Water Crisis Artwork Auction Aids Early Childhood Education

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Following the completion of their original plastic water bottle chandelier creation in May, the children and teachers of the Early Childhood Development Center at the University of Michigan-Flint decided to make more chandeliers supporting UM-Flint early childhood programs through a successful silent auction, while raising awareness about recycling and the Flint water crisis.

ECDC head teacher Diana Hensley, who initiated the first "It's Pretty" chandelier project with her toddler classroom, later explained the how-to process to her fellow teachers who then worked with their own students to create and assemble nine more unique chandeliers. Inspired by the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly, they used paints to decorate empty water bottles which were cut into ribbons, fastened to a base, and hung at the Flint Farmers' Market for all to enjoy.

From the online silent auction, the ECDC raised nearly $3,000 to further support expanded early childhood programming in Flint and to brighten the lives of families with young children affected by the water crisis. The Flint Farmers' Market and Okemos Nursery School purchased two of the art pieces for display.

The creative process of these projects gave children opportunities to develop language, social skills, and teamwork as they worked collaboratively on each piece. The ECDC's Reggio-Emilia philosophy is one that values children as competent and capable learners who are inherently connected to their community and culture. Okemos Nursery School aligns their curriculum similarly.

Project leaders hope that the chandeliers will instill a sense of hope and joy among people who view them, while reminding the public of the extreme difficulties directly related to the effects of lead-tainted water on Flint families, the water crisis, and recovery efforts.

The chandeliers were recently displayed at the Flint Farmers' Market.

"Art and beautiful things bring us joy," Hensley said. "We believe children's art needs to be displayed in the community to be enjoyed by all. These chandeliers brought joy to the community and will also serve as a remembrance of what the children and the family of Flint have gone through."

The staff is currently building a "Chandelier of Chandeliers" at Cummings Elementary School where an expanded early childhood program is in the works. They are taking the bottoms of the bottles of all nine of the auctioned pieces and putting them together for this piece.

"Art is a vehicle through which the children and teachers have communicated their resilience in the face of great challenges and their boundless hope in a bright future," said Mary Lynn Gottler, ECDC Mentor Teacher. "These chandeliers speak very eloquently about the joy of childhood and the beautiful way that children have of seeing something of value in what adults cast aside."

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