Brooklyn-based installation artist Dave Eppley and the Des Moines Art Center needed some finishing touches for a piece by Eppley that’s going to be displayed on the museum’s exterior façade later this fall. They envisioned them done by schoolchildren. So DMAC Education Director Jill Featherstone contacted DMPS visual arts curriculum coordinator Ben Heinen. Did he know a school that would be up for the gig?

Let me count the ones, Heinen may have thought, but his first call was to Findley Elementary School. The Northside artist colony that piloted the district’s participation in the federal Turnaround Arts model based on arts integration across the core curriculum to boost student achievement was definitely up for it. Findley likes to “go big” as art teacher Lisa Hesse put it. So she said yes to Heinen before she even knew what he was proposing.

“The kids cannot wait to get started on this,” according to Hesse, who just told them about it. No kidding. New York artist, art gallery reception/exhibition – not a bad commission for grade schoolers.

Over the weekend, Eppley and Featherstone met with Hesse and principal Barb Adams to get the Findley end of the project rolling. Each of the 3rd and 5th graders, about 120 students in all, will create what Eppley described as “bouquets” to complete the vinyl vine that he designed. They will be fashioned from thousands of hexagonal stickers that Eppley delivered to the school. Eppley’s piece is comprised of 10 plates, each one 4’x4’.

“The kids will have plenty of freedom to design their personal canvas however they like,” Eppley said while demonstrating one of the practically infinite ways they might choose to go. “I’m not a math guy but someone who is told me there are 90 million possible combinations of these stickers.”

Speaking of math, Adams is intrigued by the geometric aspect of the project represented by the repeating hexagons the bouquets will consist of. No surprise there. Before she came to Findley she served as the district’s math curriculum coordinator for a time.

“There are so many layers to this that we can share with the rest of our teachers,” she said.

Eppley is part of an exhibition in which four artists were invited to create artwork made from sign vinyl tape, inspired by the art center’s architecture. Drawing in Space will be on view between September 29, 2017 and January 21, 2018.

Hesse said she typically meets twice weekly with each class. While the students’ work is in progress, they will occasionally collaborate directly with Eppley via Skype.

The finished product will be celebrated with a reception at the Art Center on Sunday, November 5. That’s when Eppley’s vines will bear their fruit in the form of multi-colored berries shaped like the honeycombs that bees are famous for.

Until then the art room at Findley will be buzzing.

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