The TOMODACHI project

Photography by Juliana Molina

On an idyllic spring morning in March 2015, more than forty young professional women newly arrived from Japan as part of the leadership initiative called Tomodachi were the guests of the City of Hyattsville. The City created an exciting program where these young leaders met with local women in leadership and had the chance to share ideas and make lasting connections. Art Works Now was fortunate to be invited to this inspiring day and have the opportunity to provide an art workshop exploring many facets of Japanese culture. For our teaching artists, the workshop presented a unique chance to learn directly from these young women about contemporary Japanese society, life, and culture and then infuse what was learned into an art curriculum here in Hyattsville, Maryland.

We wanted to achieve three things in our meeting. First, for many of the Japanese women, this was their first time visiting the United States and our goal was to create a positive experience. Second, we hoped to spark a conversation about two very different societies through art making. Third, we wanted this to be the first of many such workshops with the Tomodachi project participants. The team of teaching artists, art educators, and art therapists worked to ensure a safe place for thoughtful discussion and meaningful art making to achieve our goals.

Photography by Juliana Molina

Four universal topics are the focus of the project: food, education, family, and place. It was our goal as a team to act as conduits and recorders as we listened to the experiences and voices of the young women in order to bring authentic cultural perspectives back to the students in our studios and classrooms in Prince George’s County. We used what we learned to create a rich and exciting arts curriculum inspired directly by these young women leaders of tomorrow.

As we developed the curriculum, we noted special techniques that our friends at Tomodachi shared with us. The young women participants shared their experiences with arts education and were quite technically advanced in paper, clay, and printmaking skills. They noted that this is due to the centrality of arts education in Japanese schools. Using their input, we placed paper at the heart of the projects with forays into clay and printmaking at the elementary level for the last year.  

Photography by Juliana Molina

Based on what we learned during the workshop, our elementary students are working with a variety of papers extensively creating a broad variety of paper-based projects including collage, artist books, scrolls, and sculptures over the course of this year. In conjunction with exploring paper as an art medium, we have explored the meaning of the word “tomodachi” with our students, which literally translates to “friendship” in Japanese. We’ve asked our students to consider what makes a good friend and why we place such importance on friendship. Our young artists have created artworks that express their ideas about friends, friendship, and cultural exchange. This March, a new group of young Japanese women professionals will visit the City of Hyattsville and be joined by the Art Works Now team to view and respond to both the work of our current students and last year’s participants. We’re excited by the depth of this project and the opportunity to work with such creative young people and the residents of such a dedicated community.

Come see the work of ART + TOMODACHI at Art Works Now’s gallery project, art matters on March 11th from 6:00pm - 7:30pm. Located at 3711 Rhode Island Ave. Mt. Rainier, MD 20712

Maggie Robinson is the Program Director and a Teaching Artist at Art Works Now. Maggie has a Master of Arts in Art Education from the University of New Mexico. Maggie's passion for art education developed during her tenure as Conservation Educator at the Philadelphia Zoo. Camps, workshops, overnights, and outreach programs are some of her specialties. Community art centers and after-school programs are important venues for Maggie’s efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere is making art.

Maggie Robinson