Casual Fridays Make Art Experience Possible

Godfrey Lee teachers paying $1 to wear jeans on Fridays sent nine of their students to the Grand Rapids Art Museum camps this summer with the money they raised.

Roseanne Steffens, Godfrey Lee K-12 and Early Childhood Center art teacher, didn’t find out who received the scholarships until the last day of school, so she personally delivered the news to students’ homes.

“That was a blast,” Steffens said. “They don’t know when it’s coming, and some of them wonder if it’s really coming.”

Steffens will never forget the reaction of one boy. It was uncertain if he would be able to attend, but another student dropped out and a spot opened. When he saw Steffens’ familiar car pull up to his house, he recognized it and knew that he was going to art camp.

“It was like Publisher’s Clearing House,” Steffens said. “The door comes flying open when he saw my car, and he’s yelling ‘Did I get a scholarship? Did I get a scholarship?’ He was so excited he about jumped out of his shoes.”

Besides traditional art camp activities like drawing, painting and sculpture, the program also taught students lessons in critical thinking and solving problems together in creative ways, said Katie Williams, GRAM’s studio program senior coordinator. Building a boat using items such as string, paper, driftwood, paperclips and pipe cleaner was an example of one the problems they were assigned.

“Every project is inspired by art in the gallery,” Williams said.

The biggest project students undertook was creating a mural using tangrams. This art is similar to a Chinese puzzle. It’s made by cutting a square of material into pieces that can be recombined into several other types of figures. During this project, students were introduced to every aspect of making mural art, including testing which colors worked best and deciding which students would do which type of work based on their skills and even their height (short people can’t reach the top of the mural).

Godfrey Lee girls who’ve attended the camp in previous years have developed a reputation — and it’s a good one. The school sent eight girls the first year, and they became known as “The Godfrey Girls,” Steffens said. “They have such a great enthusiasm. They respect the teachers and are on their best behavior. They wanted to be there.”

“They’re very grateful and well-behaved,” Williams said. “They come with a really positive attitude.”

Members of the Godfrey Lee teachers’ union have been paying a buck to wear jeans on Fridays for about three years to raise funds for the annual art camp scholarships. GRAM offered five, week-long camps for third- through fifth-graders this year, and some weeks sold out. The museum offers up to 20 percent of the enrollment spots to students free of charge. Besides Godfrey Lee, students came from Grand Rapids Public Schools, private schools and some enrolled who were not connected to a school.

The number of students participating has increased every year since the program started six years ago, Williams said. A total of 142 students attended, and 18 scholarships were awarded, with six provided by school districts.

GRAM’s next camp for students will be in the winter. For more information, call 831-1000.

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Grand Rapids Art Museum students camps

Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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