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Change Agent

Creative Connections links kids worldwide through art

US students partner with children from one of nearly 50 other countries to exchange their artworks and then share ideas face-to-face via a videoconference.

By Cathryn J. PrinceCorrespondent / February 21, 2013

'Art opens a window into other cultures and gets the children talking about other things,' says Alan Stecker, the founder and CEO of Creative Connections in Norwalk, Conn. The nonprofit group helps classrooms in the US and abroad exchange student artworks and then discuss them via a videoconference.

Cathryn J. Prince

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Norwalk, Conn.

Nine-year-old Luise’s painting is about more than the wooly white sheep and verdant fields that distinguish her family’s farm in Latvia. It’s about patience and diligence.

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And if the students in Connecticut who see her painting understand this, then Creative Connections has succeeded, says Alan Steckler, founder and CEO of the Norwalk, Conn.-based nonprofit organization.

Through ArtLink, Creative Connection’s main program, American students are partnered with children from one of nearly 50 other countries. The children are asked to draw or paint a picture of what they most value in their daily life or culture. After exchanging the artworks, the classes participate in a videoconference, which allows students to share ideas face-to-face in real time.

“The art opens a window into other cultures and gets the children talking about other things,” Mr. Steckler says from his office beneath the Stepping Stones Museum for Children. “The students walk away thinking the children they ‘meet’ are real kids, and they are a lot like me. There are some special differences, but we are more alike than we thought.”

Recently, students from the Weston Middle School in Weston, Conn., participated in a videoconference with the Ahliyyah School for Girls in Amman, Jordan. Students discussed the meaning of freedom of choice during the hour-long session.

“It was a real mind opener. They were looking at a picture of the Statue of Liberty, and that led to a discussion about the choice to wear a head covering, or not, if you are Muslim in Jordan,” Steckler says. “The art allowed the students to get into the values, and the issues, of a different culture.”

That’s an invaluable lesson for teachers like Amanda Quaintance, who teaches social studies at Weston Middle School.

“I’m always keeping my eyes open to connect my students with the lands they are studying in a modern way,” Ms. Quaintance says. “I thought this was an ingenious idea. And when the students in Jordan got to see us holding their artwork, and we saw they were holding our artwork – across the world – it was just a magical moment.”

Steckler founded Creative Connections in 1992. More than 220 classrooms take part in ArtLink each year. This includes the classes participating in Rainforest ArtLink, which pairs US students with students in the rainforest regions of Latin America.

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