Out of the Box with Not a Box

Check out the Hill Center’s Young Artists Gallery

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Tyler students creating their Not-a-Boxes Photos: Amanda Swift

When is a box not a box? Or more than a box? Amanda Swift’s second grade art students at Tyler ES (1001 G St. SE) have spent the past month examining that question. The starting point for their conversation is the book, Not a Box,​ by Antoinette Portis. In the story, the narrator repeatedly asks, “Why are you sitting in a box?” And the bunny/protagonist replies, “It’s not a box!” It can become whatever he wants it to be – a rocket, robot, or racecar – through the power of his imagination.

Each Tyler student was given a box to transform into a Not-a-Box based on his/her own interests.  The kids totally got the concept, expressing indignation if anyone “slipped up” and referred to the art as a “box.” And indeed the Not-a-Boxes transcend box-ness, taking on their new identities as (for example) a motorcycle, tiger, mirror, robot cheetah, baseball field, rock stadium or underwater fort.

Swift wanted to begin the year with “a project that was really open ended and explored a lot of different materials.” She also wanted students “to make art based on their own interests and imaginations.”  Students carefully designed their Not-a-Boxes then executed their ideas by digging through a treasure trove of materials: metal objects, fabric, foam, recycled paper, tape, yarn, ribbon, as well as traditional art supplies.

Swift particularly enjoyed the interactions between the kids as they discussed their choices and developed their projects. One student chose to make a castle because she wants to live in one someday and “because they are big and have lots of pretty things in it.” Another student said he is making a kitchen because his mother loves cooking and that he plans to give the kitchen Not-a-Box to his mom.

The students are super excited about their work and are already asking “When can we bring this home?” But first “Out of the Box with Not a Box” will be on view in the Young Artists Gallery on the ground floor at Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave, SE where it will hang through the end of December. Don’t miss this window into the creative vision of a group of very talented young artists.  It may prompt you to consider the role imagination plays in your own life.