I love inspiration. I love when great ideas come together. I love when things make me think. Susan Riley sent out in this past week’s EdCloset Newsletter a strategy she’s calling “Can you make it?” In it she included a graphic that invited educators to give an end product (an empty square to be filled in by you, the educator), supply the students with 4 variables (4 more empty squares to be filled) and ask the students given these variables, “Can you make it?” The idea of starting with an end product and asking students to work backwards is one I have found to be very engaging with my own students.
Recently I was talking with some colleagues about things that can help bring a school community together and we were remarking how art can do that in a number of ways. As I reflected on that conversation and with Susan’s article floating in my mind, I remembered a party I attended at an education event. It was called a TASK Party, an idea created by artist Oliver Herring. Herring created TASK events to provide an environment that would not only encourage art making but also support people interacting in ways that are not typically prescribed in society. And might I add that society creates many opportunities to be consumers of art but few opportunities to be creators of art. However, in an interview of Oliver Herring, he remarked that many people who have told him that they have done their own versions of a TASK party were educators. That does not surprise me one bit. I think we educators instinctively know and seek out opportunities to help people develop what lies latent within, to help people to connect with themselves and with one another and to bring people challenging and engaging problems.
How did these two cars get linked in my train of thought, you might ask. “Can You Make It?” and TASK both suggest an end product. It might be the answer to a math problem that students try to create using a given set of numbers, it might be, as Susan suggested in her newsletter, a color that students need to try to recreate with different ratios of certain colors of paint. At a TASK party, there is a box containing pieces of paper. On each paper is written a different task. A paper might read, “Make a superhero mask and find someone to wear it” or “hug 10 different people” or “create a float and lead a parade.” What is provided participants as tools are generic materials – butcher paper, markers, tape, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, pipe cleaners, pencils, empty boxes, etc. What I find unique about the TASK party is that once a task is removed from the box and completed by a participant, that person must create a new task to be placed in the box of tasks for someone else to do. In that way, there is an endless supply of “end products” but they would not all be written by the Task Master, if you will, but by the participants themselves.
In that same interview, Herring, speaking about art education, said, “If you start the year with TASK, it’s an adventurous, exciting way to start the year.” I posit that using a TASK-like party at any time of year is an adventurous and exciting way to bring any community together and could open new lines of communication and possibilities whether that be a staff meeting, an art making community night with families or a party within your own classroom. The more opportunities we give people (and more specifically our students) to be creators and original thinkers who can find their own way to a desired end, the more facile they will become with thinking creatively and the more likely they will be able to start solving problems in our ever changing world to which we know the desired outcome but don’t know how to get there. If we also teach new ways of relating to others, we can help foster relationships and habits that allow people to work together to find those answers. Can you make that? Party on!