Outside the Culmer Community Action Center, the girls carefully arranged coffee filters on a plastic tarp.
The rainbow one with three roses went in the center. The one with the yellow sun was right next to it. Eight more filled in the space around them.
They paused. Then, armed with water bottles, they began to spray their creations with water, watching as the careful squiggles and lines morphed together into splotches of color.
“Like tie-dye,” one girl said to her friend. “It’s just like tie-dye.”
The artwork experiment was part of an hour-long session by Pérez Art Museum Miami teaching artists for middle school girls in Girl Power STEAM summer program at the community center. The session was held June 27 as part of PAMM in the Neighborhood, the museum’s summer program through August, which hosts educational art sessions and museum tours across the county at youth camps and community centers.
“We are so happy that we have Miami-Dade children growing up with art and the museum,” said Kerry Keeler, the museum’s manager of outreach programs, who originally helped start the program in 2003. In 14 years, the program has grown to reach about 60 different summer camps and nearly 8,000 students of all ages each summer. “It becomes a shared experience across the county.”
Each art session begins with a quick discussion about the museum and the contemporary art on display. Based off a theme chosen by Keeler and the teaching artists — this year’s theme is “2-D/3-D and Beyond” — teaching artists from the museum show posters of artwork on display at the museum that serve as inspiration for the day’s activity.
“The idea of the project is to use unconventional materials to make art,” said Laura Prada, 27, a teaching artist working a second summer with the PAMM program. Monday’s unconventional materials included coffee filters, washable markers, spray bottles filled with water and kosher salt, used to replicate an installation in the museum by Polly Apfelbuam, Mojo Jojo.
Prada and another teaching artist, Asser Saint-val, watched as the girls colored the coffee filters, sketching flowers, stars and their initials. As soon as the coffee filter art was complete, they went outside in groups to sprinkle the filters with water and salt and watch the colors run together, the salt leaving behind white dots.
“I like teaching them that there are different ways to look at art,” Saint-val said. His favorite moments of the sessions are the lightbulb moments — the moments when the students just get it.
Kourtney Sherrod’s lightbulb moment came when the water blurred the colors of her checkerboard coffee filter together in a far prettier way than she expected. The whole experience, the 11-year-old said, was a chance to express herself in a way she couldn’t before.
“Art is like life,” she said. “Art can come to life, it can express yourself.”
“I kinda learned how to express myself more.”
Helen Vilorio, one of the camp’s program instructors, said the program provides exposure to the arts most of the girls don’t get at school or at home.
“If we didn’t have PAMM, we wouldn’t have this,” she said, gesturing to the girls laughing and coloring around her.
“When they get to create something and it’s appreciated, it increases their self-esteem.”
A few days after the session, the campers tour the museum and receive additional guest passes for a future visit with family or friends. The students also receive an art kit with a notepad and colored pencils, all of which is paid for through museum donations and ticket sales.
“The arts aren’t as prominent in people’s lives as they used to be,” Keeler said. “It gives us a chance to share what we love with them.”
And they hope the campers will pass on that artwork to their friends and family. Kourtney plans on teaching her younger siblings how to turn the coffee filters into art.
“I’m going to teach them how to be unique,” she said. “To express themselves.”