If you take a trip to New York City and go to The Battery, a 25-acre park at the southern tip of Manhattan, you may want to sit down and rest at some point. Will you think about the chair you plop down in as you take a load off? Perhaps. But you’ll probably be shocked to learn that the calls for design of the chair you’re sitting on began in 2012. 679 entries were submitted from 15 countries. Five finalists were chosen. Prototypes were made of their chairs; tens of thousands of people sat in them and voted for their favorite. The winner was the pale-blue, powder-coated Fleurt by Andrew Jones Design. This experience of being aware of your surroundings, of appreciating the beauty and comforts of good design is called art appreciation.

Every morning, you wake up and perhaps pick up your smart phone first thing (which was created by an industrial design team), you crawl out from under your patterned sheets (created by a textile designer) and slog to your bathroom (designed by an architect). While in the shower you pour shampoo out of a bottle (designed by a package designer) with a label (created by an artist), you put on your clothes and shoes (created by a fashion designer), you may look at some art on your walls (created by a painter, photographer, sculptor or some other fine artist, maybe even your kid) or on a dresser (made by a furniture maker). You head to the kitchen (a bunch of artists and designers worked on the stuff in there too). After you eat (more package and product design), you head out of your house (architect, interior designer, interior decorator) and into your car (artists and industrial designers). You turn on the radio (musicians, comedians, etc) and go on your way, perhaps without a thought to all of those artists and designers who made your morning easy, entertaining and beautiful.

So why, when the arts touch our lives constantly, do our kids only get art class one day a week in elementary school? Why do parents fear their college-age kids getting an art education? Seems to be plenty of artsy jobs out there. Art class is not only about painting and looking at pretty pictures. It is about noticing the world around you, problem solving and empathy. Art classes allow for self-expression and teaches a child how to bring an idea or concept to fruition. It is about kids experiencing failure in a safe setting so they can learn to overcome obstacles.

Enough parents know this, because there is a proliferation of parent-run “art appreciation” classes in elementary schools around the country. When we lived in New Jersey, art and music were taught two days a week and there was no art appreciation class. In 2005, we moved to Tennessee where the art was only one day a week and the there was an art appreciation program under the PTA’s auspices.

When we moved to Western Springs seven years ago, we discovered only a one-day-a-week art curriculum. I joined the Field Park Art Appreciation program as a volunteer. A year later I became a co-chair and after that pretty much ran the program. Field Park’s Art Appreciation program has been very successful because of its volunteers who love art and realize its importance in their kids’ lives. Not only do they go into each classroom six times a year, they also sponsor one art appreciation field trip in first through fifth grades and the tour de force is the yearly art gallery. This began as a themed art show held in the cafeteria, where each child’s artwork was showcased during parent/teacher conferences.

It soon progressed to a collaborative art show, where each class worked together on a piece, which was displayed in the library. One of those years, the projects were auctioned off at the biennial fundraiser. After that, with the Art Appreciation’s Tree show, things moved outside. The following year was Teepees! and the Field Park Annual Scupture Garden Art Show became a tradition.

The beauty of collaborative art is that it focuses on cooperation, not competition. So if say, you don’t think your blueberry pie looks great (which it does), it doesn’t matter because it is just one part of the whole show. “It is not about you” is the beauty of collaborative art. Collaboration is about support, a “you don’t have to go it alone, we’re all in this together” mindset.

Kirsten Rachford is the new art appreciation chairperson at Field Park. She is an architect by training and shows a meticulous attention to detail. When we needed a map for our Tree show she whipped up such a gorgeous map that I wanted make prints and sell them for a fundraiser! She is the mastermind behind this year’s Artful Appetite show. She cleverly planned it to be up before Halloween for maximum viewing during the Halloween parade.

When we were discussing her plans for the show, she pulled out a painstakingly created, tiny model of the “sculpture garden.” It was a huge hit at her kick-off meeting. Everyone was inspired by the concept and the maquette, making cool food sculptures out of weatherproof items; candy corn from traffic cones, a bubblegum machine from a turned over trashcan, and my personal favorite, bacon and eggs from chicken wire! I stopped by the “sculpture garden” as Mrs. Rachford’s first graders were happily stuffing blueberries into the pastry, weaving “lattice” crust over the top and placing hungry ants around the pie! Everyone was working nicely together and having a ball! Artful Appetite is currently on display on the front lawn of Field Park Elementary School in Western Springs. It is certainly worth a drive by!

Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and co-founder of and teacher with Doodle Art & Design. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs: Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com

Kathleen Thometz

I am an artist, writer, and art instructor with four children, one husband, and two doodle-dogs. I have contributed articles to the mid.com and Chicago Parent Magazine and wrote the Artist's Eye column...