AthFest Educates: Grant Project at Barnett Shoals Elementary, written by Violet Calkin

Every year, multiple educators of the arts in Athens-Clarke County are awarded the AthFest Educates Grant to channel a child's voice through a form of art. One of the 2018 grant winners was Dan Smith, Barnett Shoals Elementary art teacher. He teamed up with successful Athens artist and BSES parent Jamie Calkin to create a project for 5th graders that would celebrate the graduates time in elementary school.


Jamie Calkin has worked with Dan Smith and former BSES art teacher Leonard Piha many times before. As his now-high school daughter, I can attest to this. I, as well as my now-middle school sister have endured the embarrassment of my father presenting his ecstatic and coffee induced excitement to my class of judgmental students. Not to say his work at my former elementary school has not being meaningful. Contrary to my experience, my classmates absolutely loved having created a masterpiece with a seasoned artist. Now, 4 years and a grant later, Calkin, Smith, and BSES 5th graders have created 3 (one for each class) legacy projects representing their experiences grades kindergarten through 5th.


Jamie used professional supplies to make murals with the newest Barnett Shoals, the old Gaines school (that the students spent majority of their elementary school years in), and the current cafeteria as the background to the students more important (no offense Dad!) role in this project. Needing to portray the kids as not only students but as artists, Jamie and the kids starting experimenting. The end result was to incorporate their favorite picture they had recently drawn into the murals. No theme, just a simple representation of themselves. Jamie drew the kids on their classes respectable murals holding the picture they created.


As for the students experience working with Jamie, it was “stimulating” and “expressive” according to participants Ruby Calkin (aka my sister and Jamie’s daughter) and her friend Eva Lucero. “Mr. Jamie and Mr. Smith did not force us to do what they thought would look good, instead they let us choose to do what we thought expressed ourselves.” says Eva. “I liked that my dad taught us something original and didn’t get ticked off if we messed up.” added Ruby. Jamie described collaborating with Dan saying “it is so easy to work with Dan because he is so go with the flow.” According to Jamie, merging his work with the students was, per usual, a “challenging but in the end, a rewarding experience”.

Ruby Calkin, holding the portrait she drew of her friend Lorelei.

Ruby Calkin, holding the portrait she drew of her friend Lorelei.

Alexandra Travis, a UGA journalism student, made a wonderful video about the project (link below). According to Jill Helme, Athfest Educates executive director, “It's a wonderful testament to the role art plays in the lives of young people.”

None of this could have been possible without the AthFest Educates Grant, which Dan and Jamie are very grateful of. AthFest is an annual festival of art and music located in downtown Athens every June. Jamie has been a part of AthFest longer than any other artist in Athens, participating since 2001. I have many memories visiting his booth and buying gifts for my mom’s upcoming birthday, which is part of the reason why it’s a favorite event of the Calkin family. The other reason is because of the work AthFest does behind the scenes. The nonprofit event uses it’s earned money to spread the joy art brings around Athens-Clarke County. The AthFest Educates Grant is part of this mission, and Jamie and Dan’s too, which is why they were so thrilled to receive it.


Thanks to the AthFest Educates Grant, Jamie Calkin, and Dan Smith, a piece of the BSES class of 2018 will hang on the walls of the school that they grew up in for years to come!