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'Scrollathon' Workshops Teach Creativity and Personal Values

Lineth Mardomingo, a third-grader at Coral Terrace Elementary School, calls her latest piece of art, "Spinny Scroll." The piece is inspired by a memory: the time she dropped a crayon on the floor and saw it spinning, then kept spinning it and spinning it and then started spinning herself, and then bumped into a wooden bed.

"That was a long time ago and I was, like, 5," Lineth says. Now older and wiser, she says the colors she chose for her piece -- dark blue and light purple -- are the same colors as the crayons in that memory.

Lineth is one of  more than 1,000 Miami-Dade students who participated in a series of art workshops in late February and early March called the "Scrollathon."  The Scrollathon was hosted by William and Steven Ladd, two artist-brothers from New York who helped the elementary school students create "scrolls" -- ornaments made by coiling colorful fabric belts into circles. Each student made a scroll to take home, and also created one that will go with other students' scrolls into a collaborative piece in an exhibit.

The scrolls are simple; they take the kids maybe two minutes to create. But the underlying goal of the workshop is much more complex. The Ladds are trying to teach the kids to develop personal values.

"They can do and be anything they want in their life, but they're going to have to work really hard," William says. That's why in their workshops he and Steven talk about personal values like self-discipline, collaboration and doing what you love.

Rather than just lecture the kids, though, the Ladds teach personal values through comedy. Their high-energy shtick varies with each workshop -- the ones at Coral Terrace featured the jingle from a barbecue sauce commercial, the noises of Steven and William's spirit animals and a lot of high-pitched angelic choruses, among other things -- but the plot points are consistent. The brothers warm the kids up with some goofiness, have them define "collaborate" and "value," talk about their own personal values, then explain how to make the scrolls.

"You can't just sit down and go through, like, a 45-minute 'you're going to listen to me' class with these kids," William says. "You have to go from a performance to the definition of collaboration and then have them all repeat it to a performance to the definition of values to sharing our values back to some funny story about, like, a grade school memory. When you jump back and forth like that, it's OK for them to have fun... and get their crazy out and then to come back and be focused in."

Even with the shtick, the Ladds admit the kids might not retain or understand all of their message about the importance of values. But based on their own experiences, they say childhood memories play an important role in developing values later on in life. They cite memories of their mother's encouragement, their father's work ethic and their shared experiences at Mary Queen of the Universe Elementary School in St. Louis as the basis for the personal and artistic values they have today.

That's why they help kids like Lineth Mardomingo create art that's linked to memories and values.

"You never know if it's going to sink in or not," says Steven. "But we're setting up an environment where there's a possibility of it sinking in."

William adds, "In 10 years they might look back and be like, hey, those guys were teaching me about those values, and I didn't think about it again until now.' And, you know, that might be happening at any point throughout the rest of their life."

For now, though, the kids are mostly just having fun creating the scrolls. William and Steven say that for them that's a dream come true.

Some of the scrolls created by Miami-Dade students will be included in a piece in the Ladds' exhibit at the Miami-Dade College Museum of Art + Design. The exhibit, called, "Mary Queen of the Universe," is open through March 27.