructor the book and its accompanying three- to four-minute videos (currently in the works) make it possible to present students with art lessons that meet California and national standards for visual arts.
The book was written to allow teachers to “talk it down or bring it up, depending on the age group,” Demarco says, and it can be geared toward young adults, even adult education.
“Take someone like Chagall (one of her favored artists), I give students an example of his work, and students each do their own impression,” she says. “I end up with 300 different versions of the one piece I had them look at, which to me is phenomenal because you have ones that are spot-on and ones that are their own interpretation.” The book’s cover features Chagall’s “The Rooster” next to a young artist’s own interpretation.
Art teacher Demarco admits to having a knack for being able to show people how to do something; she’s also invested a lot of time and financial resources on the project, leaving her teaching position at Juan Cabrillo last June to focus on working on the book and videos.
“I’m spending a lot of digits,” she says.
Looking to recoup some of those digits and also fund the project, she’s turned to the fundraising website, Kickstarter, which touts itself as “the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects.” Her project can be viewed by going to kickstarter.com and typing “just do art” into the search engine.
Visitors to the page can see a video with more details about the project (she also has a “Just Do Art, 4 Kids: The Art of Teaching Art” website in the works at www.justdoart4kids.com) and donate. Demarco estimates that about $7,500 is needed to help get this first stage of her project off the cutting room floor and into schools. She’s roughly halfway there. But there’s a catch: Demarco’s project will be funded only if the full $7,500 is pledged by June 21. Pledges can exceed the $7,500.
“For a $100 pledge you get the book. For $25 I’ll a send a PDF of three art projects,” she says.
Demarco’s long-term plan is to write three to five books for the series and support them with the website and video lessons.
The program, she says, fills an important need.
“No budget to fund a full-time art teacher? How do we not let art not disappear?
Here’s how you do it, for just a few hundred dollars.”