When it became clear that Colorado would be facing months of stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders, that schools would be shut down at least through May and many summer camps would be canceled, Think 360 Arts for Learning started looking for new ways to serve its community of educators.
"It was evident that many people were turning to the arts for peace and comfort, to connect with others and make meaning of this mess we suddenly found ourselves in," recalls Jennifer Olson, executive director of the nearly sixty-year-old nonprofit. "As a community-based organization, we started by connecting with our contacts at partnering organizations — schools, preschools, libraries and facilities that serve older adults — and learning more about what they were experiencing and what they needed. We didn't want our response to be knee-jerk, and we wanted it to be, above all, useful. We were especially thinking of teachers, who were pivoting to distance learning overnight and didn't need one more platform thrown at them."
The group also connected with the seventy-plus artists who work there to find out more about what opportunities they saw and ways they might be able to collaborate with the organization.
On April 10, Think 360 Arts did its first online program, a Creative Learning Lab. The professional development program for educators was led by social artist Andrea Moore, who hosted a wellness workshop with more than fifty participants. The group scheduled more workshops with Andrea Asali, Bianca Mikahn and donnie l. betts.
"All programming became about using artistic practices as tools for living through this strange time," explains Olson. "We made all of this free of charge."
The group also brought its Creative Aging programming — which brings arts resources to older adults — online, and offered live and pre-recorded video workshops along with to-go Art Boxes created in partnership with the Denver Public Library.
"One thing we heard from our school district partners at DPS was that teachers needed content they could easily assign to their students," explains Olson. "That was the inspiration for Think 360 Arts Teaching Artist TV. Teaching Artist TV is funded by Colorado Creative Industries and is a free and accessible online platform designed to support ongoing art education efforts in our community. If you visit our website, you'll find 25 lessons from 17 different artists, many of them well known in Denver and beyond. Artists are listed alphabetically, with each lesson speaking to a different age range, grade level and art form."
Each video includes a study guide with the lesson's main points, a step-by-step plan for completing lessons, teaching tips and more.
"What really strikes me most about this format of digital learning and arts education is the intimacy, brought on by a tremendous amount of passion and enthusiasm from our artists," says Olson. "When you watch the video, you feel like you’re receiving an intimate, one-on-one art lesson."
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Offerings include betts's Create a Life Story, Nicole Banowetz's Animal Architecture, Patti Smithsonian's Toy Theater and Tony Ortega's Animalitos (in English and Spanish).
While the programming is geared toward teachers working with young people, anybody interested in arts and culture can explore the resources.
"Families can complete lessons together; parents can use them to keep kids learning and having fun once school's out," says Olson. "Most of the artists on our roster are also available for custom programs via teleconferencing as well, which we are promoting to help keep artists employed. You can sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop."