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