Going with
the flow

A roving, riveting
mom-and-girl duo
generates sparks
in isle classrooms

ART is the current that meanders through Alyce Dodge's life. It flowed through the lives of her grandmother and then her mother, and has become a vehicle for Dodge to live out all matters of importance in her own life. Art not only has become the means for her to earn a living as a teacher, but it is the tool she uses to share her principles of peace. And most important, it has provided a bond as strong as blood between Dodge and her 11-year-old daughter, Maya Scimeca, the fourth generation in this line of creative women.

Dodge has created a tidy, comfortable connectedness in her roles as mother, teacher and artist through the Honolulu Academy of Arts' Ambassador Program, which takes academy arts education into Hawaii classrooms.

Hired as an "ambassador," Dodge enlisted the help of Maya, who has grown up with art -- "Art is built into our lives," Dodge says -- and for the past two years, mother and daughter have been team-teaching children of all ages.

Maya Scimeca, 11, and her mother, Alyce Dodge, stand proudly alongside some of Maya's works at the "Young People's Art Show," an exhibit of works by students at the Academy Art Center.

BEING in the presence of art students is second nature to Maya, who has accompanied her mother everywhere since she was being toted around in a baby sling. Home schooling has continued to make that possible. The Academy Art Center is a second home; her mother has taught there for more than 20 years.

"One of the nice things about home-schooling your children is that you can take your classroom wherever you go," Dodge says. "Maya has been helping me in the classroom since she was a toddler, so it just seemed an easy transition for her to assist me in the Ambassador program. I'm even rewarding her with a small stipend from my wages."

Maya's presence in the classroom is hardly superficial. She presents art pieces and demonstrates projects, which in turn inspire the students, Dodge says.

"She presents things in a child's way, and they can relate. She knows what's interesting to kids," she says. "When I demonstrate something, the children just imitate. If Maya demonstrates, they get inspired and do more creative, free work. Maya's confidence infuses them. She loves doing art and she's a great artist."

The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"The teachers are requesting Maya and Alyce for next year already," says Jenny Engle, education curatorial assistant and Ambassador Program coordinator. "The duo is very popular and in demand, especially as word of mouth about the Ambassador Program continues to spread."

Maya understands why. "I think they like learning from a kid," she says. "They feel more comfortable, and it's easier for them to ask questions."

Being an ambassador has provided Maya with hands-on experience for two of the three careers she may pursue: "artist, violinist (she's been playing for about five years) or teacher."

And when Dodge needs fresh ideas, Maya's creative perspective keeps her mother's lessons from growing stale.

"We wanted to show children where the art is coming from on a map," Dodge says, "but all we had was a small one. Maya suggested we paint a giant map and let the children stand on the country where the art was from. Each child stood on the map and held art from their country. It was great! So even before we reach the classroom, Maya has an impact. We're truly a team."

Art "ambassadors" Alyce Dodge and Maya Scimeca help students harness their smoldering creativity. The mom-daughter pair created a painting and printmaking project, illustrated in Maya's volcano piece above, as part of a program called "Hawaii and Its People."

DODGE IS ACCUSTOMED to teamwork, having grown up in a family of peace activists. "It was a part of life for me," she says. "My parents were so brave. During the Vietnam War, speakers stayed at our house who were probably wanted by the police or something. I was surrounded by people concerned about the world."

With art and activism ever present in her life, it wasn't difficult for Dodge to make the connection between peace and art.

"I've come to learn that art is such a wonderful way of finding yourself, and when you express yourself in a really truthful way, it serves as a bridge across language, culture and time."

Dodge says that when she teaches children about art, she tries to provide a context for the works to make the pieces relevant. She takes out maps and talks about history and culture.

"When the children can hold the objects in their hands -- a model of a Hawaiian canoe or an Egyptian god or a piece of silk -- it's not just 'stuff' anymore. It represents a history, a culture and beauty. And that relates to peace: creative vs. destructive, the knowledge of an environment and the things in it."

Once, Dodge presented a lesson on a cotton cloth from India. As she spoke of the country in which it was created and the skill it took to make, a student made an important connection.

"He said, 'Just like that statue of the man in front of the zoo.' Well, the man was Gandhi, and he was wearing a cotton cloth like the one I was talking about. The statue depicted him on his walk for peace. So we talked about what Gandhi did," she says.

"You gotta be open to moments like that. You can make art meaningful, or talk about peace, on many, many levels."

Maya created this dragon while demonstrating ink brush painting for "Explore Korea: A Visit to Grandfather's House," another Ambassador cultural program.

BUT WITH TEST SCORES waning and youths leaving school without the ability to read or compute numbers, where do the arts fit into education? Dodge believes it belongs smack in the center of curriculums.

"I can't believe every time there's a problem in our education system, they say, 'Go back to the three R's.' A child is whole, and the more you can relate a lesson to what is real, the more you address the whole child, the more the child will get out of education," she says.

"Studies have proven that when you integrate the arts into lessons, when students can feel it in their bodies and experience it, they understand. And test scores go way up."

But art also offers something more fundamental than, in Dodge's words, "manipulating words and numbers": It provides a means to survival.

"It's not easy to grow up in these times," Dodge says. "But art is healing; it gives children a way to express what they cannot say in words.

"At the very least, it allows them to have a window of space to reconnect and recharge, and then go out and face the world again. It's a lifeline for children who are struggling to survive."

Program follows vision
of Anna Cooke

The Honolulu Academy of Arts' Ambassador Program is one way the academy is carrying out the vision of its founder, Anna Rice Cooke.

Cooke donated the land under her home to be the site of the Honolulu Museum of Art, but later changed its name to reflect her commitment to educating Hawaii's youth.

"Even before they demolished her home to build the museum, Anna Rice Cooke took artifacts from her personal collection out to the schools, all on her own," says Jenny Engle, the academy's education curatorial assistant and Ambassador Program coordinator. "She also invited students to her home for tea so they could see the art there and learn about it in that way."

Last year, the Ambassador Program reached 7,500 students in 308 classrooms across Oahu, in schools both public and private and in grades that ranged from preschool through high school.

The program is a three-part learning experience that begins with an ambassador's visit to the classroom to present a culturally themed "museum-in-a-box." The box contains art objects that serve to inspire ideas in students and prepare them for part two of the program, an academy tour. In the final part of the program, the ambassador returns to the classroom to facilitate an art activity based on the cultural subject being explored.

The academy offers several programs for ambassadors to present: "Hawaii and Its People," "Explore Korea: A Visit to Grandfather's House," "East Meets West" and "Animals in Art."

For more information on the Ambassador Program, call the academy at 532-3681.

Joleen Oshiro

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