An Artful Tribute to Dr. King
On Monday, January 21, a group of small artists clutching finger paints and pizza slices can’t be torn away from the scene unfolding at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Providence. As a skilled DJ blasts catchy hip hop riffs throughout the school’s cafeteria, two teenagers jump up on a table and begin to twitch in time to the music. In a matter of seconds, the choreographed convulsions morph into head spins, freezes and other wild breakdancing moves. Unable to contain their excitement, the younger paint-smeared kids leap to their feet to partake in the rhythmic celebration.
The impromptu dance party marked the upbeat spirit of the annual MLK Day of Service, a program at the heart of RISD’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Series. Hosted each year by RISD and the Mt. Hope Learning Center, the Day of Service – held on the Monday holiday celebrating King’s life and legacy – involved more than 100 RISD students who volunteered to facilitate arts and crafts workshops for a diverse group of high-energy elementary school students.
“This day is all about making the world better through collaboration and giving,” notes Tony Johnson 93 SC, director of Intercultural Student Engagement. “It’s so important for us to take time to pause and remember that we can be catalysts for peace. We all have the capacity to make change through donating our time and our talents.”
With a speckled paint brush in hand, Interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID couldn’t help but smile while flinging globs of neon paint onto a swath of fabric on the cafeteria floor. The furniture designer was helping a group of young artists make a large piece of art to be hung at the school. One particularly excited student cozied up to her to confess that he “goes crazy for art.”
“This has been such a wonderful experience for both the elementary students and members of the RISD community who are here today,” Somerson says. “It’s crucial that we come together to host these types of programs that support children’s developing artistic abilities – especially as federal funding for the arts becomes more scarce.”
In almost every corner of the building, people are working together to make various creative projects. For instance, students sit quietly next to Paul Olsen 95 IL, a longtime faculty member in Illustration, as he meticulously works on a cool-hued portrait of Dr. King. “It’s really great to give students an opportunity to see how a painting is made,” he says. “They’re seeing the evolution [of the portrait] throughout the day.”
Wearing a phonetic nametag, Jared Lafond 12 IL helps kids fasten newly assembled friendship bracelets they made using plastic beads. Then, dodging packs of carousing toddlers, the illustrator makes his way over to a nearby table to assist in a group watercolor project. On the second floor of the maze-like building, Natasha Sharpe 17 FS adds the finishing touches to a surrealist mural while chatting softly with her classmates about the influential role volunteerism plays in her life.
“It’s so important to venture out from our own self-constructed bubbles to give back to the communities that surround us,” the Foundation Studies student says while taking a moment to size up her work. “Volunteering ultimately gives us perspective – and that makes us better artists and, ultimately, better human beings.”
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