One of the best indicators of the success of an educational program can be the reaction from community members to the work of the students, as witnessed by feedback from an attendee at one of the Spring Art Shows held by iCAN (incredible Children’s Art Network).

The outpouring of positive feedback from the community member was that the event really felt like an art show, encapsulating a year’s worth of creativity and symbolizing what iCAN aspires to accomplish with all of its programs.

“Our aspirational goals are really around social change, so how do you get people engaged beyond just I’m here because it’s my kid,” iCAN executive director Jeffry Walker said.

Founded in 2005, the iCAN Visual Arts Program provides professional teachers and all instructional materials in fully equipped art studio classrooms to Santa Barbara’s economically disadvantaged schools.

“The iCAN Visual Arts Program is committed to inspiring and sustaining high-quality arts instruction as a fundamental part of every child’s education, regardless of their experience, income or location,” said Yvonne Leal, director of network relations.

Throughout each school year, iCAN hosts annual art shows, community exhibitions, performances and public events — both in town and on school campuses — as well as specially commissioned public art projects outside the classroom.

“The visual arts program is in the schools every day at eight sites, with 3,000 children affected,” Walker told Noozhawk.

Visual arts and music programs are offered across nine sites in Santa Barbara, with one full-time iCAN teaching artist and one professional art assistant are assigned to each campus, including Adams School, Adelante Charter School, Cleveland School, Franklin School, Harding University Partnership School, McKinley School, Monroe School, Santa Barbara Community Academy and the Westside Neighborhood Center.

“iCAN stepped up in a time when our schools were struggling to create that space,” said Magda Barnes, lead teaching artist of the Visual Arts Program.

“Because of iCAN, nearly 3,000 elementary students in our community have been given the opportunity to experience and create art.”

Established by philanthropist Jim Kearns in 2005, iCAN offers high-quality arts programs to those students who are least likely to receive the opportunity. Today it boasts 43 artists, musicians and advocates for the arts.

Among the students served by more than 30 iCAN teaching artists and musicians, 89 percent are Latino and 70 percent are English language learners.

“A way to talk about the investment that we make — and the field needs to make in professional development for teachers — is that art teachers, like every other teacher, are professionals,” Walker said.

“We make a big investment on a regular basis in making sure … that we hire the best and the brightest and the most committed, and that we nurture them and support them in their work.”

The Visual Arts Program curriculum is based on California Visual Art Standards and the National Core Art Standards for a sequential learning continuum in grades one through six, where students receive 50 minutes of art instruction every week.

Students develop knowledge skills in art production as well as a variety of techniques, including ceramics, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, painting and use of chalk and oil pastels.

Barnes shared how teachings include projecting an image and asking students what they see in it and what they think it means, instead of telling them up front.

“This encourages close observation, critical thinking, reflection and use of vocabulary,” she said. “Often, students’ observations turn into stories that are much more interesting than the real one.

“When students have an understanding and appreciation for the art that came before them, they then know why we do what we’re doing.”

These observation techniques allow the students to reflect on their own lives, inspiring others to be creative.

“The golden moments are when students tell me how they noticed the atmospheric perspective on the mountains as they were going home from school, or saw the symmetry on a butterfly, or at recess they use nature found on the playground to create art like Andy Goldsworthy,” Barnes said.

Sharing in the joy of bustling rooms, iCAN students create art while wearing blue aprons splattered with remnants of paint — evidence and cultivation of their endless imaginations at work.

All iCAN teaching artists and art assistants are provided with a variety of professional development opportunities every year, with training in the most relevant and advanced methods of art education that is applied directly to classroom teachings.

“Last year … we sent our entire teaching staff to New Orleans for a national conference, and the year before we sent them to Harvard for a week to the Project Zero Program,” Walker explained.

“And we also have regular workshop events at our main location and a regular professional learning community with our teachers who are spread out over eight different sites.”

The power of art and the programs that iCAN services create a bridge to bring together the community around arts education, while emphasizing the role of the arts as a means of improving student outcomes.

“Art crosses over all barriers — verbal, racial, financial, etc,” Barnes said. “It is a meeting point for all demographics, whether you are making art, talking about it or just appreciating it.

“In our digital age, we forget that working with our hands is necessary. Every person, whether you think you’re artistic or not, needs and deserves creative space. It is human nature.”