D97 Middle-Schoolers Spread Kindness through Art

What if we give the things away that mean the most to us?

This was the question at the heart of Project Magnanimity, a collaboration between Meaghan Pabellon’s art students at Brooks Middle School and Oak Park abstract artist, BAM.

BAM, a District 97 father of five, began talking with Pabellon in the fall during family night about his abstract paintings, some of which he leaves in public spaces for others to discover. 

“Meaghan and I started talking about how to help students think about the way that their actions affect their community,” BAM said. “How they can create and put things out in the world, and through the process create another world, another perspective.”

What resulted was a six-week artist residency, where students explored the concept “magnanimity” which means to be generous, or “big of heart and mind.” 

Each week, students learned about artists in history whose work had initiated positive change in their communities. Inspired by the artists they’d studied, students then created miniature sculptures to express their own vision for what a kinder world would look like. The sculptures contained messages to spark kindness in others, illustrating how kindness and generosity are the “real currency of humanity.”

“The proliferation of beauty can be an especially revolutionary way to help people change their minds about the positive way they view the world,” BAM said.

Mirabelle likened her sculpture to "a welcoming house," while Elise envisioned an "old briefcase of justice," which symbolized unity amidst diversity. Harrison explored the relationship between "I" and "we," in his reflection of kindness, while Olivia envisioned a peaceful park, expressing the potential for kindness in everyday interactions.

While BAM acknowledges that middle school can be a challenging time for students, he has experienced first hand the transformative power of art. “These kids don’t know it,” he said, “but their turbulence turns into beauty.”

In addition to the individual sculptures, Pabellon’s students collaborated on a mural, which was unveiled alongside the sculptures at District 97’s annual Middle School Art Show in March. Since then, the mural and sculptures have been on display on the third floor of Brooks Middle School, and soon they will be released into the world for others to discover. 

For Bam, the process of letting go holds equal importance to the process of creating. But after weeks of time, care, effort and thought put into their sculptures, BAM and Pabellon said their middle school artists struggled with the idea of letting go of something they loved so much.

“There are moments where as the teacher I have to let go myself and let the students lead,” Pabellon said. “BAM and I had planned to place the sculptures out in public through the Free Little Library system, however, some of our students have other plans and are taking ownership of their work.” 

Reflecting on the collaboration, BAM was grateful for the opportunity to witness the work and impact of art educators like Pabellon first hand. “It’s amazing how Meaghan can reach every student with the content, but also help students feel free in her classroom.”

Recently, a parent reached out to Pabellon to share how BAM has influenced her son, who has set up a studio space in their garage and is starting to explore his own style of making art with spray paint. 

“BAM’s presence in the art room reached students in ways that I may not be able to. His perspective and stories shared helped some of my more quiet students open up. They saw themselves in what he does as an artist.”

As for the broader impact of the project, Pabellon said, “Having the opportunity to bridge the gap between the classroom and the art world is so exciting, even more so when the visiting artists are right here in our community.” 

“Learning experiences like these have a lasting impact on how students situate themselves and their art in the world. They begin to make real life connections and see how their art can have a role outside of the classroom, which is super empowering.”