For many years, students in Farmington have studied the history of their town, its geography, and the people in it. In addition, adults involved with historic sites and alliances have been collecting visual and audio histories of the town. Until very recently, the work of both groups has been developing separately.
With the support of an Arts in Education Mini-Grant, funded by the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Connecticut Office of the Arts, and the Connecticut Association of Schools, Farmington High School’s Fine and Applied Arts department had the opportunity to partner with Balam Soto, an award-winning artist with international connections to the maker world.
Balam Soto, along with Master Teachers Earl Procko and Jim Corrigan, envisioned a beautiful sculptural map that would connect students with community members in meaningful dialogue about the sights, sounds and history of our town through new media. In this way, memories, stories, photos, and videos could be shared more widely in a community setting.
Permanently exhibited in Farmington’s public library, the map is flanked by two screens that present multiple visual projections. Included in these are images, video recordings, and audio tracks from students and community members.
Artists and makers alike know the power of hands-on learning. We know that students retain more learning and are more engaged, creative and innovative when they work with their hands.
To initiate this project, Balam Soto met with Farmington High School’s Fine and Applied Arts Department to brainstorm about the project’s educational goals and aesthetic design. Balam guided the development of the design and customized the project to meet the educational goals based upon his artistic skills and experience in running Artistic Maker projects for schools, libraries and Makerspaces. Tasks were broken down according to the expertise of Balam Soto, Earl Procko, and Jim Corrigan.
Once the project was designed, Balam presented it to the students, focusing on new media art concepts, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics), and concepts of innovation. The students were enthusiastic about combining technology with aesthetics and were engaged throughout the project.
By working together on the interactive map, Balam introduced the students to physical computing, low-tech/high-tech design, Arduino programming, and to the potential that a Makerspace has to offer for implementing innovative ideas. He also noticed that students began to bring their personal projects into the school’s Makerspace to show them to Balam and ask for advice on development and on sourcing parts.
“The best part of this for me,” said Balam, “was when I later participated in the Danbury Library Mini-Maker Faire and saw one of the students exhibiting his Arduino project. He had the desire before the map project, he just needed to talk to another Artist-Maker and gain inspiration and confidence to share his ideas with the public.”
The students continued to learn from Earl Procko and Jim Corrigan — the day-to-day faculty who taught, advised and problem-solved with students throughout the whole process in both the studio and the shop. Earl and Jim are master-teachers, creating a collaborative environment that demands teamwork and problem-solving while offering open-ended exploration that extends the learning to include fine arts, applied arts, engineering, math, science and presentation skills.
In Jim Corrigan’s shop, students created the beautiful wooden sculptural map that was the foundation of the whole Farmington Map Project as well as the geometric map that would serve as a screen for the video projections.
In Earl Procko’s Arts through Technology studio, students created 3D buildings, landmarks and sites, created and tested the electronics, and did all the troubleshooting and redesigns necessary to make the work aesthetically pleasing to the client, the Farmington Public Library.
The Farmington Map Project has been a wonderful collaboration between an internationally-acclaimed new media artist, high school faculty, the district schools and the town library. This opportunity gave students the chance to see the wider maker world, connect with community and offer a compelling project to a local client.
To learn more about this project, please visit the student blog.