Michigan’s 4-H Children’s Art Exchange with China: Impactful! Part 2

Part two of how Michigan’s 4-H Children’s Art Exchange with China has been positively impacting youth for over 25 years.

A watercolor rooster painting used in a past Michigan 4-H Children's Art Exchange with China program. Photo credit: Reiter family
A watercolor rooster painting used in a past Michigan 4-H Children's Art Exchange with China program. Photo credit: Reiter family

In Part 1, the history was shared about Michigan’s 4-H Children’s Art Exchange with China. This second part will share more about the China Art Project and the impact it has made over the last 25 years with Michigan youth.

The Michigan 4-H Children’s Art Exchange with China 2019 program year had over 2,000 program participants from 14 participating counties, including elementary schools, after school programs, tribes, academy’s, 4-H clubs and more. Counties submitted artwork to Michigan State University Extension for the selection process from which 100 pieces were chosen and sent to China. China in turn sent over 150 pieces of artwork as gifts to the participating counties for 2019. Twelve of the extra pieces of artwork in different media’s will be used to create a “new” kit to compare artwork from 25 years ago to artwork sent today.

Some positive current and past impact statements include:

  • “The China Art Program is such a meaningful program. I got to see the kids go from having no idea where China was to being able to point it out on the map, too!”- elementary teacher
  • “Excellent chance for students to focus on a global world.”
  • “This collection was displayed in school for several weeks. Students became Chinese art ‘ambassadors’ and shared information with parents and also tried various Chinese brush strokes in the traditional style as a part of their art classes. I feel this experience really expands their knowledge of another culture. I love using it in my art classes.” - Teacher from Kent County
  • “The students really enjoyed every aspect of this project. They were very interested in learning about the lives of the children in China and being able to share something [through the visual letters] they felt was important and meaningful in their lives.”
  • “I am going to grow up to be an artist someday!” - Elementary student from Allegan County
Rooster artwork
A 2019 watercolor rooster artwork from a 9-year-old Chinese girl titled “Enjoy Springtime."

In personal discussions with some participants conducting the project, they shared the unexpected impacts that occurred. A teacher shared how she has discovered “art therapy” from the project as some students shared their family life with the virtual letters. One young lady drew everything in pink with breast cancer symbols throughout her drawing, feeling comforted as the virtual letter unfolded her struggles, support and love for her cancer fighting parent. Another educator shared how a young person with a disability could share in his visual letter how he felt being confined to a wheel chair; something that she was not aware of. Another unexpected impact was when a family requested a copy of their child’s artwork that was selected to go to China to display at her memorial service because she was so very proud having been selected, thus providing comfort to the family from the tragic accident.

A participant from the project’s beginnings still has a wonderful Chinese painting of a rooster from when she was a child. She shared some impacts that participating in the art exchange project had on her life, stating, “I was in the fourth grade so it's been many moons, but it was a great program. In thinking about it now, its artist is likely my age – roughly 30 – and could be anywhere. I'd be curious to know where they've been and what they've experienced, too. If they still have my little piece of artwork somewhere?”

Other impacts shared:

  • I always loved watercolor rooster painting and enjoyed thinking about the person who had painted it – who they were, what their daily life was like, etc. The painting was a great spark for conversations and thoughts about life, history and art in China.
  • Participating in the exchange program helped spur a sense of curiosity for external perspective. I had a book that talked about the daily lives of kids across the globe and always enjoyed participating in events like International Day at MSU. Being more aware of diverse cultures and lifestyles, and curious to their complexities, has been a rewarding and enlightening experience. Even in my professional life now, I work directly with international teams from the Africa, Asia and Europe. It has been very important to listen and observe and reflect on how to best relate to my customers so that they feel supported and respected. 
  • In my travels for work, I initiated a small art competition in Batesville, Mississippi, to ask kids at the local schools to create a drawing about where they would fly, if they could fly anywhere. It was great to see the ideas the kids had, where they'd go and who they'd bring along with them. It was interesting to see how different ages of children explored the idea of where they'd go. Hopefully it broadened their horizons and got them thinking in the same way that the 4-H art exchange program did. It's amazing to see how even regionally within the U.S. how ideas, traditions and histories vary. 
  • “This is a wonderful program that I look forward to teaching each year. My students also look forward to this project as well. Its a great way to cover many of our start visual arts standards and gives my students a great opportunity to share personal stories through their artwork. I look forward to seeing the art we receive in the fall and continuing this wonderful project next school year!”

There are many other stories of positive impacts shared with 4-H staff in counties across the state, these are just a few. There are participants whose careers or secondary education had been sparked from the China Art Project, or whose worldview or global perspective changed. These special impacting moments shared from participants are burned into the hearts of those that hear the stories. Michigan’s 4-H Children’s Art Exchange with China has been positively impacting youth for over 25 years and will continue for more years to come.

As stated in Part 1, the 4-H Michigan’s Children’s Art Exchange with China selected annual artwork is online to enjoy. You can find it linked from the 4-H China Project main page.

Other global educational opportunities can also be found on the MSU Extension Global and Cultural Education website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your county MSU Extension office.

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