Drawing Connections

Robert Teslow creates international link that broadens students’ cultural understanding.

Mr. Teslow is joined by students from Robins Bay Primary School, Ecology Camp prior to a drawing activity at Castleton Gardens during his trip to Jamaica last summer.
Mr. Teslow is joined by students from Robins Bay Primary School, Ecology Camp prior to a drawing activity at Castleton Gardens during his trip to Jamaica last summer.

[caption id="attachment_3848" align="alignnone" width="375"]Sophomore Maggie Warner’s serigraph ink titled “Jamaican Student.” Sophomore Maggie Warner’s serigraph ink titled “Jamaican Student.”

Robins Bay, Jamaica. Robert Teslow has summered in this small fishing and farming village for the past two summers, facilitating international networks and connections. Teslow volunteered as a painting and drawing teacher his first year there, and returned his second year ready to do more. The project started simply: thirteen fifth grade students were selected to be photographed and interviewed by Mr. Teslow. The interview questions were basic: names, nicknames, living situations, future career dreams and more.
Minneapolis, Minnesota. The project sat for about a semester, waiting for thirteen advanced printmakers to transform the personality and pictures of thirteen fifth graders more than 2000 miles away from them into a four-colored print (these can be seen in the gallery.) “There was a recognition by our students and the Jamaicans that there are some similarities, even though they are culturally quite far apart,” says Teslow on the impact of the project for students at Blake. The project didn’t end there. As printers worked to encapsulate the essence of the students in Jamaica, Teslow took the idea one step further.
Wayzata, Minnesota. Teslow went to Highcroft, one of the two Blake lower school campuses, and interviewed fifth graders, using the same prompts as he has with the fifth graders in Jamaica with. He proceeded to show them the videos of the thirteen Jamaican students so that they could see the cultural differences and similarities. He then ventured back to Jamaica for a third trip this past March to show the Jamaicans the Highcroft students’ answers so that each group of kids could see the differences and similarities of kids thousands of miles away from them.
Teslow reflected on the experience of seeing both groups of fifth graders’ answers, “They seemed to have some similar aspirations in what they’d like to do with themselves in their careers in the future—doctors, helping people, all kinds of interesting things.” The biggest difference was found in living situations. When the Minnesotans would say that they lived with their family (however that might have been formed), there was not a huge difference from the Jamaican’s answers. When the Minnesotans would say that they lived with their pet dog, however, the Jamaican kids would start laughing. Teslow, at first confused by this laughter, soon realized that “dogs are not part of the family.”
These small cultural differences demonstrated the vast amount that these kids on opposite sides of the earth didn’t know about one another. This multi-cultural, multi-generational project was the foundation for Teslow’s nonprofit called Drawing Connections. “It’s all about making connections,” notes Teslow. “[The students] weren’t necessarily right next to one another, but through their exchange of artwork and dialogue, they felt as though they gathered an understanding [of one another], and also recognized differences and similarities.”
Both groups of students’ world views were shaped by what they knew and saw everyday, and by forming connections between cultures that are so enormously different, both groups of students were able to learn something completely new about their perceptions and realities versus those of kids in wholly different places, cultures, situations. Instead of only showing these differences, though, Drawing Connections helps unify those who may seem dissimilar on the surface through mutual understanding, making seemingly large differences seem insignificant.
“I want to continue doing this, and I’m looking forward to doing it,” stated Teslow. Before his very recent creation of an official nonprofit, the whole project was self-funded. Now, DrawingConnections, Inc. is a sponsored project of Springboard for the Arts, a nonprofit arts service organization. If you are interested in donating to this global initiatives, contributions on behalf of DrawingConnections, Inc. may be made payable to Springboard for the Arts and are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. Send a check in any amount to Springboard for the Arts, 308 Prince Street, Suite 270, St. Paul, MN 55101.