Kayti Didriksen, artist in residence with the Kent Cultural Alliance, works with Kent County Middle School student Selena Hernandez Perez on blending paints to change colors.
CHESTERTOWN — Teachers and students in Kent County Public Schools have been working with a special guest throughout the spring, artist Kayti Didriksen whose efforts are culminating in some big projects.
Born in Cheverly in Prince George's County, Didriksen has lived all over the country. She is currently on the Eastern Shore as the Kent Cultural Alliance artist in residence through June.
As part of her residency, Didriksen has been spending a lot time in Kent County Public Schools, working with students of all ages and skill levels to create art.
"It's super fun for me to engage with kids in any type of creativity," she said, thinking back on her own childhood and her love of art. "I'm always try to be the kind of adult I needed as a kid."
Thanks to funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kent Cultural Alliance is investing in a new residency program that will grow the number of guest artists and creative opportunities the organization can share with teachers and students at Kent County Public Schools.
"The Kent Cultural Alliance is really excited to be able to bring Kayti into the public schools," said Executive Director John Schratwieser. "Kayti's gift as an artist lies in her ability to maximize engagement in learning through art and to include every student and teacher in that process. We look forward to expanding our long-standing partnership with Kent County Public Schools through this new residency program."
As an artist, Didriksen has not tied herself one medium. She loves color and capturing movement.
She enjoys blind contour drawing — a hand-eye coordination exercise that teaches seeing without passing judgement, by not looking at the page when you trace contours with your eyes and record with your hand. She builds on those works, creating brightly colored tableaux and murals.
Earlier this spring, she could be found in Rock Hall Elementary School doing blind contour drawings of Ashton Moody's music class.
Didriksen also paints with a palette knife, which she demonstrated to students in Janet McCormick's art class at Kent County Middle School in Chestertown.
Another passion is collaborating with children in creating art.
"I'm just tickled to have access to creating with and around kids," she said. "It's nice to just get to be like, 'We're going to do this. We're going to make a mess.' Creativity exists in the messes. The interesting stuff happens on the fringy edges."
Didriksen has been most engaged with the middle schoolers here, where she collaborated with McCormick in building on students' skills.
"It's been a nice collaboration between her and I," Didriksen said. "And the kids were engaged. I felt like they were getting it."
Those blind contour drawings she did at Rock Hall Elementary School are being used to create a three-panel mural with the help of students.
"I'm very excited to paint this mural. It's one of my favorite things to do — to paint large," she said. "And that opportunity is fantastic to have, especially since the subject is kids and that's really fun for me too."
Didriksen has spent time in H.H Garnet Elementary School teaching students some basics like line drawing. She plans to work with them on a mosaic mural birdbath for the school's Good Seeds Garden.
Didriksen also has been excited about getting out to Kent County High School to work with older students.
"I feel like I can really make an impact on those kids and teach them some good art skills," she said of the high schoolers.
Didriksen is clearly enjoying her time in Kent County and the schools.
"The community is great. They're supportive," she said. "The teachers at the schools are a huge part of that. I really appreciate that they welcomed me in to collaborate with me."
McCormick said her middle school students have been enjoying classes with Didriksen.
"My students really push themselves when Kayti instructs them and I think it’s because she makes the learning environment fun and energetic, like she is," McCormick said.
McCormick said that Didriksen provides added inspiration for students because she is a working artist. That helps students see the career potential in being an artist.
Didriksen's art lessons in Kent County Public Schools have extended beyond working with students in classrooms. She also has participated in professional development activities with teachers here.
"Kayti has really inspired me to mix up my lessons as well and refocus more on the content and less on the result, which is a valuable observation," McCormick said. "It’s been wonderful having her in the classroom and I am just very appreciative of her sharing her artistic knowledge with us. I am personally a better teacher because of the professional development that I have gained from this Artist in Residence experience."
Didriksen stresses the importance of the arts in a child's education.
"Arts teach creativity, which is important for any idea-generating system," she said. "They offer resiliency. You have to fail 1,000 times before you come up with something you want to show other people."
She spoke about the emotional impact of art as well. She said the arts provide stress relief and help people deal with difficult feelings they may be having.
"Arts can teach you how to regulate your own emotions. Just by scribbling or drawing, you don't have to put words to something you don't understand. You can just work through it in your own space," she said.
No matter what form it takes — such as music, visual arts or dance — that self-expression gets to core of what it is to be human, Didriksen said.
Kent Cultural Alliance Artist in Residence Kayti Didriksen, left, joins Kent County Middle School art teacher Janet McCormick in McCormick's classroom earlier this spring.