Introducing Clubs: Media Arts

A backlit group of leaves at the Dorchester North Burying Ground

This fall, Conservatory Lab is excited to launch a robust arts and academic enrichment program thanks to a change in our schedule. We are building capacity over the next 24 months for the program with Conservatory Lab staff as well as external partners. We have called the program “Make, Move, and Jam,” because families have shown interest in opportunities for students to make with things like visual arts and technology, move with things like dance, intramural sports, and karate, and jam with things like poetry, music, and games.  You can find out more about the program and future plans on our Clubs Page which will have up to date listings for every program cycle. This year we had a Fall cycle starting in October and plan to run clubs in Winter (January to March) and Spring (April to early June).    

Our first Upper School Club is called “Media Arts: Where are you going?” Students are producing photos, short slideshows, and visual art based on fieldwork in our neighborhood.  Walks have included a trip to the Lower School, the Dorchester North Burying Ground, some murals by local artists, and the future site of the Uphams Corner Library.  

Colgan Johnson, Conservatory Lab’s Building Substitute for the Upper School is always learning new things about photography even after several years behind the camera. He is also passionate about our students’ voices as artists.  On the first day of the club he said, “I know you all are one day going to be better than me at photography, or whatever art you choose. It’s going to take work and intention. That’s my goal.” José Santiago, our Art Teacher and Mr. Johnson shared their own media arts work with students the first week, before a walking trip over to the Lower School and Downer Avenue Playground. Both literally and figuratively students asked, “Where are we going?” as they captured interesting pictures of each other and our neighborhood.

On day two, back in the Art Room each student got their own sketchbook to record ideas with words and pictures, and make drawings during fieldwork. Mr. Santiago shared his passion for drawing, and explained to students how he uses a sketchbook as an artist to record ideas. Everyone focused on decorating the covers of their books.  The club is structured with one fieldwork day alternated by studio time to allow students to learn the technology behind creating images.  On our studio day, Thursday, students sort their photos on computers, write about what they learned and what they are still curious about in their journals, and create maps, short “stories” for Instagram, and movies which we will be sharing over the coming weeks.   

During the second week of Media Arts Club,  students captured bright sun and fall leaves during our fieldwork at the Dorchester North Burying Ground and met special guests Biplaw Rai and Kwase Kwaa. With their third partner, Nyacko Pearl Perry, they are starting a restaurant in the adjacent Comfort Station. “It used to be a place for people to stop when there was a street car that ran down Columbia Road. Kwase and I were looking for a location and after one site fell through, Historic Boston contacted us and asked if we would be interested,” said Rai. Historic Boston collaborates with the City of Boston to preserve important sites and create cultural programming. 

To help students understand the vision for their restaurant, Kwaa and Rai asked students to share their favorite foods, cooked by their families: Haitian Rice and Beans; Sofrito with rice from the DR; and Mofongo, also with rice, were some of the answers. “I noticed that a lot of your choices had rice in them,” said Rai, “That’s sort of what brought Kwase and I together. We are from different places, but rice is central to what we eat, and how we share in our communities.” 

Kwaa went on, “I’m from Ghana, and our dishes are very different from Biplaw’s family’s rice dishes in Nepal, but it inspired us to think about how many people from all over the world live right here, and what other kinds of connections we might find through food.” 

For the next fieldwork students took a walk from the School into Grove Hall to see murals by Marka 27 and Problak. Students took close up and far away photographs of the “Breathe Life” and used the “See, Think, Wonder” thinking routine from Project Zero to find meaning and highlight their curiosity. 

According to Mr. Johnson, after just a few weeks in the Media Arts Club “Students accepted challenges and critiques to improve their images, and practiced composing stories in the frame.”  He’s focused on giving them a sense of purpose and said, “They are still working on their intentions as they go through the creative process, but they are growing.”  We can’t wait to see where they are going, how about you?