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Since childhood, various teaching methods have had a dynamic effect on my personal development by shaping my social consciousness and expanding my creative potential. The techniques that stand out the most in my memory were service-learning strategies combined with art lessons.

Service-Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.

Why use Collaborative Art as a “Service-Learning” Tool?

When collaborative art projects contain a community service dimension, participants gain a deeper understanding and satisfaction to their civic engagement.

Collaborative art, when presented and available to the public, is an enduring gesture, adds a layer of permanency to the project. Also, an individual’s contribution takes on a different dimension when it joins forces with the rest.

The sensation of the personal connection one has with their art is deepened when it’s shared with the community.

Collaborative Art Projects combined with “Service-Learning” produce the following:

  • A functional real purpose for art, meaning attached to it.

  • Require cooperative rather than competitive environment which conduces creativity.

  • They address complex problems in complex settings rather than simplified problems in isolation.

  • They offer opportunities to engage in problem-solving by requiring participants to gain knowledge of the specific context of their service-learning activity and community challenges, rather than only to draw upon generalized or abstract knowledge such as might come from a textbook. As a result, service-learning offers powerful opportunities to acquire the habits of critical thinking; i.e. the ability to identify the most important questions or issues within a real-world situation.

  • They act as a natural catalyst for creativity while providing structure. Results are immediate and uncontrived. There are no “right ways” to create something new.

  • As a consequence of this immediacy of experience, service-learning is more likely to be personally meaningful to participants and to generate emotional consequences, to challenge values as well as ideas, and hence to support social, emotional and cognitive learning and development.

What does service-learning look like when it is combined with the arts?

As a teenager I volunteered for an organization called Kids Helping Kids whose mission is to encourage youth volunteer programs and social entrepreneurial projects that provide adaptive equipment, services, and companionship for kids who’ve been affected by catastrophic illness or injury.

One way we got involved was by creating beaded bracelets along with the guidance of a professional jewelry designer. Later we sold them in art fairs around Montclair, NJ while we explained our cause.

Our experience selling our jewelry for KHK gave a functional purpose to the art we made. Since we created each bracelet to benefit a social cause, this allowed us to be in a non-competitive environment while we created our jewelry. This is fundamental to any creative process, especially as a teenager. Beading bracelets for KHK took us away from our own self importance and gave us a structured environment to create and hang out.  Instead of getting together to watch T.V. and gossip, beading gave us a chance to both socialize and create meaningful, collaborate projects we could be proud of.

While we teamed up to sell our creations for the cause, learning took place in a real-world environment. Our entrepreneurial skills were needed to sell the bracelets for our cause, but most of all our creativity, interpersonal understanding, emotional sincerity, and good communication skills were needed to achieve our goals.

More examples of Collaborative Art Combined with Service-Learning:

5th and 6th graders from the Santa Fe School for the arts created this Alphabet Book as a way to introduce younger audiences to American Sign Language (ASL).

All students at this school learn ASL. The school has a high population of Special Education students, including highly challenged students for whom ASL is useful. Additionally, the school is regularly involved with service learning and collaboration with a school for the Deaf located in Santa Fe.

Erin Boylan, foreground, and Ida Drey add their contribution during the last nine hours of a painting marathon. The MA Transpersonal Counseling Psychology program within Naropa University’s Graduate School of Psychology held its third annual 48-Hour Painting Marathon. The project raises money for a summer service learning project to Cambodia.

Fresh Artists is a non-profit where children create art, donate images, and meet their financial benefactors in highly visible “corporate spaces of success”. Fresh Artists is a new model of civic engagement where recipients of corporate generosity, the children, are full and equal partners in the common goal: to save access to art making for all children.

Simone Calbi is a writer, artist and social media expert. She works with Artware Fundraising writing and promoting our work via social media and other on-line media.  A native of Montclair, NJ and Boston University Graduate in Film and History, she currently calls Buenos Aires, Argentina, her home.


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