Drawing Dreams

Crayon manufacturer's national project inspires 3 million schoolchildren to create images of what they hope for

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IN some elementary schools, students are dreaming in class and the teachers let them. Actually, they encourage them to dream, and then pull out the markers, crayons, watercolors, and finger paint so that the students can capture those dreams on paper. This is more than an isolated classroom exercise; 3 million students participate in the project. And a fortunate few get their works displayed at regional exhibitions.

It's all part of the Crayola Dream-Makers program, a national school art endeavor designed to encourage students to use their imagination, and to work through the artistic decisionmaking process needed to make their dreams tangible.

Since 1984, Binney & Smith, the well-known crayon manufacturer, has been asking students to dream and draw about themselves, their immediate world, or the world around them. They picture their families, monsters, solving problems like homelessness, and just having fun.

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Students put their ``dream statements'' on the back: ``For people to know they have a place in the world and to fit in''; ``To live forever in a loving home''; ``Giant snakes caused by chemical dumping attacked my town.''

``It's clear that the children see themselves as having unique dreams of becoming great performers, scientists, artists, teachers, or athletes,'' says Elizabeth Pemberton, a psychologist at the University of Iowa. ``The world holds no limits for these children, who also want to travel and have fantastic adventures.''

Alanna Bahia, a pert nine-year-old who lives at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass., said at the recent opening of the regional exhibition at Boston University, ``I liked horses so much, I just thought I'd dream a horse.'' Her winning entry is an image of a horse cut out of styrofoam on an oil-paint background.

Last year 20,000 teachers got involved by writing for information through ads placed by Binney & Smith in educational journals. The company sent out a glossy booklet with project ideas and tips on using materials. The teachers could send as many as 14 entries to one of seven regional exhibitions, where a panel of local judges would choose 75.

While many winning entries are the finger-paint-on-construction-paper variety, sometimes the skills are surprisingly advanced. Laura Reeder, publicity coordinator for the exhibit, points out that in ``Homeless Rich,'' which shows a man in a balloon flying over a city decreeing that everyone will have their wish to live in a home, the first-grade artist ``made the person look like he's inside the basket. That's not easy.''

Jenny Tracy, art teacher at the Beacon Hill Nursery School in Boston, whose kindergartners walked off with four of the 75 winning Northeast exhibition plaques, says, ``Especially at this age, [art] is a great form of expression when they're not adept at verbal expression. They get frustrated at their attempts at writing, but here they don't have to worry about how far their skills are developed.''

One winner, 11-year-old Ben King, standing in front of his luscious, tropical-colored entry, says he learned new skills from the Dream-Makers program. ``I'd used oil pastels before, but never blended them together.''

``I think it's a very nice way ... to really encourage the children to get involved in visual expression without the trappings of very difficult rules and regulations,'' says Stanley Hurwitz, acting director of the school of visual arts at Boston University.

``The goal is not just to recognize the very talented students, but to support arts education in the larger sense,'' says Brad Drexler, Binney & Smith's media communications supervisor. ``So the important thing is that teachers are doing the programs in the school. The national program is the more visible end of things.''

The booklet, ``Visual Worlds,'' is teeming with art lessons, ways to use materials from colored pencils to mixed media, techniques from papier-m^ach'e to printmaking, lists of books to read, and ways to exhibit the artwork.

Artist Randy LeBlond's teacher, Donna Rollins, who teaches art at the McMahon Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine, says that the class did the work in one hour-long class period. ``The students learned creative thinking. The problem was so open-ended that they got to express their own ideas and to make sure they explained themselves visually with a lot of detail. It was quite a problem, we talked about it a lot.''

To get the Dream-Makers guide, send $2 for shipping and handling to: Binney & Smith, PO Box 431, Easton, PA 18044.

DREAM-MAKERS REGIONAL EXHIBITIONS To encourage community support for arts education, the Dream-Makers exhibitions will travel to 21 colleges around the US. Following is a list of summer exhibits:

SOUTHEAST: June 19-July 31: Memphis College of Art (Tenn.)

MID-ATLANTIC June 26-July 15: University of the Arts, Philadelphia

NORTHEAST July 18-Aug. 8: Syracuse University (New York)

NORTHWEST June 22-July 21: University of British Columbia, Vancouver

SOUTHWEST: June 12-July 14: Arizona State University, Tempe

SOUTH CENTRAL: July 9-July 29: Central State University, Edmond, Okla.

NORTH CENTRAL: July 5-July 29: Center for Creative Studies, Detroit

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