Saturday, March 2, 2019

Billy Kheel: Crow River Project at Hassan Elementary

As I have mentioned on this blog a couple of times, Hassan Elementary dreamed big (previous post). We wanted to bring Billy Kheel from NBC's TV show 'Making It' to come and work with our Kindergarten through 5th Grade students here in Minnesota. Well, IT HAPPENED. In this post, I will talk about the project, materials, and some sweet moments in this very BIG project at Hassan Elementary.

In the fall when the show was happening my friend Leah (@DoubleLoadedPaint) and I would watch 'Making It' and laugh out loud at all the puns, admire the art being created, and after message the contestants to congratulate them or wish them the best after being voted off the show.  In my after show research and social media dive into Billy Kheel, I noticed that he had done residencies before. I decided to email this Californian and see if he would be willing to work with my school. He simply replied, Yes. That is when I went into action. I explained that I would create an estimated budget and present it to my Parent Organization and get back to him soon.

In the fall I always do a fundraiser with Art To Remember, this helped with some of the funding but I was asked to make a few more dollars. I put my wish on Donors Choose. In short, Donors Choose is a website where Educators can put a wish out there to be funded and anyone, families, organizations, companies, corporations... can donate to your cause. After a post on Instagram and an email home, My Donors Choose Wish was fully funded in 24 hours. I had a large portion donated by a company called Education Closet. This company provides STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Resources and Professional Development to Educators online.  I have worked with them before presenting sessions for their online conference. The rest of the donations were offered by parents who are passionate about Art or know that their child is. There was an overwhelming response from parents saying, "Thank you for asking". It seems parents like to know where their money is going and if it lines-up with their beliefs and/or their students' interests, they are happy to support financially (at least at the school I work at). Because I shared my big idea with the whole Hassan Elementary community, I was able to have additional donations that helped in my efforts. Billy's Hotel stays at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Ramsey was GREATLY subsidised by the General Manager who just happens to have a daughter in the first grade at my school.



Billy was funded, but now we were looking for the materials to make this project happen. I reached out the Triarco, MY FAVORITE company to order Art Supplies from in Minnesota and asked them if they would donate to this project. They responded by sending scissors that would cut through felt well. That was a HUGE help. Billy Reached out as well to his contacts.  Aleene's Tacky Glue donated all the glue we needed and JoAnn Fabric and Craft Store donated the felt... so much felt... to this project!

I talked Billy into visiting Minnesota from California in the middle of February (brave dude). This is where I had extra help again. I asked my friends Denver and Kristen who are crafters and owners of a company called Denver Chalks and fans of the show to be the airport shuttle. Billy and I met up Monday night, Presedence Day, to go into the school and wrap our head around the execution of the project. We were ready... or so we thought. Any of you who teach Elementary Art and rotate classes through on a regular basis you know the first class teaches you how to teach. You get better as the week goes on. So we started by cutting paper patterns for the felt fish. It was awkward and disjointed on day one, but we learned a lot.

The second day that Billy was working with kids, we had a snow day.  This year has been hard on Minnesota Schools with snow days.  It felt like a loss until I called Billy and we decided to work anyways. The whole Hahn family got in the 4-wheel drive truck and picked up Billy. Our next stop was to a hardware store and then my husbands' shop (he's a Tech Ed Teacher in our district). Because of my husband Tim's profession, he guided us to use Fiberboard and Pine boards to make 4-foot by 8-foot shadow boxes. We brought them to Hassan and had them displayed in the Art Studio for the next day students. The boxes made this project so satisfying because as the students completed a fish or an object, they were able to bring it over to Billy and hang it right to the display (even if just temporary).

Because of the snow day, I worked hard at still making sure all classes had an opportunity to have time with Billy Kheel. That meant a few doubled classes. It ended up being fun to watch the older kids working with the kindergarten in this collaborative project.

As students came into class, I would introduce Billy and then he would share a little bit about the 'River Project' that he did in LA. The LA River Project was a comment about the current state of the river. Billy explained to my students that there is a list of what is recovered in the annual cleanups of the river an that is what he based his choices on when creating that work of Art. He also comments on the culture of the river and the area around it by objects such as Blinky the fish from the show the Simpsons, which is created near the LA River. He talks about the fish that live in his river, the fish that have become extinct and the invasive species that lives in his river.

Then he shifts gears to our project. Rogers has the Crow River flowing through it. Billy and I worked together to research the species of fish in the river as well as comment on the people who do and have lived near this river. You will not only spot lots of fish, plants, and wildlife native to our Crow River in the final display, but you will also find a Medicine Bag and a feather representing our Native American Ojibwa Tribes that live in Minnesota. You will also see a piece that was inspired by Delina White, a modern Anishinaabe Artist from Minnesota. We have included a top hat to represent the fur trade of beaver pelts to make top hats that brought some of our early settlers to Minnesota. We were also fluid in what was added to the work of Art. I'll talk about a family night we did later in this write-up, but through conversations with some of the Dad's, Billy learned about a golf course by the Crow River that many of them had lost golf balls in.

Not only was this project very Ecology and Historically rich, but it also taught the method of applique. All of Billy's designs were made so each color could be layered onto each other to create the final image.  Each class got to work where the last class left off. Maybe one group was cutting the designs and then the next would be arranging the pieces. We had 'Glue Crews' working hard to secure the works of art. The fish started filling the shadow boxes that we were calling fish tanks by this time.

Every night we would leave exhausted, but we were lucky to have more donations and help from families who hosted Billy in the evenings. The Pfeifer family helped and hosted Billy several times. The Gorders did as well. Our Administrative Assistant Jill Lydell took Billy to explore Minneapolis on the weekend. Several coworkers signed up to bring us snacks, lunch, and fuel to get through the day and we couldn't have done it without the extra help.

Friday night was my favourite time for this project. I invited the families who donated via Donors Choose to come to a family night to say Thank You. I also invited Hassan Staff to thank them for being flexible with schedules and such. We had about 70 people come, ranging from ages 2 years-old to adults. All the fish that we had created were hand sewn and stuffed. This night was filled with laughter, conversation, and crafting. Really what could be better? OH... a donation of Dilly Bars from the local Dairy Queen would make it better (thanks again Pfeifer Family). One of my favourite comments about this event was that the atmosphere of the night made it enjoyable for introverts.  There was a lot of energy in the room but everyone had a job, we could have a conversation but our hands had to be moving. It was amazing to see parents working side by side with kids. I loved watching ALL family members (including the Dads) pick up a needle and start sewing. It was a good night to be a crafter.

We had two more days to work with the students. Kindergarten cut bubbles and rocks. Older students worked on water plans and fish. As new fish and objects were completed, Billy was creating his composition. The students were watching the final work come to be.

Billy Kheel worked to connect with every child that came into the room. I spent a lot of time pumping him up before his visit, so most students knew the 'star power' he had. He went to every table, talked with every kid.  I chose Billy Kheel as Visiting Artist because he was different from me. He creates sports based Artwork and fish... this was going to connect to many of the boys in my school in a way that I can't. Hassan ended up getting so much more than that. We created a work of art collaboratively. We worked with felt and for many students that is the first time they have done so. We learned about our Crow River and how it is the same and different as the LA River. This experience was so rich. I enjoyed watching Billy learn from the kids too. Most Minnesota kids have a story about fishing. Minnesota is the 'Land of 10,000 Lakes' you know. He laughed and 'played' with the kids. He signed autographs (well we made copies of his autograph so he wouldn't have to write 750). Overall, when we look at this collaborative Artwork hanging on the wall, we will know it was us, together, with Billy Kheel who created it.

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