My name is Lauren McKinley Renzetti and I am a Maker, a Teacher and an Artist. Art is a way of life for me. I started my art journey being allowed to wander from studio to studio at the Sheridan College Campus of Craft and Design in Mississauga where my parents taught. For the past few years, I have been blessed with the title and position of Artist–in-Residence at Unicamp of Ontario, a family summer camp of the Unitarian Universalist Congregations of Southern Ontario.
Unicamp is a sacred and magical place where groups of like- minded individuals come together in community. They work, play, swim, hike, explore, sing, drum, dance, eat and congregate together. It is a relaxed, safe place full of nature. I have been going for 30 years.
I use art as the vehicle or a metaphor to start many dialogues. In art there is always many solutions, all equally good. We sometimes forget life is like this as well. I have art making workshops daily, with up to 25 people of all ages. I get many repeat students- who want to develop a technique or like myself, just find joy in making. This time is organic. I put out supplies and make some suggestions about what we are making. The work they make does not always go home with them; it gets installed in dorms, cottages, outhouses and the dining hall.
Community art making is taken a step further when a single work is given to many to solve or be involved in. The Monks of Tibet work together in groups of 4 to make sand mandalas. These are pain staking temporary works that take several days to make and one strong wind to obliterate. I took this example and made groups of four people to create more permanent mandala drawings. With projects that have many hands working on it like mandalas, people need to interact with each other negotiating what will be done next. They need to make allowance for ability, someone’s personality or preference and sometimes bargain or relinquish depending on those wants, needs or abilities.
With art there does not always need to be too much conscious thought, the decision making process happens fluidly once the initial marks are made. Children fall into making with no hang-ups and immediately know what colour they like and what will be drawn. Adults have emotional baggage about how “good or bad” they are at art. I will often encourage children to encourage adults. If a child can do it why can’t they? The unease softens as the work develops.
In the case of the frog painting I wanted the very young (2-3 yrs old) to participate but they needed to understand they could only paint one square and to be mindful of other’s work. They were given squares on the outer edge because they could not reach the middle. At one point some participants painted many squares unknowing about the one square rule. They allowed others to paint over most of their squares. I had older more seasoned participants who had not had a turn, paint over these squares, to help unify the piece, mostly with glazes overtop of the more enthusiastic but less technically accurate squares. This was done with many on lookers and much discussion of “is this ok” “lets be mindful of the intent of the artist”.
Last summer during the turtle painting many staff were too busy to participate, but I thought it important that they did. I gave them the opportunity to finish off the piece with a simple black line to even out the border. The metaphor for keeping this painting on track was not lost on them. I was the facilitator of both pieces. My job was to encourage all to participate and create cohesion. Cohesion, lasting memories and especially Community were all achieved. If you would like to be part of this summer’s project we plan to paint a family of dragonflies. All will be welcomed to Unicamp and to the painting.
Lauren McKinley Renzetti
also instructor at Art Works Art School & the AGO in Toronto.