Pages Inspires Students through Art-Infused Writing

By Kelsey Pohlman
Outreach and Engagement Communications Intern

In high school, you can often hear students complaining about their calculus final, an English paper they had to write or a chemistry lab gone wrong; but rarely do you hear high school students complaining, or even discussing, art.

Due to funding cuts across Ohio, classes like art, dance, music and creative writing do not exist in many schools. Very few students have the opportunity to engage with, have conversations about, or learn alongside art because there is less and less exposure to art in schools, especially in high school. Dionne Custer Edwards, Wexner Center for the Arts educator and manager, school partnerships, hopes her work in central Ohio schools will help shift the conversation.

Students work in the Pages program

Pages, an annual program created and facilitated by Custer Edwards, works with six central Ohio high school classes to support the development of students' writing skills through interaction with contemporary art, film, and performing arts. Three local artists go into the schools before and after experiences to help them discuss and write about the art they just explored.

"Pages is a way for students to communicate with other students; students even have the opportunity to get published through their writing, photography and artwork," Custer Edwards said. "Writing is challenging even when you love it; Pages helps students think about it differently."

How does a school get involved with Pages?

"Teachers submit their applications through a series of questions and a piece of writing they complete for the Pages blog," Custer Edwards explained. "The teacher's blogs are very transparent; they sometimes involve learning how to take a theme, like economics, and pair it with literature, art or poetry."

Getting the students as invested as the teachers seems like a tough task, but the strategies Custer Edwards uses are ones enabled to mold themselves to the students, not to the art.

"The buy-in is good. They have choices on how they're going to get involved," she said. "We like to take a particular topic or theme and explore it. I want them to show me what they get out of this experience and they have the freedom to display that."

Students get the chance to display this "powerful show of space and work," as Custer Edwards calls it, in a book that's published at year's end and an open-mic; but that's only after they witness the art that comes to life in their writing.

Pages Goes Musical

Students write during the Pages programThe rustic sounds of a banjo, saxophone, cello, bass clarinet, piano and violins flow through a large hall while rural images of drinking and dancing flash on a screen in the Wexner Center for the Arts late in autumn semester. The Pages students from schools like Franklin Heights, Delaware Hayes and Central Crossing are experiencing their first piece of art from musician Brian Harnetty.

Harnetty's piece is aptly named Shawnee, Ohio, inspired by his ancestral hometown and its history as an old coal town in southern Ohio. The piece fit perfectly into the student's first Pages experience, as many of the students are learning through the lens of their own hometowns and ancestry.

"One of my goals is to make something that moves you," Harnetty said after answering a student's question post-performance. "I like the stories, the town, the people, the social life, protest and ultimately the hope."

While Harnetty hoped to move the Pages students into thinking about how "the past is not over, it keeps going," local writer and Pages artist-in-residence Amelia Gramling works to inspire the students and teachers to put those thoughts and feelings onto paper.

"Pages is an awesome, eye-opening program that made me think about art and writing in a different way," Gramling enthused.

While different artists like Harnetty and Gramling enter into Pages to stimulate the minds of students and faculty alike, it is the students' exposure to art through writing that becomes central to the learning process. And as one student put it, "the whole world is a classroom."

"Pages says your ideas are valid; there is space and room for it," Custer Edwards said. "It's a glimpse of how open the world can seem and how open your learning can be."


Contact: Dionne Custer Edwards, custer.12@osu.edu
Program website: http://wexpagesonline.edublogs.org

Photo Credits:
First image: Katie Spangler
Second image: Jay LaPrete