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On the blog: More homework, please!

April 13, 2014
by Sara Olivier, Arts Rapid City

No, this isn’t a late April Fool’s prank.  It’s the Teaching Artist Program (TAP) and it’s making an impact in the way students think about science, math, and other core subjects through visual art.  The past two weeks I’ve had great fun tagging along to learn more about the program and watch teaching artist Tyler Read and his art-hungry students in action.  

As I watched from the back of the classroom, Tyler integrated what the students were learning about in science (our solar system) with visual art fundamentals.  The regular classroom teacher Ms. Thorson, also watching from her desk, smiled and said, “This is a great review of what we are studying, and the material will be on the standardized tests.”

Tyler’s lessons are reinforcing concepts the students will be tested on in a fresh and exciting way.  So exciting, in fact, that I witnessed several students raise their hands to ask if they could keep their project to work on it outside of class. 

Tyler, a graffiti artist and co-director of arts education at the Dahl Arts Center, is enjoying his new role working with elementary students.  The opportunity is a perfect fit for him considering his personal philosophy of creating art that gives back to his local community.

“I think some artists may be a bit nervous about going into a classroom full of young students if they aren’t used to that sort of environment. But their regular teacher is always there and the students have been great,” Tyler shared after a lesson. Of course, classroom management issues don’t arise when the students are completely engrossed in the lesson at hand.

And just because the lesson was fun, doesn’t mean it was easy by any means. What do the birth a star, geometric and organic shapes, abstract art, and Badlands fossils have in common? Everything, according to Tyler, who integrated elements of science, geometry, and geology with visual art. 

Students started by creating an outline inspired by sculptor Masayuki Nagase’s abstract sculpture “Aquatic Memory” after discussing Nagase’s work and his focus on our natural world.  This was followed by filling in the outline with organic and geometric shapes that represented the dust particles and gas that combine to form a swirling nebulae; the birth of a star. 

It sounds quite complex, but Tyler was able to break down the information in a way that the students could really grasp well. This integrated, abstract way of thinking is great brain exercise and teaches students to think creatively and collaboratively.  We live in an integrated world that requires creative problem solving, and these lessons are providing students with these valuable skills.

TAP was initiated by Nagase, who proposed the program as part of his proposal for The Sculpture Project: Passage of Wind and Water. After discovering that elementary schools in the Rapid City area do not offer a formal visual arts education program, he and his wife, Michele Ku, offered to fund TAP as part of the project’s outreach program.  TAP lessons are aligned with South Dakota educational standards and use cross-disciplinary methods. Professional artists are hired and fully trained to share their talents in a classroom setting by Naomi Even-Aberle, TAP coordinator and co-director of arts education at the Dahl Arts Center.  

TAP is looking forward to connecting with more elementary schools in our area so that many more students can experience what Tyler’s lucky fifth-graders are. 

Check out an album of photos from my classroom observations here.

If you are interested in applying as a teaching artist, find more information and download an application by following this link: or by contacting

If you are interested in having a teaching artist at your school, find more information and apply by following this link: or by contacting



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