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Arts in the Alley

Arts in the Alley

Summer Fun in Madison Mural Alley
Young kid holding cloth dyed with indigo dye during an Arts in the Alley event

In the summer of 2018, Team Bubbler, with the help of an army of volunteers and five community artists, worked to transform the blank dreary walls behind Hawthorne Library into Madison's Mural Alley. This summer, youth services librarian Tracy Moore coordinated with the Bubbler to turn this reclaimed space into a hub for creativity and fun.

Hawthorne's Arts in the Alley program ran for six consecutive Tuesdays this summer featuring projects lead by Bubbler artists Amy Mietzel, Ashley Lusietto, Quincy Millerjohn, and Hannah Bennett. Each program funded with generous support by the Friends of the Hawthorne Library.

Kids of all ages gathered to tinker and create, racing boats at the Bubbler Regatta, learning to use hammers and nails to create unique marble runs, pulling on giant rubber gloves to experiment with indigo dyeing, and finding art inspiration from recycled materials in three workshops from Amy Mietzel.

Tracy Moore was delighted to be able to host such a variety of hands-on (messy!) projects in the new, reclaimed outside space which had never been an option in years past.

Kids launch their boats during the Bubbler Regatta

The added room also allowed for bigger crowds and broader community engagement. With more room to spread out, Hawthorne was able to host larger groups of kids from the Salvation Army, Preschool for the Arts, Girls Inc at Goodman Center, as well as children and caregivers simply visiting the library.

The community loved the new space. "There is something awesome about being able to make things and be outside," one parent told us about the Bubbler regatta. "It's great that the programs have appealed to all ages, too. [My older son] loved being able to tinker and test things multiple times as he built his boat, and my younger son loved just being able to play in the water." A feature that would have been much harder to include if the program needed to happen inside.

With so many programs and so much fun to be had, it's a lot to capture in one story. Guest writer and Hawthorne teen volunteer Kadjata Bah shines a brighter light on the Arts in the Alley series in her articles below.

A Closer Look at Arts in the Alley

Special Series from Teen Guest Writer Kadjata Bah

Kids hold up their stamp-making creations

Upcycled Stamp Making

The Hawthorne Library’s third installation of its Arts in the Alley series gave neighborhood children and families a hand at crafting their very own stamps.

Teaching Artist-in-Residence Amy Mietzel of Bare Knuckle Arts brought the workshop to the library, bringing with her items like corks and bottle caps which were to be upcycled into a finished product. Goodman Community Center’s Teal Tribe—a young bunch dressed in swimsuits and highlighter orange jerseys—dove into the messy world of stamping along with a crop of community families with children eager to create.

The kids could not wait to get their hands on the materials, curious about the stamps in front of them and in awe when watching the printing process. After listening carefully, they put their ideas to paper with the help of their peers, teachers, and parents.

Parent and child show off their stamp-making creation

While many of the program attendants entered the space without an idea of what they wanted to create, some of the designs included crocodile stamps and islands floating in the sky. When kids came across an obstacle while printing, they used their problem-solving skills to find new methods and tweaked their techniques to come out with crisp shapes and colors.

Participants also innovated other ways to print their designs. One child stuck foam stickers along the sides of cork to make a continuous pattern while another found that using sparkly foam stickers added a speckled sort of texture to their prints.

One particularly energetic participant, Felix, worked with his father, Brendan. “Even though he’s only three, he has been able to participate meaningfully and has something he’s really enjoyed. He’s played with everything he’s made here,” says Brendan. He also adds that the hands-on activities have helped Felix practice his motor skills.

The red, black, purple, and green designs decorated bookmarks to stick into their latest reads, cards for their friends and family members along with envelopes to hold their feel-good messages. The outcomes were wonderful collages of stamp prints, drawings, and foam stickers. One of the pieces produced by a Goodman student reads, “It is hot, I love it,” ready for a swim in the sticky summer heat.

Though the muggy weather carried on, the library would be met with a beautiful day out in the Mural Alley and another workshop filled with fun, science—and lots, and lots, of dye.

Kids gather around to learn foam block printing

Foam Block Print Making

Every Tuesday this summer, the Girls Inc. elementary group from the Goodman Community Center joined Hawthorne Library for a series of nine workshops in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). Emma, a Making and Learning intern with the library, took charge of leading a foam block printing workshop that allowed for the girls to print their art and enjoy a bit of reading afterward.

Block printing is an ancient art form with origins in China dating all the way back to 200 CE. Traditionally, artists would carve out their designs in wood and use blocks to print onto fabric and books. In this workshop participants used Styrofoam plates instead, making their impressions into the material using pens and pencils. The girls had to exercise caution while drawing their ideas out onto the foam since a hard hand could push a hole through the plate. 

Child creates a foam block print

While focused on their creating, the girls complimented each other's art, which featured “uniheartkitties,” geometric patterns, butterflies, and bears. After the pattern was engraved into the Styrofoam, they began printing.

Their choice of colors ranged from black to pink, orange, and green. Some dove right in, thinking outside of the box and doing multi-colored prints. Using rollers, the students rolled their ink out on a tray then applied it onto their foam blocks. From there, the ink was transferred to paper as they pressed down on their blocks.

When pulling their blocks away, some realized it didn’t print as they thought it would, prompting them to use their problem-solving skills to revise their work and try again.

A child reads with an adult during Arts in the Alley

As the printing died down and the final products lay in a wonderful mosaic of art, the girls had the chance to read books, handpicked by library volunteers, with Badger volunteers. Titles included Elephant and Piggie, Pete the Cat, Diana Dances, and Nevertheless, She Persisted.

The next group of girls coming to the library would get to create their own comic stories as participants in the End of Summer Reading celebration. In this powerful partnership between Goodman, Hawthorne, and the Badger volunteers, Girls Inc. girls have had the opportunities to keep their minds creative, sharp, and out of summer slide.

Indigo Dye Experimenting

In the final workshop of the Arts in the Alley, teaching artist Hannah Bennett gave community members an introduction to the complicated processes of indigo dyeing. 

Behind the Hawthorne Library in the shade of tents, Hannah guided the participants on how to dye handkerchiefs, shirts, even coin pouches. The workshop welcomed Goodman Community Center’s Teal Tribe, Camp Confidence, and several neighborhood families to get their gloves and aprons on and get down to business.

First, she used rubber bands and clothespins as resists by tying them and clipping them to her cloth. She then soaked it in water so that the indigo could better dye it. After that, she moved on to dye the fabric, when kids noticed that it wasn’t blue as they thought it would be—it was green. 

Kids reaching into a bucket of indigo dye during an Arts in the Alley event

This is when participants learned of a chemical reaction called oxidation. Oxidation occurs when a substance is exposed to oxygen. In this case, when Hannah lifted her fabric out of the vat of dye and left it out to dry, it slowly transformed into a deep blue. Children also gained new vocabulary like resist and iridescence.

Once the fabrics had transformed from an eerie green to a deep blue, kids pulled off rubber bands and unclipped clothespins to reveal magnificent patterns composed of rings or blocks. Some even combined both techniques. The excitement left them eager to try it again to create new things

.Some planned to use their newly dyed fabrics as bandanas, wall tapestries, one attendant said they were looking forward to turning their handkerchief into a kite.

Goodman’s Teal Tribe had attended every Arts in the Alley session this summer, the kids arriving at workshops just as excited as they were the week before.

Teen Guest Writer Kadjata Bah

About Kadjata Bah

Our Teen Guest Writer, Kadjata Bah, is a long time Hawthorne Library teen volunteer and teen editor for the Simpson Street Free Press. She will be a freshman at East High School this fall.

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