First of all, AITS is not your mom’s art class. There are no noodle necklaces, or coloring books with lines to stay within. A graduate of a local public school himself, Gerald remembers how his own childhood art classes were very cookie cutter, lacking creativity, critical thinking, and a sense of connection to something bigger. “The arts are often looked at as extras, not essential for students,” says Gerald. Today, many public schools in Hawaiʻi, especially at the elementary level, have cut art as a subject entirely.
The AITS program changes the narrative, by putting art in the center of the student’s learning experience. During the 10-week intensive, artists address important cultural and scientific topics with the elementary students like rapid ‘Ōhi’a death, canoe plants, and Hawaiian ahupua’a through art projects, while also teaching foundational art principles like color, shape, and line.
With each subject, students are encouraged to explore thoughts, opinions, and feelings that come up — an emotional component that is not present in a typical science or social studies class. This approach has led some students to explore how art can be used for activism and to educate others about important social, cultural, and environmental issues in Hawaiʻi.
In addition to educating students, the AITS program also educates school teachers, providing training on how to incorporate art and visual learning into their lesson plans for the rest of the school year. The program is funded by a grant from the Hawaiʻi State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. Looking forward, Gerald and his team hope to expand the AITS program to include more local elementary schools and employ more teaching artists.
“I see art as a tool that can help kids learn many different subjects, facilitate cultural connection, and a sense of positive identity,” says Gerald. “Our goal is to encourage curiosity and wonderment and build student’s confidence through exploration and experimentation.”