Historically, the arts have bonded people together in a positive way at physical exhibitions, such as museums and musical performances, but they also play an important role in supporting social-emotional development in young learners as they create various forms of artwork.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic reduced opportunities to enjoy the arts in person, the New Jersey Department of Education pioneered a way for students throughout the state to process the pandemic and its impact on daily routines through a student art installation project entitled Hope, Healing and Resilience Through the COVID-19 Pandemic. The installation, which was a partnership among the state, Arts Ed NJ, and the Art Educators of New Jersey, inspired reflection and helped students, schools, and community members connect and learn from their experiences.
The idea for the Hope, Healing and Resilience Through the COVID-19 Pandemic project began in summer 2021, when Acting Education Commissioner Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan invited education stakeholders to brainstorm ideas for an arts initiative. In fall 2021, students from preschool through 12th grade were invited to submit pieces of artwork for the art installation project. The robust response reflected New Jersey's diversity, with more than 1,400 submissions from every county and every region—rural, urban, and suburban—in the state. Participating students used a diverse array of media to express themselves and process social and emotional stress, submitting painting, drawing, photography, ceramic, digital, and mixed media designs electronically.
Research has documented that engaging with the creative arts can help reduce adverse physiological and psychological outcomes, assist in the development of social and emotional competencies and resiliency, and garner hope for the future. In turn, students become more prepared to work through challenging times. Harnessing the power of the arts can help New Jersey students process trauma resulting from the pandemic in a healthy, productive, and creative way.
Arts education holds great potential for young people, who are exposed to creative experiences and opportunities to build social and emotional competencies and overall well-being, skills that REL Mid-Atlantic has studied. The New Jersey Student Learning Standards call for every district to provide sequential learning of the arts for kindergarten through grade 12, reflecting the state's continued commitment to building and reporting on skills in this area (scroll down on the linked page for related data).
The Hope, Healing and Resilience Through the COVID-19 Pandemic art installation has been memorialized by way of Governor Phil Murphy, First Lady Tammy Murphy, and Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver selecting installation artwork to hang in their respective offices. In addition, the New Jersey Department of Education displays student artwork from the installment across its Trenton, Newark, and county offices, as well as at employees' desks. A variety of state government offices have also selected art from the series to hang permanently in their locations.
"The enthusiastic response from students shows their resiliency as they persevere through the challenges they have faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic," said New Jersey Department of Education Acting Commissioner Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan. "Each submission reflects the young artist's hope for the future."
New Jersey Department of Education Staff