With boxes full of carefully packed artwork in tow, Danielle Michielini and 17 fifth-grade Creative Arts students boarded a coach bus last Thursday and headed to Saratoga Springs for the Olympics of the Visual Arts (OVA). They didn’t know it just yet, but each of the three teams competing would return as winners.
“OVA is a statewide art competition run by the New York State Art Teachers Association that’s been going on for almost 40 years now,” Michielini said. “It’s problem-based learning at its finest. They give out eight categories of problems in the fall. We met starting in October and the students read through all of the problems and chose which they would like to solve.”
After poring over each option, students broke into groups that would work on some of the different problems. This year, students decided to compete in three different categories: fashion design, illustration, and graphic design.
“Each group works collaboratively on their problem,” Michielini explained. “They get to develop things like an artist would. They brainstorm, research, do preliminary sketches, come up with a plan, do material studies to see what works and what doesn’t work and how it all comes together. They bring it from nothing to something amazing.”
The fashion design team had to work with the theme “Botanical Beauty” and create wearable fashion made entirely from paper. During the competition, they had to perform, walking a catwalk in their art and giving a speech to the judges.
“They were very excited,” said Michielini. “They’ve been rehearsing and trying to figure out how to walk in paper without ripping it.”
The graphic design team had to recreate the face cards in a deck of playing cards in the style of different artists. Aces had to depict a different art movement or period. Each student designed four cards and then the group decided they wanted to display their cards in an ode to the famous Dogs Playing Poker painting by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge.
“We talk about how the project has to be displayed and how you want it to make an impact and catch the judge’s eye,” Michielini explained. “They wanted to sculpt. So, they created these chair sculptures and little dogs and they set it up so that the dogs are playing with their cards.”
The illustration team also incorporated some sculpture into their project. Their task was to choose any poem and to recreate it in any way that they liked. The group chose “The Painter” by Shel Silverstein.
“In the poem,” Michielini said, “there’s a painter who paints the warts on a toad, the stripes on a chipmunk, the spots on a leopard. They created all of the animals from the poem.” They also incorporated a canvas backdrop with Jack Frost painted on it along with some of the lines of the poem.
Like the fashion design team, the illustration and graphic design teams also had to do some creative work while they were at the competition. OVA calls it a “spontaneous problem.” Everyone in the competition — from kindergarten through high school — gets a piece of paper with the same problem written on it and a box of supplies. They have an hour and a half to work with their group to solve the problem.
“It’s really cool,” Michielini said. “There are about a thousand kids spread out across the convention center solving the same problem with the same stuff. It’s really awesome to see what a kindergartner does with it versus what the seniors do and everything in between.”
In the end, groups are judged by grade levels (K-6, 6-8, and 9-12) on both the long-term projects they completed before the competition and their spontaneous problem. Included in the scoring is how students document their long-term process. They put together portfolios that show the judges every step along the way: from photos to sketches, notes, and research.
This year, CV Starr’s graphic design group took First Place and both the illustration and fashion design groups took Second Place.
“Danielle has certainly imbedded the SCP skills of perseverance, adaptability, collaboration and critical thinking into every aspect of her teaching,” said Principal Theresa Cherry. “It’s especially evident in her leadership of Creative Arts. I can’t tell you how proud I am.“
Congratulations to all of the students who participated: Ava Chica, Giana Bella Kusterer, Ava Medina, Sanna Blad, Hannah Meyer, Nicholas Kurilenko, Emma Mariella, Bianca Torke, Mikaela Russano, Ava Jean DiBenedetto, Cadin Lappin Burke, Avery Dudones, Makayla Grebb, Amirah Alexander, Kaylee Rotchford, and Charly Vallecillo.