1,001 art kits and counting: Sharing an extraordinary time through Journal On!

Last spring, as it became clear that the pandemic shutdown would stretch through the summer and beyond, and that most in-person camps would be canceled and pools closed, PAM Learning and Community Partnerships staff gathered over Zoom with Carolyn Hazel Drake, Portland Public Schools Visual Arts district leader, and Kathleen Lane, Program Director at Create More, Fear Less, to brainstorm ways we could support families and engage children remotely. In a typical summer, the Museum galleries are lively with kids and teens from Portland Metro Arts, Boys and Girls Clubs, Adelante Mujeres Chicas Youth Development Program, p:ear, Vibe, and other programs. This summer, we would need to bring the arts to them.

We decided to launch Journal On!, a project that encourages children—and people of all ages—to keep a journal for art and writing reflecting their experiences of these extraordinary times. We created an online gallery, a virtual journal, where people could contribute to our shared story of this unique moment in history. We invited local artists to create one-minute videos to accompany weekly prompts. “What will you remember most from this time?” Artist Binta Loos-Diallo shared a sketch of the chicken coop she built in her yard. “How could you tell the story of this time through an object you see every day?” Artist William Hernandez showed us the soccer ball he kicks with his sons and the mural they painted on their bedroom wall.

One of the first gallery entries came from Tatum, 5. A vivid blue sky looms over a large, red heart with a jagged line through the center. A blond girl with a deep frown, dropping an object (her computer?) into a trash can. “I hate the Zoom kindrgartin,” Tatum has written in large letters over the center of the drawing. (You are not alone, Tatum!) Rae T., 11, offered a counterweight a week later, reflecting that “Through this time I found an amazing community online that shared my interests and understood me. But I lost connections with true friends, too.” Adult artists also contributed beautiful sketches, paintings, and collages in response to the prompts, providing windows into the daily lives of people throughout the region.

Thanks to the generosity of the Miller Family Foundation, the Museum was able to provide sketchbooks and drawing materials to youth throughout the Portland Metro region to support participation in Journal On! Working with Portland Parks & Recreation and other partners, we identified sites where the kits would have the greatest impact, many in East County school districts, such as Parkrose, Reynolds, and Centennial. The Miller Family’s gift supported the translation of all Journal On! resources into Spanish, making the project fully accessible to our region’s many Spanish-speaking youth and families.

William Kendall, Art Program Coordinator, p:ear.

Through the Journal On Project, our young preschool learners were able to take their creative skills to the next level. We as a class met once a week through the summer and practiced our public speaking skills and learned how to describe what art meant to us while creating it. Having our whole class focus on one singular prompt helped open up the world of interpretation and personal experiences and how one’s intersecting identity is important to name at a young age.

The families and our staff loved being part of this project. Thanks again for all the support with providing such a beautiful project where our communities can come together and process through art this historical period.

Dora Lisa Chavez, P-3 & Ready, Set, Go Program Coordinator, Salish Ponds Elementary and Fairview Elementary Schools, Metropolitan Family Service.

Eliseo Flores, Youth Development Program Manager at Centro Cultural in Cornelius, shares, “Our Summer STEAM program focuses on developing our next generation leaders through the possibilities of high tech, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Thanks to the art kits supplied by the Portland Art Museum our students were able to develop their skills in creativity and ingenuity making them more equipped and well rounded for their future.”

The Museum distributed 1,001 art kits this summer and has hundreds more in the works for the start of the school year. Journal On! will be adapted as curriculum that connects the arts and social and emotional learning as students resume school with distance learning in September. Meanwhile, the online gallery remains active. Please continue to share your work there and through Instagram @journal_on_everyone, and stay tuned for more!

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