Art For The Sky: Bodkin Students Form Living Masterpiece


Bodkin Elementary students shoved a broom in the earth and ran with twine. Three days later, their peers huddled in the grass while other children circled them.

As some students froze with their backs to the sky and some walked, Oregon-based artist Daniel Dancer stood on a Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company ladder with a camera, collecting photos and footage from 65 feet in the air.

“I call it the guiding wheel,” Dancer said of the concept, which was devised by Bodkin.

This week-long process in November was part of Art for the Sky, a team-building activity that gathers people so they can create a meaningful image visible only from above. According to Dancer, the sky art stimulates the imagination of participants, allowing them to better understand their interconnection with all life.

“It’s inspired by a new way of seeing the world, based on the whole rather than the part,” Dancer said. “Our view of the world is totally obsolete.”

The exercise is part of an artist in residency program. Dancer travels the country, practicing the 3,000-year-old ritual of sky art. During nights, he stays with a host family or at a hotel, and during the days, he works with schools to create art depicting everything from birthday cakes to blue jays to pianos. But his experience at Bodkin was a first.

“This is very different from what I’ve done at other schools,” Dancer said. “Most schools do some version of a mascot or endangered species.”

As Principal Rachel Amstutz explained, the kids donned colored shirts that each represented a different trait of the school’s Changemakers program: Purple for problem-solving, red for empathy, yellow for leadership and green for teamwork. They sat in rows, and collectively, they formed the outer portion of the wheel. Students in the middle circled a core of children who wore blue and white to symbolize the earth.

The activity started earlier in the week as Dancer led a school assembly in which he talked about the origins of sky art and the logistics of the project while also teaching them the lyrics to his song “Wings to Fly.” He then marshaled a group of kids as they prepared an image grid on the field outside, with some kids spreading mulch and leaves.

To ensure all grades were represented, two kids from each class were rotated into the activities. Dancer not only worked with youth, but he also shot footage of local landmarks like Fort Smallwood Park for a DVD giveaway to the school.

Students from all grades were pleased with the outcome. “It was fun!” exclaimed fourth-grader Bailey Shiflett. “Everyone did a wonderful job of making the wheel.”

Third-grader Maxemus Paul said, "It was so exciting to come together as a team of so many people.” Keirsten Paul, who is in fifth grade, added, “It was so awesome to be a part of something so big.”

Even the adults enjoyed the experience. “I was up there with [Daniel Dancer],” said Ed Kiser III, a volunteer lieutenant with the Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company. “It was pretty neat, especially when they started moving in circles.”

Dancer worked as a photojournalist in the 1980s and became fascinated with sky art while traveling to Peru and encountering the famous Nazca Lines. When he returned home, he began working with Kansas field artist Stan Herd, who creates large images on the Earth by using a tractor as a paintbrush and crops for color. Decades after developing his mission from those earlier experiences, Dancer said he is proud of the education kids receive when he visits their schools to do Art for the Sky.

“It can completely change their world view,” he said. “They get to learn about important issues like global warming and climate change.”


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