By Derek Wilson
Just like good neighbors, the students at the Branson School and the members of Cedars have close ties.
The century-old Ross Valley fixtures have participated for more than five years together on various programs. This week, Cedars opens its first collaboration with high school art students at The Branson School in Ross to create a new art exhibit called “Heroes and Heroines.”
“At Cedars, our professional fine art program is designed to help our artists find their best creative expression,” said Chuck Greene, Executive Director of Cedars. “We’ve had a great relationship with Branson for years through our Best Buddies program, but this kind of artistic collaboration has enabled the artists on both sides to learn from each other and be inspired by each other. It has unequivocally deepened our partnership.”
The complete Heroes and Heroines exhibit, which opened March 4 can be viewed online. Curators from Cedars will also select pieces to be hung at Artist Within — A Cedars Gallery in downtown San Anselmo. Each piece of the exhibit, consisting of paintings and drawings, will be for sale, with 50 percent of the sale proceeds going directly to the artist who created the piece.
The art exhibit was open to any Branson art student who wanted to participate.
“Cedars wanted to do a Heroes and Heroines exhibit to show the groups they partner with,” said Mary Sullivan, marketing manager at Cedars. “The kids were really excited to do an art show.”
Since 1919, Cedars has been a leader in supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live creative, productive and joyous lives. Today, Cedars provides support to nearly 200 individuals each day. Cedars’ innovative day programs connect participants with the best expression of themselves. Individuals are working artists, master weavers designing and creating textiles, co-op owners managing and selling produce from a two-acre fruit and vegetable garden, animal caregivers, chefs, and volunteers who support our local community. Cedars offers residential programs throughout Marin County, including Cedars Ross Residences and 10 group homes in Novato and San Rafael. To learn more, visit www.cedarslife.org.
The Branson School, with 320 students, embraces its mission to develop students who make a positive impact in the world by leading lives of integrity, purpose, learning, and joy. The faculty values collaboration, continual growth and improvement, reflection, and student-centered teaching. Branson also believes that diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to create a truly excellent learning environment and a vibrant, caring community.
Due to the pandemic, both Cedars and Branson were required to be inventive in terms of matching up the two groups to discuss their inspiration for the paintings. First, the art students at Branson made videos detailing whom they had chosen as their favorite hero or heroine. The students described a wide range of picks, from the goddess Artemis to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, healthcare workers, and Spiderman. Then both teams participated in Zoom sessions to discuss their inspirations, with Cedars artists reacting to the videos and naming their own heroic selections. The whole team celebrated the partnership with a superhero-themed Zoom dance party. Branson also blogged about the collaboration.
“My art students have been able to make those important connections with the Cedars artists, as well as learn from people who are as passionate about art as they are,” said Allyson Seal, art teacher at The Branson School. “It’s been interesting to see how both sides have approached the project, some very differently and others in a similar way.”
Although distanced by COVID-19 precautions, the Branson students and Cedars members forged connections and found respect for each other.
“For us having the interaction with the show is like having someone come in an having someone to talk with,” Sullivan said. “We’re all about destigmatizing the differences between people. Cedars is working very hard to keep everyone safe and also engaged. … Everyone had a lot of fun with Heroes and Heroines. The kids were so accepting and encouraging with all of our participants.”