CFAM premieres artwork by mixed-ability students for first time

Unlike other exhibits on display in the Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM) this summer, “Shifting Perspectives” is comprised of amateur artwork.
 For the first time in CFAM, artists range from kindergarteners to high schoolers—all local students from mixed-ability backgrounds. 

Each creature holds its own personality. One seems to spread its wings to bathe in the sunlight, and another resembles an alien welcoming humans to its planet for the first time. 

Photoblocks, interactive audio stations, and television screens fill the room. Graceful black-and-white photographs line the walls in a grid formation, and they are coupled with clay sculptures that artists based off of original drawings of imaginary creatures. 

Photo by Maura Leaden
Artwork created by a Paragon student explores what ‘mysterious’ means

On the televisions in the room, a montage shows dried flower petals lying on sharp stones, gnomes resting in the sun, and cats prancing across open grass. 

“Shifting Perspectives: Art by the Students of the Art Time Outreach Program” has been on display since May and will be up until Sept. 8. The exhibit features work from an outreach program run by CFAM education coordinator, Louise Buyo, and teaching artists Kristin Eaves and Jacoub Reyes. 

The Art Time outreach program began in 2016 and involves the Paragon School and the Lyman School. The Paragon School is designed for students on the autism and Asperger spectrum while the Lyman School is a blended Montessori school for students of mixed abilities. 

Buyo established connections with these schools through Rollins’ Center for Leadership & Community Engagement (CLCE).  She wanted to connect with community partners who could fully benefit from a traveling art curriculum, and a need was met for the Paragon School—they did not have an art program prior to Art Time. 

The program’s curriculum is designed to help students unlock their imaginations and give them basic art tools to express their experiences in meaningful ways. 

“You don’t have to be great at drawing or painting to say something meaningful with your creative expression,” said Buyo. 

Students were prompted by viewing contemporary art from the CFAM permanent collection, largely at the Alfond Inn. Then, they partook in creative exercises to think outside the box and develop their visions. 

“Learning to think outside the box is a skill like any other. You have to practice doing it,” said Buyo. 

To help students unlock their imagination, Buyo and her colleagues coached the younger students through role-playing. 

“We’d give [the young students] a length of fabric and tell them to act out scenarios so their classmates could guess what they were doing. One student turned it into a boat and another rolled it into a bat for baseball,” said Buyo.

The older students explored the open-endedness of words like organic and mysterious. They used word webs to brainstorm what those words meant to them.  

Buyo also said that an important aspect of this project is that everything is accessible. The tools, such as cameras and audio-recording apps, were intentionally easy to navigate, and the exact surroundings provided inspiration: the hallway, roof, garden, and even the Paragon School’s cat, Spooky. 

Accessibility relates to the audience as well. Buyo is aware that the exhibit will not be much of an accomplishment unless others come to enjoy it. 

She said, “Museums don’t thrive without community. If they are not accessible, then we’re not fulfilling our mission.” 

Hands-on exhibits such as blocks available for play, headphones draped over padded benches in the middle of the room, and flickering television screens all invite viewers to fully experience the exhibit. 

“Of course we want art-making to be an exploration of materials and of concepts, like line and form and color,” said Buyo. “But we also want our students to take their preferences, their feelings, their observations, and make art based on the world around them from their very individual point of view. That’s why we called the exhibition ‘Shifting Perspectives.’”

Dr. Sara Hoefler, principal of the Paragon School, is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Rollins. 

“We are all so proud to have our students’ artwork featured at CFAM and so excited for another year of art to begin,” said Hoefler. Paragon has been participating in the program for four years. 

“I’ve been teaching art for 10 years . . . It’s always been a dream of mine to one day show my students’ work in a museum,” Eaves said. “This is a career milestone for me, and I’m so proud of them for the beautiful work they get to share with the public.”

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