With a swirl of brightly colored paint, Macaylah Jessie turns a blank sheet of paper into a glorious rainbow.
“I like making rainbows,” says the 4-year-old preschooler at Southwest Education Center, 6855 S. Mark Road.
“My other favorite things to paint are cats and dogs. I like cats and dogs so much.”
At the other end of the table, Chris Partidatells a story with paint.
“It’s a man covered with blankets,” Chris, 5, says. “He’s scared about a bear.”
And Nathanael Gonzalez takes a moment to dream up his latest tempera masterpiece.
Nathanael, 5, is one of several young artists in a preschool class for low-income Tucson children with works on display at “The Child In Art: Eyes Wide Open,” an exhibit at The Drawing Studio Gallery, 33 S. Sixth Ave.
The exhibit is open through Jan. 31 (see box).
Twenty-six drawings by students in Curtis Alan Kiwak’s class are on display, along with several by Kiwak, who is also an artist.
Seeing their artwork framed and on display has given a boost to the children, Kiwak said.
“They feel really good about themselves,” he said. “It’s important for kids to be able to express themselves through art.”
The children are part of the Parent and Child Education (PACE) Early Childhood Preschool Program at the school. The program, which prepares low-income children for kindergarten, is one of 28 PACE programs in the Tucson Unified School District.
Kiwak, who has taught preschool for 26 years, dreamed up the project and paid for the framing.
He incorporates art into his teaching nearly every day.
Last week in the classroom, children took turns working on math skills with assistant Pat Doe, building an imaginary city on the rug and creating pieces at the art table or on easels.
“I give them a lot of vocabulary with their artwork,” Kiwak said. “I talk about artists who do illustrations in books. I’m really into storytelling.”
Kiwak teaches kids, at a level they can understand, about some of the masters. He shows them his work. Some days, he has them copy his style. Other days, he copies theirs.
Kiwak said art boosts literacy, science and math skills and improves socialization.
“There’s a lot they discover just playing with paint,” Kiwak said.
The socialization is evident.
Macaylah and her friend, Giselle Aubrey, 5, painted side by side. They helped one another carry paintings to the hall to dry. By the end of the morning, paintings lined the hallway.
And for kids, art is just fun.
“They’re not given time to play,” Kiwak said. “Art should be play as well as telling stories.”
Art experiences in public schools “get whittled down because schools have to meet certain goals,” Kiwak said. But he believes art is critical in educating the whole child.
“If I teach with the whole child in mind, they take those experiences as they grow and learn,” he said. “Hopefully they are the better for it.”
Joan Ashcraft, director of fine arts and Opening Minds Through the Arts (OMA) at TUSD, said research shows the arts help children to learn.
“We know from our research from Opening Minds Through the Arts that students make gains in reading, writing and math when exposed to the arts, and the younger the better,” Ashcraft said.
OMA integrates music and visual arts into the curriculum.
She said exposure to the arts helps the 100 billion brain cells and neurons make connections.
“Exposure to music and the visual arts helps the brain grow and expand,” she said. “When children create a piece of artwork, those experiences help sculpt the brain.”
She said Kiwak is offering children a valuable lesson.
“He is teaching the children things they will always remember through this art form,” she said.
IF YOU GO
What: “The Child In Art: Eyes Wide Open” exhibit, with art from preschool students at Southwest Education Center, along with works by their teacher, artist Curtis Alan Kiwak
When: noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through Jan. 31
Where: The Drawing Studio Gallery, 33 S. Sixth Ave.