Review: Making Art Together: How Collaborative Art-Making Can Transform Kids, Classroom and Communities

Making Art Together: How Collaborative Art-Making Can Transform Kids, Classrooms, and Communities by Mark Cooper and Lisa Sjostrom (Beacon Press, 208 pages, $26.95)

As a senior at Quest High School in Humble, Texas, my final exhibition was on the arts and education. While my presentation was geared towards policy and finance, research on how art programs help kids develop and grow was an integral part of the process. That’s why I was so excited to read Making Art Together.

We always talk about the importance of working collaboratively and the value of teamwork. Combined with the benefits of art for kids, the idea of collaborative art can come together very organically in a school setting. However, despite the extensive planning and preparation that go into creating large scale projects, they often fall apart easily due to lack of support, financial or otherwise.

This book provides a great resource for schools and teachers to implement and maintain collaborative art projects in their community. With examples of successful projects done in many different environments and step-by-step help for the process, Making Art Together will be useful to schools with established art programs, and it’s invaluable for areas that have been forced to cut art budgets. The book takes you from the planning stages (what are you going to create, and who is going to create it?), through funding and collecting support from the community, the creation process, and to a project’s conclusion, discussing how to throw a closing ceremony. A handy appendix explains how to create collages, masks, murals, and sculptures—it will help any teacher, principal, or volunteer become a “master artist.”

Making Art Together is not just a glorification of collaborative art. Some teachers fear losing control of their classrooms, or the school board or parent association might not support the project. The book suggests ways to anticipate, face, and solve these sorts of problems.

My favorite part of this book was the emphasis on democratic leadership throughout the collaborative process. This idea correlates well with the Common Principles. Providing students with a say in the creation of their work gives them a chance to express themselves nonverbally along with ownership and pride.

I recommend Making Art Together not only to arts educators but to any teacher, parent, or community member looking to teach about collaboration, expression, and art.

Denise McLean is a 2005 graduate of Quest High School, and currently a sophomore at Bennington College studying social science and education.