Interview with Peace Garden Project Founders Scott Massarsky & Jennifer Levine
Peace Garden Project Founders (L-R) Scott Massarsky & Jennifer Levine
Dr. Pola Rosen (PR): We are with the founders of a wonderful project launched in New Jersey. Tell us a little bit about the motivation behind the Peace Garden Song and Mural Project, as well as your own background.
Scott Massarsky (SM): Six years ago, Jennifer and I met at a children's book conference and shared our work with each other. We were drawn to each other's artistic style and began a collaboration that has grown tremendously. One of our projects developed from the fact that Jennifer loves to paint to my music. To date, she's created 12 large scale paintings - each one to one of my original compositions.
Jennifer Levine (JL): Another one of our successful projects is our artist in residency program in schools. We both have a background in education and felt our skills and experience would be suited for a residency program.
SM: What makes The Peace Garden Song and Mural Project unique is that it is a residency driven by the students’ ideas. They brainstorm images for the song and then turn the song into a mural by painting images and ideas from the song directly on the wall. We provide a structure for the song and a container for the mural, but the hand of the child is completely in the work.
JL: Peace Making is an issue we are passionate about. As long time meditators and peace activists, we see our residency as a process to help children be in peace on the inside and in relation to others.
PR: So you tailor each residency to meet the needs of a specific school.
JL: Absolutely. We meet with the school team – often the PTA president, Principal, Art Teacher and plan together.
PR: What does your residency cost?
JL: We charge $4,000 for a 5-day residency. We generally can work with up to six classes in 30 minute sessions and create one song and one 4 feet x 8 feet mural during that time.
PR: What is your goal? Where would you like to be in five years?
JL: We'd like to link school communities together. For example, in Montclair where I live, we are planning a town wide peace celebration on World Peace Day September 21, 2013. All the participating schools will be involved and the community will tour the school peace murals, ending with a concert of our original peace songs.
SM: We are planning to cut an album which includes a booklet of the murals and of course all of the songs the kids have written.
PR: Howdoes this program help our kids?
JL: There are so many goals schools are striving to achieve that we are aligned with. Our project encourages complex thinking, collaboration and multi-step planning. It allows everyone to succeed - and the process is stress free.
PR: What is your training?
SM: I went to the School of Visual Arts.
JL: I have a BA from UMASS/AMHERST and I am a self-taught artist.
PR: You have a great love of what you are doing. What are some of your challenges?
JL: Scott and I do love working together. We model collaboration and treat each other with kindness. Our challenge now is managing our residencies and making sure we do each one with total attention and care.#