Students from Telstar and Gould Academy working together. The winning group holds up their sculpture garden prototype; from left, Hannah Smick, Mary Eggert, and Myles Lilly. Submitted

BETHEL — The River Fund Maine’s Innovation workshop series revolved around five arts and culture topics while taking high school students from Telstar and Gould Academy to local Bethel art-related locations.

Students explored The Gem Theater, the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, did the public art walk through the mural project with Kate Webb, from BAAM, and did a workshop out of the Idea Center of Gould Academy.

Sara Whalen Shifrin, director of Innovation at Gould Academy, facilitated the workshop.

“The RF workshop leveraged the Bethel community to provoke the participants to think of civic engagement in the Bethel village,” explains Shifrin.

“From the Veterans Park to the public art installation at the Gem Theater to the MMG exhibits, we analyzed the civic systems these three spaces engage, considered the vision for the spaces, and explored how our unique life experiences contribute to our experiences of seeing these spaces. The inspiration from the Bethel village set the stage for the design challenge: “How might we enhance civic engagement in the Bethel area through the integration of art?”

“It’s a 12-hour sprint of the day,” explains Noah Tanguay-Collins, executive director at The River Fund Maine. “We’re doing it in one day to sort of minimize that exposure to restaurants, students going back home and coming back and going. So [we did] 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday [the 6th]. It’s really about sort of like tying together arts and culture and the civic engagement part of our community”

Tanguay-Collins didn’t want to give away how he defines civic engagement because that’s more for the students. But he did note that it is how our community interacts with art.

“It is about how our work relates to our community or how we engage with [the community] so it’s how we express ourselves, how we tie our community together through arts and culture, how we communicate through art and culture, and what necessarily the deliverable is,” explains Tanguay-Collins. “But then there’s also a design challenge that goes around with it.”

The River Fund Maine’s Innovation Workshop is focused on giving 9-12th grade students the tools to problem-solve. The desired goal is, “the development of assessment, analytical, and problem-solving skills in the participants and an increase in their confidence in confronting difficult challenges.”

At the end of the day, the students created projects. There were three judges, and projects were selected. Those awarded won $200. The projects were judged based on whichever thought process had been most mindful of everything learned over the course of the day.

“The winning group designed an outdoor sculpture garden in Bethel Village,” explains Tanguay-Collins. “Both school systems would contribute and rotate the installations creating a neutral space for students from both schools to gather and engage with art.

“The students were incredibly mindful, the students designed a garden with wide walking paths so make snow removal, and handicap accessibility easy. The students integrated braille, as well as QR codes to aid with text to speech on plaques. The students highlighted the importance of having a public space in the Bethel community to display and celebrate students work and exploration of art.”

“After living in a virtual world for the past 18 months, being able to bring Telstar High School students and Gould Academy students together was a huge win,” finishes Tanguay-Collins. “The collaborative energy between the students was palpable, and observing their design processes was to put it simply, fascinating. Thank you to Gould Academy for the use of the IDEAS Center, Gem Theater for the use of the theater, and Maine Mineral & Gem Museum for designing such an immersive experience for the students.”

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