NAHANT — Brooklyn-based artist Wes Sam-Bruce had Johnson Elementary students flying through the air on Thursday.
Sam-Bruce, a Peabody Essex Museum artist-in-residence, was invited to the school by the Nahant Education Foundation (NEF) as part of its Tombolo Project launch. He was originally supposed to work with the kids on an outside, interactive, temporary art exhibit, but that got postponed to the fall because of rain. Instead, he worked with students while they made art depicting their favorite creatures.
Unicorns, a shark named Bubbles and a narwhal were among the creatures created by students.
“It’s so much fun that you can make your own project and do your own thing,” said third-grader Anna Fox. “You can draw a dog in the ocean if you want.”
Pan Manadee, vice president of the NEF, said the organization is all about enrichment, especially when it comes to promoting the “A” in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM). Art is so important, she said, and it’s sort of the glue to pulling science and technology into the general education.
“I love that we get to bring programs like this to the school,” said Manadee.
Aside from Sam-Bruce working with each class, students enjoyed a folk music performance by Alastair Moock, who also gave them an in-depth lesson on civil rights. Moock incorporated famous songs like “Let It Shine” and “We Shall Overcome” into the assembly.
“Singing was the tool for change during the movement,” Moock told the kids. “Every movement for change since has been inspired by civil rights.”
Principal Kevin Andrews said the work of Sam-Bruce and the performance by Moock brought art into all facets and allowed students to be curious. Throughout the week, students were able to take subjects such as social issues and literacy and work together to turn them into art, he said. Sam-Bruce also incorporated movement into his art lesson, which Andrews said he appreciated.
“I saw the kids beaming coming down the hall after working with Mr. Sam-Bruce,” said Andrews.
Sam-Bruce gained a passion for working with kids after he took a job as a program director at a summer camp. He said art has the ability to allow people of all ages to participate in the world on a larger scale.
As part of his residence at the Peabody Essex Museum, he will spend the year visiting schools and community centers throughout Massachusetts and creating art with them, which he calls playful research.
The New York native will return to Johnson Elementary School in the fall to work with students on an outside mural that pairs with its forest playground. Moock will also return to treat the kids to an outdoor folk music concert.
“When you can teach through different methods, you’re going to get a higher level of engagement with kids,” said Andrews. “It’s important to have a motivation for learning.”