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Arts Afire at Weir Farm National Historic Site with Groundwork Bridgeport Youth

National Park News

National parks thrive on creativity to stay relevant and some of the best ideas are right next door. Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut recently expanded its partnership with nearby Groundwork Bridgeport and an enthusiastic group of urban teens using Call to Action #10, Arts Afire.  By adding landscape painting to the list of outdoor activities, the group instantly saw art as a way to connect their urban neighborhoods to the park. 

Since 2008, the two organizations have worked together on service-learning projects, bridging the gap between urban Bridgeport, Connecticut and the park’s cultural landscape.  As in previous years, 11 high school students from Groundwork Bridgeport learned about the park’s natural and cultural resources by managing invasive plants, repairing historic stone walls, and attending career talks and interpretive programs. This year, Weir Farm National Historic Site went a step farther. Thanks to funding from the Youth Partnership Program, these students not only helped restore the landscape that inspired American Impressionist Julian Alden Weir, they also experienced it through painting, as Weir so famously did. Park rangers facilitated special Impressionist Painting Workshops led by local artist Dmitri Wright. Groundwork students participated in two immersive painting workshops, the first in Bridgeport and the second at the park. Using professional quality, plein air painting easels and art supplies provided by the park, each student produced two finished works of art. By juxtaposing the two landscapes, Bridgeport and Weir Farm, urban and rural, familiar and new, each learned how to use art to engage with their immediate surroundings. 

Park Ranger Andrew Lowe reflected on the workshops, saying, “What ended up happening was something really special. The students realized that the value of art, and art as a communication tool, isn’t restricted to any one group of people or place.” 

In between the workshops, park staff accompanied Dmitri and the Groundwork students on a tour of the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. With Dmitri’s guidance, the group toured the museum, finding historic and modern-day connections to the artists who painted and lived at Weir Farm National Historic Site. The trip also allowed the students to talk about and experience art outside of the pressures of the classroom - they even re-enacted a few of their favorite masterpieces!

By engaging these students through painting, park staff facilitated deeper connections between Groundwork Bridgeport’s skill-based, service-learning projects and the rich history of artistic expression at the park. Shaping the landscape got the group excited to paint. In turn, art materials and artistic instruction empowered each and every student to show the world why special places like Weir Farm National Historic Site need preserving! The students didn’t only make the landscape beautiful, they learned to paint this beauty for the world to see! Their masterpieces inspired by Bridgeport and Weir Farm National Historic Site can be found on http://www.visitnationalparkarts.org/!



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