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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
April 24, 2007
DeKalb — Even though students come to Mira Reisberg’s ARTE 383 course at Northern Illinois University to learn how art can integrate into a traditional elementary school curriculum, they leave with something greater: a better understanding of young minds.
Reisberg teaches concepts of visual culture – the principal focus in the NIU School of Art’s art education division –while giving her students a good dose of social consciousness. She connects students’ learning with their local community.
Each semester, for example, students create animal paper maché banks to learn about their environment. They creatively paint the banks and place them out in the community to raise money for DeKalb homeless shelter Hope Haven.
“Hope Haven’s Lesly Wicks talks with the students about the surprisingly large number of homeless families in our community, how to figure out if kids are homeless or not and how to help kids in their classroom who are homeless,” Reisberg says. “The idea is to raise the students’ awareness about participating in community life and being aware of people who, through no fault of their own, just don’t earn enough money to pay rent.”
Reisberg always encourages her students to participate in the spirit of their communities, and that spirit takes center stage at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3, during a puppet show at The House, 263 E. Lincoln Hwy.
The 75-minute show is free and open to the public.
“It’s a real fun night for kids and community members,” says Reisberg, a first-year professor in the School of Art. “We’re spoofing kids’ TV shows, kids’ books and kids’ movies with glove puppets, and every now and then we have sock puppets interrupt with commercials. The commercials are designed to show the underlying messages in advertising, hopefully promoting kids’ awareness that they are being manipulated.”
Reisberg’s 26 students, who are planning careers as elementary school teachers and take her course as an elective, wrote their own scripts and made their own glove puppets and sock puppets.
Meanwhile, their professor is not about to miss out on the fun: “I’m the MC,” she says. “I made a mini-me puppet called Mo – short for More Mira.”
Local puppeteer Keith Shubert also will perform.
Shubert saw fliers posted for the first ARTE 383 puppet show, staged last fall, and asked Reisberg if he could present “a little show-and-tell” for the standing-room-only audience.
“I have this habit of saying yes to life, and it was wonderful, so wonderful,” Reisberg says. “Keith is a local treasure, really, a phenomenal puppeteer. Now he’s kind of collaborating with us, which is great. He makes extraordinary, elaborate puppets, and has done a workshop and show-and-tell with my class. He’s helped us make more sophisticated puppets.”
Students Tisha Jantzen and Jaime Mack are in a group preparing a spoof on the story of the three little pigs. In their script, Mama Pig goes on a TV dating show hosted by the Big Bad Wolf.
“We’re hoping for laughter,” says Heather Ogborn, a junior whose puppet plays Cinderella in a fairytale spoof.
The lessons of art integration also are hitting their marks.
“I absolutely love this art class,” says Mack, a graphic designer who’s earning a second bachelor’s degree with plans to teach third grade. “I’ve learned a lot of different ways to teach multiculturally.”
“I’m trying to appreciate art more,” Jantzen adds. “You really don’t have to be artistic. Art can be simple. Art isn’t really perfection. Anything can be art, really.”
“Just incorporating art into regular education makes the students smarter,” Ogborn says. “It makes for a more well-rounded child.”
Visual culture, the foundation of NIU’s art education curriculum, expects exactly that.
Children are bombarded and informed by images from seemingly everywhere, including television, movies, magazines, Web pages and more. Indigenous arts and multicultural arts are staking their ground in a modern world where European artists of past centuries also remain part of a sound art curriculum.
NIU art professor Kerry Freedman is “really opening up the field of art education” to include visual culture, Reisberg says. Reisberg’s own interest – place-based education – features the local community and its landscape in the lesson plans.
“We live in this visual world, and kids are getting an education through these images, but no one talks about what the images actually say,” Reisberg says. “People from non-Anglo-European cultures have been really marginalized. We have to make education meaningful so it relates to all kids. They’re interested in what’s happening in their own lives.”
The puppet show is “what education should be,” she adds.
“Education should be critical and pleasurable,” she says, “and when you bring those things together – engaging in a hearts-and-minds activity – it’s the kind of thing that makes you so thrilled to be an art educator. In this place of learning and love and fun, your mouth sometimes hurts from laughing so much.”
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