Compassion will be a theme next year for all art students in La Crosse public schools.
All grades, all schools, all art classes. More than 6,000 students will contribute to a massive art project, drawing or painting a small panel with personal depictions of compassion. Next spring, the compassion-themed pieces will dominate the entire space of a local art center.
The La Crosse Compassion Project gives students a chance to reflect on the characteristic, and hanging it on walls for public display should spur discussion in “every corner of our community,” said Randy Nelson, superintendent for the La Crosse School District.
“I think it shows a solid commitment that our kids have to our community,” Nelson said.
The district partnered with the Pump House Regional Arts Center and the La Crosse Public Education Foundation for the yearlong project.
Foundation Director Tim Riley coordinated a similar effort in Appleton, Wis., in 2011, when he was director of the Trout Museum of Art.
He brought the idea to La Crosse with him after becoming foundation director last year.
“There was a desire amongst the teaching faculty and the art faculty of the public schools to do a similar project here,” Riley said.
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Students will use 6-by-6-inch panels as blank canvases. Artistic representations of altruism and kindness will be on display at the Pump House in May and June of next year.
“We’re going to dedicate the entire building to this project,” said Toni Asher, executive director of the Pump House.
Riley’s idea for a compassion-themed art project — first in Appleton, now in La Crosse — was based on mental health research by a University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientist.
Work by Richard Davidson and others at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds shows that teaching students to be kind and mindful can also help them perform better in the classroom.
“It’s good for your brain,” Riley said. “Education is all about building and creating solid minds.”
The display will create a “healing” vibe for visitors from the community, Asher said.
“When you fill that space with students’ depictions of compassion, it just takes that whole vibe and amplifies it,” Asher said.
Compassion should be modeled by adults, for children, but is often overshadowed by less desirable behaviors in today’s world of social media, Nelson said.
The art display flips that dynamic. Kids become models for the La Crosse community, Nelson said.
Along the way, students have a chance to contemplate and write about one of the district’s core values.
“We need to take this path together,” Nelson said. “Our schools are reflected in our community and our community is reflected in our schools.”