Nebraska City's An Enchanted Arboretum art project aims to bring art into the daily lives of students.  A unique part of An Enchanted Arboretum is its inclusiveness. 

Since 1875, Nebraska City has been home to the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired.  The school, known as NCECBVI, is home to blind, visually impaired, and multi-handicapped students from infants up to age 21.  

As part of An Enchanted Arboretum, each student at NCECBVI has had the opportunity to create their own one-foot maquette.  Many of the students have chosen to work with textiles, allowing them to feel their tree come to life.  One student mixed sand with his paint to create an extra dimension.  Yet another student is covering her maquette in braille, repeating different tree-themed words.

The maquettes created by students at NCECBVI will be on display at the Student Showcase scheduled for Monday, March 4, 2013, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Nebraska City High School.  A few students will be chosen to share their vision on a four-foot tree to be unveiled on April 20.

To learn more about NCECBVI, visit their website at www.ncecbvi.org.

The goal of most public art projects is to create an open space where the general public can enjoy and be inspired by art.  It is an inclusive and enriching experience for both the artists and communities involved.

For the past few months, Nebraska City’s public art project, An Enchanted Arboretum, has done something extraordinary within this realm.  In addition to commissioning 21 life-sized stylized trees for regional artists to design, An Enchanted Arboretum has touched more than 1,000 local school children.

Every student in Nebraska City, including those from the Public Schools, Lourdes Central Catholic, and the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired, has worked on their own special part of An Enchanted Arboretum.  Throughout the 2012-2013 school year, artist and Project Coordinator Liz Shea-McCoy of Lincoln has visited with Nebraska City students, encouraging and instructing them as they create their own one-foot tree maquette.  Students have learned about line, form, and color, and, in some cases, have modeled their designs on the work of a famous artist.  They have also received help from their classroom teachers who completed a three day workshop under Shea-McCoy in August of 2012. 

Chloe Higgins is a 7th grader at Nebraska City Middle School.  When asked about the project, she replied, “I think the Enchanted Arboretum project is really cool.  It’s a chance for kids to create something that will actually make a difference.  I liked how we focused on one specific artist and that artists inspired our designs, so everybody will have a wide variety.  Working with Liz Shea-McCoy was really fun and it was interesting to hear a real artist’s input.  All the kids in my class really got into it, even some of the kids who don’t usually enjoy this type of thing.  This project was really fun and I’m glad I got the chance to participate!”

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An Enchanted Arboretum is a collaboration between the Nebraska City schools; Arts Are Basic, a partner program of Doane College; the Arbor Day Foundation; the City of Nebraska City, Icon Poly Studio, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts; Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce; and the Nebraska City Area Economic Development Corporation.  This project is also supported by numerous local funders.
Thoughts on An Enchanted Arboretum
By Nebraska City Middle School Art Teacher Mike Little.

The extensive support for the Nebraska City Enchanted Arboretum public art project brings to the forefront an unparalleled demonstration of civic pride and community involvement.  Along with professional artists, nearly every Nebraska City student, grades K through 12, public and parochial, are engaged in the project.

As an art specialist, I witnessed tremendous growth among the mostly elementary classroom teachers participating in the three-day summer workshop conducted by Project Director Liz Shea-McCoy.  We were all learning something new.  But as the days went by, you could sense the comfort level rising within the group as people were asked to produce and discuss artwork as it related to an artist of their choice - exactly what they would be asking their students to do once the school year began.  The transformation was remarkable.  Teachers who were initially reluctant in their own art skills on Day One were now working through their lunch break on Day Three, eager to share their ideas with the group.  Their enthusiasm and confidence would no doubt serve their students well in the months ahead.

As the Nebraska City Middle School art instructor, I began to see students take ownership once the Enchanted Arboretum as a public art project was introduced to them.  In my classroom, we called the project the Tree of Expression.  In my mind, it was easier to say but I also wanted to make the point that while we may be studying a specific artist, it was more about the student bringing something of themselves to their design and how it might relate to their community.  In conjunction with their own interests, I asked the students to visualize where they would like to see their sculpture placed if it were selected...and to imagine it in that place twenty years from now.  Students at various levels, from high-achievement to at-risk, embraced the idea of how cool that would be.  For my part, I was envisioning the possibility of an impactful, if not life-changing, experience for some of them.

In all, the Enchanted Arboretum represents an investment.  It not only serves as a conduit for enhancing the local economy, but it also engages our youth as civic stewards in a unique way -- ways that may have only been achievable through the power of art.  For that, a humble debt of gratitude is owed to those civic and business leaders who had the vision to initiate and stay the course with this project as an opportunity for our students and community.

-- Mike Little, NCMS