What was once a vacant lot in downtown Thomasville is now a source of inspiration, education and collaboration for the entire community Together, Thomasville’s Center for the Arts (TCA) and Brookwood School presented their Fall Public Art Tree Hugger project in The UnVacant Lot on Oct. 5. The installation, located at 217 W Jackson St., opened on First Friday at the beginning of the 2018 Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival (PWAF). The goal of the project is to help bring awareness to sustainable forestry conservation in our area.
Under the guidance of TCA painter-in-residence Sarah Painter and TCA sculptor-in-residence Robert Copper, Upper School students in Brookwood’s Foundations of Innovation class created full-body papier- mache figures that are featured in the space, with the aim of teaching conservation and sustainability All materials were funded by Lowe’s.
“Part of our mission is to bring artistic expression, arts education and experiences to the community,” said Darlene Crosby Taylor, Public Arts Director at the Center for the Arts.
“I want to bring people into that lot in a way that’s different.”
Foundations of Innovation (FOI), taught by Rob Clendenin and Josh Hanke, is a year-long elective designed to help Upper School students develop an understanding of Design Thinking principles and the power of innovation to change their world. The goal of the class is to provide students with experiences that will help them see value in how their creative ideas can bring about change.
Clendenin said the students were hooked on the project as soon as they started it — not only because they enjoy the creativity involved, but also because of the project’s significance.
Most people realize the need and importance of trees in the world, said Brookwood junior Bradley Cohen. “Trees not only provide vital ingredient for life on Earth, but they also make the environment look more attractive and peaceful,” he said. “The figures we have created in FOI express the emotion and amount of care from the people that want to protect the trees for generations to come.” Clendenin said Cohen and his classmates are learning to use their creativity and teamwork to design solutions to significant problems. “The perfect relationship with this project and this class is the design concept — its creativity and hands-on (nature),” he said.
Most importantly, the students are in charge of making their own design decisions, Clendenin continued.
“The kids are deciding how we’re interacting with trees and with each other.
They came up with their own poses,” he said, pointing to the forms.
Since part of the mission of the Thomasville Center for the Arts is to promote arts education, Taylor said, “the relationship with Rob Clendenin and Foundations of Innovation was the right fit” for this project. Taylor, Copper and Painter visited Brookwood School to work with FOI students two times a week for eight weeks. Each student was wrapped from shoulder to toe with duct tape. The taped forms were then cut, maintaining their shape, and stuffed with recycled packing material.
Many of the full-sized statues are wrapped in a position that will look like they are hugging trees. Clendenin said the collaboration with the Center for the Arts allowed for an unprecedented learning opportunity “This could be considered an art project, but the creativity the design part, the hands-on part — that’s our wheelhouse. That’s what we teach here,” he said.However, collaboration between the students and their instructors was absolutely vital during the process. “You can’t tape yourself up,” Clendenin said.
Students had to trust one another for help throughout the process. “Once you’re taped up, you can’t move. They were having to take each other’s shoes and socks off. They were sweaty; it was gross if you were cutting the tape off of them, but they didn’t care,” he said. “They just championed right through it.” The only thing that Clendenin said he can’t teach his students is pride, which they’ll learn on their own through their own successes. “They’re going to tell their friends, their family — they’re going to tell everybody that ‘I did this.’ The biggest takeaway is the pride,” he said. “They’re doing something for the community on a large scale.”
Working with two of the Center’s artists in resi- dence has been an excellent opportunity for the entire group, Clendenin added.
“Bob Copper is a very eccentric, very artsy guy You can see his imagination just click,” he said.
“Sarah Painter, our muralist, is very talented,” he continued. “They’ll do whatever she says.”
Painter is a Tallahassee native and a student at FSU in the BFA program. Her works vary from oil paintings to large-scale mural works. Copper and his wife, Melinda, own Copper Moon Studio in Monticello, Florida, where they cast bronze sculpture and make other fine arts. Taylor has been repurposing the UnVacant lot since 2014, when its owner, Melvin Stone, generously offered it to the city to be used as a public art space and a gathering place for local events. For more information, visit www.thomasvillearts. org.