ArtFusion 19464, formerly The Gallery School of Pottstown, helped to bring history alive for over 500 Pottstown School District fourth graders and middle school students by hosting field trips to the gallery’s exhibit “Threads of a Story: Continued.” The exhibit features work of artist Charlotta Janssen. Her body of work was inspired by the Freedom Riders and Bus Boycotters of the 50’s and 60’s. Threads evolved as a way to visually thank participants of the civil rights movement for their work and dedication that made the moment possible. The artist’s goals to transport the viewer back to this moment in time to create a living history and bring awareness to a collective conscientiousness where segregation seemed normal and fighting it was a daunting task.
Erika Hornburg-Cooper, Executive Director of ArtFusion, explained, “We are proud to be able to display this beautiful expression of art which helps to explain a very significant time in the history of our country. Sharing this with students allows us to play an active role in developing a conscientiousness and awareness of citizenship.”
The field trip began with an age-appropriate historical talk on the civil rights movement. (For example, younger students had read to them a story about Ruby Bridges and discussed how the struggle for civil rights affected children who were close to the same age they are now, and older students were introduced to Strange Fruit, written by Abel Meerople and sung by Billie Holiday.) A student secretary took notes, keeping track of the issues and questions they discuss. This interactive discussion provided a backdrop for the artwork the students came to see. Part of the talk included the students boarding an imaginary bus for a virtual Freedom Ride to the south. A facilitator engaged the students in conversation about the people portrayed in the artwork, both the famous like Rosa Parks and also the everyday heroes who are not so well known.
After the gallery and historical talks were finished, students were split into two groups. One group watched a video of the artist as she paints and then participated in an art project themselves. The second group remained on the gallery and worked on a scavenger hunt. The purpose of the scavenger hunt was to get the students to take a close look at the artwork and learn more about the people represented in the portraits.
Before students left they were encouraged to talk to their friends and family and ask about memories and stories they may have about the time. Lincoln Elementary Principal Treena Ferguson noted, “Our students had an opportunity today to see living history and develop an understanding for the sacrifices that many people made in order for the people of our country to share equally in our freedoms.” After taking the tour School Board member Mary-Beth Bacalloao wrote; “The content you provided to the Rupert students during the field trip I attended was compelling and really held the kids' interest. Ruby's story, the scavenger hunt and your very animated "trip" on the Freedom Riders virtual bus was right on the kids' level and I could tell they were engaged from the minute I joined the trip. Rupert teacher Allen Ferster said, “ I can't remember a field trip having that much of an impact on an entire class. When we returned to the building, all the students wanted to talk about was either the art, or the civil rights movement and the Freedom Riders. I can safely say that thanks to your hospitality, both my class and I received more information in a two hour period than we could have ever learned from clips, articles, and the reading textbook. Once again thank you for allowing us to come visit and see such a wonderful display.”