Ah, November. Teachers just got through the excitement of Halloween only to have to deal with report cards, conferences, Thanksgiving and, before you know it, the “holiday season” and all that entails including a school vacation. How can educators maintain sanity and a sense of humor? By sticking together. In that spirit, the team of teachers at one of my schools engaged in something called a TASK party and for one hour after school allowed themselves to play, creating art and problem solve together.
I have first introduced to the idea of a TASK party at the Turnaround Arts Retreat in Virginia two years ago. I have had the pleasure of attending two such parties for two consecutive years. The brains behind the concept of the TASK is Oliver Herring, a German artist who lives and works in New York. On his biography page the history and purpose behind TASK are described this way:
In 2002 Herring created the improvisatory art event TASK, an ongoing series of events, workshops, and parties in which participants of all ages and demographics collectively dream up instructions and carry them out with the materials provided. Increasingly, TASK is becoming a tool in classrooms and communities to access contemporary art in a way that is experimental, open-ended, and accessible to anyone.
A few members of the Arts Leadership Team who also had the chance to experience a TASK event decided it was just what the staff at this school needed at just this time of year. While the TASK event we attended was far more open-ended then the event we decided to throw, we adapted the idea to fit our own purposes.
Rather than leaving it to each individual in creating art tasks for other individuals (or find ways to encourage individuals to gather others to complete tasks together) we decided to adopt a superhero theme and encourage grade level teams to work together to provide some structure and a jumping off point and from there branch out into individual tasks.
To prepare, we covered one wall of books in our school library with butcher paper. It would be to this wall that the task instructions would be taped once completed. We added a string of lights in creating art to some ambiance and a banner of welcome. On one table sat a bowl of chocolate (since we could not offer alcohol in an elementary school!) along with materials like newspaper, scissors, rolls of butcher paper, fuzzy pipe cleaners, colorful duct tape, garbage bags, aluminum foil and clear mailing tape. (Other materials might include cardboard, yarn, cling wrap, pencils, and even ladders to showcase creations or grab attention!)
Traditionally there is one central TASK box or “pool” in which reside the slips of paper containing the tasks to be completed. Individuals pull out a task, complete the task, tape the task instructions to the wall, write a new task for someone else to complete, place it in the TASK box and pull out a new task to complete. The task might require an individual to work alone or to recruit others to help the individual complete the task. For our party, we went in a slightly different direction.
As I mentioned earlier, we adopted a superhero theme and had teachers work in grade level teams of about 4 people each. In addition to the general supply table, each team had a product space complete with markers, scissors, a roll of butcher paper, a shoe box to act as their TASK box, slips of paper for writing new tasks and pens. We had them create a name for their team of superheroes, a costume, a slogan, a greeting and a superpower.
From there they were given different tasks like challenging another team to a dance-off, taking a superhero selfie, performing an anthem for their team, creating a weapon, challenging another superhero to a battle of superpowers, having someone trace them holding superhero pose, etc. We designated one area as the “stage” for tasks such as a fashion show or a dance battle and I acted as the DJ providing music for general atmosphere (starting with super hero themed music) or for specific tasks (moonwalking to Michael Jackson, conga line, electric slide, etc.).
Although I was merely the facilitator/DJ/photographer, I found our TASK party to be a great ending to the school day and a great kick-off to the week. We all had the chance to enjoy one another in a relaxed and creative atmosphere. I witnessed amazing costumes created from garbage bags and duct tape, clever weapons like the lasso of truth made of pipe cleaners, and some serious dance skills in the dance battles. I heard laughter, saw excitement and witnessed impressive ingenuity. How often do you get to see that at a staff meeting? That’s one way of creating art in a fun way.
I had originally hoped to hold this TASK party as a kick-off for the school year but I honestly think this timing worked out well. It can be a stressful time of year and it’s nice to be reminded of the joy we can find in working with our colleagues and in getting to have some creative playtime as adults. If you are looking for some team building or a way to relax and release some stress, try creating art and try putting your staff to the TASK!
Have you ever held or participated in a creating art TASK party? What was your favorite part? Let us know in the comments below!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.