The BATS Project: Handley Elementary School (2020)
This year’s project celebrated Saginaw’s relationship with sister city Amanokrom, Ghana, while supporting the International Curriculum in the third grade at Handley Elementary School. It was funded with an SVSU Community Engagement grant to Sociology Professor Dawn Hinton for the BATS Project: Business, Art, Theatre and Sociology Reinvent Urban Communities 2020.
Handley parent Glecia Tatum approached the SVSU Art Department in 2019 about murals in Handley, and enrolled in Art 433 to help see them to completion. The BATS Project had originally intended to involve teenagers organized by First Ward Community Center’s Sankofa Project to travel to Ghana in summer 2020, but that trip was canceled. As in the five previous BATS Projects, it was organized to involve cross-disciplinary teams of SVSU students from Business, Art, Theatre and Sociology, the origin of the acronym BATS.
Art 433’s Matt Massey, Nicole Szymanski, Conrad Dowe, Glecia Tatum, Bekah Grossmeyer and Kenady Kaufman, with Professors Joseph Ofori-Dankwa (Business), David Rezeszutek (Theatre) and Mike Mosher (Art). Not pictured: Prof. Dawn Hinton.
As the project was taking shape, Handley Principal Shannon Main-Patelka asked that the life-sized plywood figures for the staircase celebrate regional notables. Two globes with young activists Greta Thunberg of Sweden and Malala of Pakistan were added after the class noticed they were being studied in the third-grade classes we visited. They also urge third graders to look beyond Michigan to make a positive impact on the world.
Though plywood, paint and installation hardware were purchased, these did not get beyond the miniature maquette stage.
BATS printed mural panels "Amanokrom + Saginaw" were planned, so as in previous years, Art 433 students could contrast the different but complementary processes of painting with acrylic paints, and digitally designing, contemporary community murals.
Art 433 in 2020, like everyone, was blindsided by the Coronavirus pandemic. SVSU was shuttered at a crucial stage of our collective mural design and production processes. These were well underway for life-size painted plywood figures and 3.5' x 17' vinyl printed panels to be installed at Handley Elementary School, Saginaw. One of the six students dropped out from stress, three others were impacted by personal and family illness and online communication difficulties.
Closing SVSU meant its Fine Art students weren't taught the Photoshop skills to prepare and manipulate their own pen-drawn imagery, nor the inspiring imagery provided to us by Handley third graders. Yet we nevertheless had some rich content to work with, thanks to our overseas and child collaborators.
Here are two very rough versions of the two long panels, to be printed when ready by the SVSU Graphics Center. Each image in both complex murals is on its own Photoshop Layer, allowing changes in color, contrast, opacity, size, and placement in front of or behind other imagery. What you see isn't "cooked" yet, for a harmonious composition; much of the imagery is even still black and white. More might be done to put the future visions in discrete "screens", and to bring logic to the bounty of fruit.
In the Saginaw panel, a boy is educated via virtual reality of Saginaw's historic past (UN representative Ralph Bunche at his shoulder), but also multiple possibilities for the future. Not having read the official city government plans, the class at first could only imagine "Jetsons" futurism. Yet our January 27 art + brainstorming workshops with its third-graders at Handley School provided wonderful articulations of an environmentally green and friendly future, plus their own ecological concerns. Some African children are present too, to broaden the boy's international horizons.
The girl in the Amanokrom panel offers the fundamental of good health: natural foods. Some market photographs were provided by our Ghanaian student friends. Though the schools of Amanokrom might be more appropriate in the other "education" panel, we celebrate them here rather than more conventional travel images of Ghana. Some imagery of its jewelry may be added, and the girl dressed in fine Kente cloth and gold.
Kenady Kaufman edited and scanned the myriad images provided by the Handley kids when they were asked by Art 433 students "What do you see for the future? Draw that." Bekah Grossmeyer (not even an Art major!) drew the fruits that nourish Ghanaians. Glecia Tatum drew children of Ghana and Michigan. A friend of BATS inquired: are we sending copies of the murals, perhaps smaller, to Amanokrom?
Again, in May 2020 there remains much to be done to prepare these Photoshop files for printing and installing as large murals. Yet these two images provide proof of Art 433's thought and conceptualization of the themes—history, future, health and education—of the Winter 2020 endeavors of the BATS Project: Business, Art, Theatre and Sociology Reinvent Urban Communities.
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The links below are the final presentations by the two BATS teams, featuring their communication with Ghanaian students: