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Bullis Innovative Arts Collaborations

Bullis Innovative Arts Collaborations
by Stacey Roshan
Innovative Art Collaboratives

The Bullis Arts department has focused on several rich collaborations within the school and the larger community to engage students in authentic and collaborative artistic processes. These collaborations not only provide students an opportunity to learn from and work with professional artists but also allow for cross-disciplinary collaboration and a deeper understanding of history, literature, and the arts.

This article will highlight three fall programs:

Artist in Residence Mural

Creativity Takes Courage. Henry Matisse

Thanks to a Parents Association grant and the support of Head of School Christian Sullivan, the Blair Family Center for the Arts brought Nicole Bourgea to campus this fall as a visiting artist in residence. Inspired by Matisse's quote, Nicole worked with 8th Grade Art Majors and 8th Grade Open Studio, taught by Kelsey Donegan, and Advanced Studio II students, taught by Kathleen Adams, to develop a concept that symbolizes the Blair Center’s reputation as a creative space where everyone has a voice. The artwork features a figure taking a bold dive into a sea of creativity.

The Blair Family Center for the Arts is home to such vibrant arts programs. I love that this artwork is a permanent reflection of the creativity that goes on in and out of our classrooms. Kelsey Donegan

This artist-in-residence program aims to involve students in a collaborative and authentic process. Painting this mural as a hallway centerpiece in Blair, which houses Bullis’s Arts classes, brings a layer of visual inspiration for students. The mural enhances the artistic energy in the building, creates a unifying theme, and will have a long-lasting, positive impact on the community.

I really enjoyed painting the mural and working with Nicole. I never worked on a mural before and really enjoyed the experience of being part of something bigger than just me that would beautify the school. Joyway W. '28
Bullis Kindergarteners create a mural alongside Creative in Residence, Nicole Bourgea.

Bullis Kindergarteners create a mural alongside Creative in Residence, Nicole Bourgea.

Students were heavily involved in this artwork's creative process and final product. Initially, Nicole worked with Middle and Upper School classes to hear their ideas for a theme. After narrowing their vision to a theme of creativity, Nicole drafted a design to review with art teachers. From there, teachers, students, and Nicole collectively settled on a final design.

Nicole’s presence painting on campus while students walked through the halls was a powerful experience. Perhaps this is best demonstrated by Ms. Ruina’s Kindergarten students. As they were walking through Blair on the way to the music room, they spotted Nicole at work on the mural. They sat, watched, and asked as many questions as they had time for. When they got back to class later that day, they read a story to learn more about the process involved in planning and designing such a large-scale art project. And that inspired them to head back to the mural and create something of their own!

Ms. Ruina reports:

[The experience] made us want to plan and create some of our own impermanent art. We decided to pack up some art supplies and head back to Nicole to make our own mural inspired by her. As luck would have it, while we worked we got to listen to the Upper School orchestra practice holiday songs! Rachel Ruina, Kindergarten teacher
Nicole Bourgea with Bullis students

The Arts Department hopes to continue to bring artists on campus yearly to work collaboratively with students across all divisions.

About Nicole Bourgea -

Nicole is a DC-area native artist and muralist. Nicole believes strongly in the power of public art to inspire, advocate inclusion, and foster community. She grew up as the oldest child of a single mother with little financial security but access to the many free museums in DC. The experience was an early education in the vital importance of art to uplift the heart and encourage positive change. Today, Nicole enjoys using her skills as a painter to work in partnership with businesses, organizations, and communities to spread love and hope through publicly accessible art.

Combined Jazz & Dance Show

Bullis Jazz and dance show

The Jazz and Dance Show was a collaborative performance that brought together Upper School students from the Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Workshop, Varsity Rock Band, dance classes, and the fall Dance Activity. Director of Arts Cheryl Terwilliger and dance teacher Angel Chinn led this joint effort. For this performance, dancers were accompanied by live music, providing a unique and exciting challenge for both musicians and dancers. Performing to live music and synchronizing musical arrangements for live dancers is both rewarding and difficult, and this collaboration required empathy, patience, and a positive attitude from all involved.

It was extremely fun, and I felt like an actual professional musician playing through a whole setlist.  Jazz Ensemble student
Playing with the dancers was the best part of the show. It added a new element to the show, and in my opinion, it made the show more entertaining. Jazz Workshop student
Bullis Jazz Band

With the number of dance routines planned, jazz students needed to play nearly double the number of songs they would typically play during a traditional jazz show. The Varsity Rock Band helped out and picked up some of the extra load. Vocalists also performed on some songs, adding another collaborative layer to the show.

There was a lot of careful coordination, communication, and planning required to pull off this event. The musicians needed to learn new skills, such as an awareness of dancers’ locations throughout the performance and the precise length of each song, to synchronize with the dancers' performance.

It was exciting playing in a big band on stage. It was something that I haven't experienced before. Some of the songs were harder to play than others, and I messed up once or twice. The last song was awesome and exciting, and I would be grateful if we did the Jazz and Dance show again next year. Jazz Ensemble student
Bullis jazz and dance show

Technical theater students, led by theater arts teacher Anthony Brooks, also played an important role in this event. Not only did students design and operate the lighting to complement all aspects of the performances, several also sharpened their skills running the system as sound engineers, a critical role in any show involving a live band. The performance theme was Earth, Wind, Fire, & Water and they designed projections for each segment to add a layer of visual effects and mood to the show. Students from both the Advanced Technical Theatre class and the after-school theatre program contributed to the overall set design.

In addition to larger group performances with students from Dance Foundations, Dance Ensemble, Advanced Dance Ensemble, and the after-school dance activity, some of the more advanced students had an opportunity to go a step beyond. For example, musician Tom Zhou and dancer Sarah Ashkin choreographed, composed, and performed an original piece together. Solo dancers also created their own choreography and others choreographed for a variety of small ensemble groupings. 

It was an intensive process, and students rose to the occasion. Cheryl Terwilliger

With such rich student talent and a robust Arts program at Bullis, this collaboration stretched students for a challenging yet extremely rewarding experience. Jazz students saw the connection between the music they were playing and the movements of the dancers they were accompanying. As one student commented, “Playing with the dancers… was a great new experience and really opened my eyes to a new contrast of music and dance.” For the dance students, it was exciting to have the opportunity to work with live musicians, but it required them to listen carefully and respond in real-time. Everyone involved learned valuable lessons about authentic collaboration and making adjustments on the fly to create a moving and inspiring performance. In a post-performance survey, nearly every student requested an opportunity to do another Jazz & Dance show in the future.

Upper School Fall Play: The Crucible

This year in the Upper School, we are embarking on a theatrical “Season of Courage.” Each of the titles we have selected focuses on different ways that we are challenged in our lives and what it takes to weather those storms, big and small. Through these unique stories, our students will be able to see the courage it takes to face their fears, stand up for what they believe in, and follow their dreams, no matter how daunting the obstacles may appear. Marcia Franklin, theater arts teacher and show director
Upper School Fall Play: The Crucible

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, was selected as the Upper School fall play. Each year, Bullis juniors read this book in their English classes. In order to allow students to take a deeper cross-curricular dive into its themes and issues, the theatre department partnered with English, History, and DEI leadership. 

Though written in 1953 and set in 1692, the themes in The Crucible resonate over the decades and have never been more relevant than today. Theater Arts teachers Marcia Franklin (director) and Anthony Brooks (technical director) worked hard to help students experience the work presented in its most authentic form as they studied the script and ultimately saw the story come to life on stage.

The Crucible challenges us to grapple with humanity and hold a mirror to ourselves and our society. It reminds us that there are human costs to all of the screaming, yelling, and accusations that we are exposed to through media, television, movies, and the like. It reminds us that we all still have a great deal of work to do to improve our society and ourselves, and it implores us to work together to enact that change with care, with compassion, and with each other. joint statement from the show director and a team of administrators
Upper School Fall Play: The Crucible

The play certainly touches on sensitive material and issues. To address more delicate issues, Bullis teachers and administrators asked adults to participate in the play and perform several of these roles. Social studies teachers Kim Worthy and Robbie Wellington and English teacher Jennifer Tinker became part of the cast. In addition to performing, these teachers helped to explain the historical context and provide literary analysis.

To further prepare students and the community for topics raised in the performance, a detailed note was included in the program explaining why this show was selected and performed. In order to provide support for the ninth and tenth-grade students who had no prior experience with the text, the English department dedicated class time in the week before the opening of the play to give students a foundation for understanding it. 

On opening day, instead of a traditional teaser during assembly, actors performed selected scenes and students had an opportunity to participate in a group discussion facilitated by English teacher Kerry Hosmer.

As audience members, we experience myriad reactions as we watch a play unfold, but these thoughts usually remain silent until the production is over. This assembly, with its focal scenes, was incredible; students and faculty were able to vocalize their immediate responses to the larger audience and process the complicated character dynamics in real time. I had so much fun running up and down the aisles with the microphone! I felt as though I was fusing English teacher of The Crucible and talk show host…stirring up reactions to the tensions that were unfolding right before us. Our students were engaged and excited to contribute. Kerry Hosmer, Upper School English teacher

Students were able to appreciate the interconnectedness of the performance they were watching and the historical context behind it. This collaboration had a far-reaching impact on the students, providing a greater understanding of the play and its historical context. Students were more attentive to the show, and the entire effort demonstrated strong faculty collaboration. The production encouraged increased dialogue and provided a safe space for students to think critically about difficult topics raised in the play.

Please enjoy photos from our featured arts programs.


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