Sudbury Valley and the Art of . . . Art Room Maintenance!

It’s no secret that doing art is usually a messy affair. People cut and paste, use liquid paints, clay and glazes, water colors and beads, make collages with images cut from magazines, and so on. At SVS, the art room is open to all our students, who range in age from four to nineteen.

And the expectation is that after the students are done with their work they will clean up their messes and put whatever tools and brushes they used back to where they are stored.

Amazingly it works most of the time!

And when it occasionally doesn’t, students will be brought before the Judicial Committee and be set straight by their peers.

At the end of each day an older student or a staff member will straighten up the odds and ends that are out of place, such as pencils and bits of paper, or wash a paintbrush in need of a good rinse. It takes at most fifteen minutes to do. Definitely not an onerous task, which is worth the effort when you realize that all the children in our school are free to use the art room unsupervised – and use it they do! Kids of all ages can be seen working there side by side, having a great time together doing all kinds of art.

Not all the activity in the room arises from self-initiated exploration. Much of it often requires specific technical knowledge, and in such cases, where the need exists, the school hires a specialist, such as our very accomplished potter and gifted teacher Lisa Dolliver, who spends four hours with us twice a week. She understands the SVS approach to children and the whole community adores her. The work that our students do with her is just unbelievably beautiful, but when done, it too requires a thorough cleanup of clay, pottery wheels, and instruments.

The other day, to my amazement, I stumbled upon the three “power girls” aged seven, eight and nine wearing oversized smocks while they were scrubbing and organizing everything in the room.

They washed the jars used for watercolor painting and cleaned whatever needed cleaning. They decided to do this on their own initiative, and did it without any adult intervention whatsoever. I withdrew quietly in order not to affect their incredible competence and focus. 

To be sure, it’s not only the art room where this happens. Just a few days after the scene I encountered in the art room, the same phenomenon took place in the music rooms in the barn. Students gathered to give the rooms and all the instruments a thorough cleaning, while our resident music specialist, Jay, looked on and helped out.

The fact is that even after being at SVS for over fifty years, I am still astonished by how many of our students are sensitive to the community’s needs, and act to fulfill them!


The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.