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Jefferson Elementary Students Tackle Public Art Revamped “Traveling School of Fish” Reignites Franklin Sculpture Park

Jefferson Elementary art teacher Caroline Whelan, Franklin Public Schools Art Director Adam Gooder and Franklin artist Amy Adams, shown, all collaborated on the Franklin Sculpture Park’s “Traveling School of Fish” exhibit, enlisting young artists to participate in public art.

By J.D. O’Gara
On June 7th, Jefferson students, family, staff, and the greater Franklin community gathered for a rededication ceremony at the Franklin Sculpture Park, opened in 2014 next to the Franklin Police Station by the Kabat family, who ran the Franklin Art Center (now closed). The park’s installation “The School of Fish,” received an update from the elementary students and was re-dubbed “The Traveling School of Fish.” 
“I met with Jamie Hellen back in December, and it was about utility boxes that we are painting,” says Franklin artist Amy Adams. “We got to talking about working on the sculpture park, and I said I would love to help work on that. We started going through and realized some of the installations needed love and had been worn down over time, and really we just needed someone to initiate the project and start up the artwork again. As we went around the whole park … this installation I thought we could save. The paint was worn down on some fish, but not everything, and to not get rid of the spirit of the installation, we thought maybe we could take these fish, sand them down and given them fresh coats.”
Adams partnered with Franklin Public Schools Art Director, Adam Gooder, Jefferson Art Teacher Caroline Whelan, Jefferson Principal Stefani Wasik and Town Administrator Jamie Hellen to reimagine the installation.
“Amy Adams reached out to Stefani Wasik, Adam Gooder, and myself with this collaborative art project and the need to revamp these fish sculptures with a fresh coat of paint,” says Caroline Whelan, Jefferson Elementary Art Teacher. “I worked with 4th and 5th Grade students in our Art Explorations classes to envision and paint creative designs for these fish sculptures.”
Adams worked to clear and prepare each individual fish, Jefferson staff then worked with students to create the new art.
Whelan had her students create “Envision” worksheets before beginning the painting process. The young artists, she notes, “did extremely well bringing their planned ideas to life, making thoughtful and creative changes where necessary along the way. As we reflected back on this project, many of the students expressed to me that while they loved this experience and had so much fun with it, it was challenging at times. Trial and error, as well as problem solving was necessary.”
Whelan shares the experience of Luca, a 4th Grade student, during the class’s reflection, “Normally I don’t like making mistakes because I get really frustrated when I do,” said Luca, “but for this project it was actually fun to make mistakes and figure out ways to fix them.” 
The refreshed installation, retitled “Traveling School of Fish”, will be updated yearly by new students within the district. Adams envisions one day of finding someone local to make the wooden fish, so that after the one-year period of display, young artists will be able to keep their fish.
“It’s creative and engaging projects like this that ignite passion in our students and motivate them to come up with creative solutions when faced with challenges,” says Whelan. “These collaborative opportunities give our students the skills to problem solve and grow as creators. I feel very proud of these students for embracing our Jefferson art room mantra throughout this project, to turn any mistake into a masterpiece.
This new initiative aims to nurture the artistic talents of our youth, while showcasing their work with the greater Franklin community through public art. FPS Art Director Gooder notes, “Any time students of any age get a chance to show their work publicly, it motivates them to do their best. Art is meant to be seen; this initiative gives students an opportunity to see how people react and how their artistic voice can make a positive impact on others.” 
The event, emceed by Jamele Adams, also included comments by Franklin Conservation Agent Breeka Li Goodlander, who has applied for state grants to help remove invasive species from the park as well as DPW Director Robert “Brutus” Cantoreggi, who talked about town improvements to the space.
The “Traveling School of Fish” installation is available to the public at the Franklin Sculpture Park on Panther Way, next to the Franklin Police Station.
Jamie Hellen pointed out at the sculpture park rededication that the “Traveling Fish” is only the beginning of what he hopes will be an emergence of public art in Franklin.
“This is the first of a lot of social projects in Franklin,” said Hellen. “We have sites all around the sculpture park in here that are open for everybody to apply to put sculptures and art in there, so if folks want to put more and do more and make this an even more vibrant place … there’s an application online. Today is really the first of that of trying to install a lot more public art in Franklin.
Local artists can find the application under Franklin’s Public Works page on the town website.