On Wednesday, April 13, Edison Elementary took part in “Art for the Sky,” a giant living painting made by the entire 500-strong student body and some staff on the lawn. The activity was part of a three-day Arts/STEM experience presented by aerial artist and educator Daniel Dancer, in which students huddled together in an 80×60 foot lightbulb outline in honor of their school.
Dancer has worked around the world to create the living paintings over the past two decades, completing over 400 projects in 44 states and eight counties. As part of the Art for the Sky experience, Dancer offers a virtual montage, teaching kids to look at the whole picture rather than the individual parts, and something he calls “skysight.” “Skysight is about learning to see through the eyes of the earth, through the eyes of future generations, through the eyes of everything, and to make decisions based on the whole,” explains Dancer.
The virtual gathering was broadcast to all classrooms days before the activity, showing students what they would create and build together as a united school community. It also focused on the importance of taking care of the earth and how all living things are connected. “It brought tears to my eyes to see my second grader absorb this information and then respond with such caring and excitement,” said Edison teacher Debbie Riggs. “What an unforgettable experience. Personally, I have never participated in such a great art project.”
Each student wore a white shirt with blue jeans and crouched within the outlines placed on the lawn, which was made of black wood shavings. A drone camera was sent into the sky to capture the image of the lightbulb aerial art. The students then donned a yellow shirt to simulate turning on the lightbulb, with 13 students dressed all in yellow arranged around the lightbulb to mimic its glow. “I really hadn’t thought of that until this morning! It was magical and a lot smoother than I thought it would be,” said Edison director Laura Flosi. “I think the students not only learned a lot about art, but also about our planet and our carbon footprint. It was a different kind of art that we could expose our students to.”
There is a number 421 next to the lightbulb. At the beginning of Dancer’s projects he wanted to raise awareness of carbon in our atmosphere and began using the number 350 in his images to represent 350 parts per million carbon as the safe level of CO2 in our atmosphere. “In 2012, I began including actual CO2 ppm counts in many of my images to track the planet’s rising ‘temperature’ through art, so to speak,” Dancer said. In the ten years of tracking, the number has increased to 420.8, which is what it represented with the 421 in Edison’s image. “The last time the CO2 levels were this high, it was a much warmer, very different planet. The seas were 25m higher, there were no humans on the planet and crocodiles were swimming in the Arctic,” adds Dancer.
Brenda Etterbeek, Edison’s Art Wheel honorary chair, worked to bring collaboration to school and wrote a grant for the experience to the Burbank Arts and Education Foundation, where they received $3800. Dancer was flown in from Oregon to put together Art for the Sky and teach the kids to see art from a new perspective. “It was very emotional for me to see how the project came about,” said Etterbeek. “I was so excited to see our students and teachers working together to create this beautiful memory.”
Due to Tuesday’s winds and the drone’s inability to fly in those conditions, the flight event was pushed back to Wednesday, complicating timelines between state tests and curriculum syllabuses. Curriculum Specialist Tracy Shah worked hard to revise Wednesday’s schedule and the drone and camera were operated with the help of Randy Flosi.
The event ran smoothly as staff helped sort students by grade level and lined them up shoulder to shoulder in the lightbulb. The entire experience lasted less than an hour and Burbank School Superintendent Matt Hill and Burbank School Board President Charlene Tabet were on hand to see the experience take place. “The kids were all so excited to be part of a living work of art. It was so much fun watching them emerge from school and find a place within the outline of the lightbulb,” Tabet said. “It was amazing to see the whole school participating in this amazing art project,” added Dr. Hill added.
For more information on Daniel Dancer and his Art for the Sky projects, please visit his website at www.artforthesky.com.