ClayToGo Residency Spotlight: Arts Access @ Anne Sullivan

During the winter and spring of 2017, NCC teaching artist David “Swen” Swenson worked closely with students in 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th grades at Anne Sullivan Communication Center, with additional work with Nabad 3rd through 5th graders, a class specially-designed for newcomers to the US. A majority of the students at Anne Sullivan are immigrants from East Africa or first-generation children of East African immigrants. 

This particular residency was created with the dual purpose of increasing access to high-quality ceramic arts for the East African residents of Seward, Cedar, and Longfellow, as well as providing in-school ceramics professional development for Anne Sullivan’s art teacher. This focused tutelage helped to grow art teacher Laura Bunkowski’s ceramics curriculum with grade-appropriate content. 

During the residency, students learned about historical uses of clay as a functional and artistic medium, and each student created and decorated their own piece of ceramic art. Different grade levels learned about Jomon earthenware from Japan, pre-Columbian pottery of Central America, Iznik tiles and pottery from the Ottoman Empire, and ancient Korean Celadon Vases. Projects influenced by these historical lessons included coilbuilt forms with additive sculpture, animalistic vessels, and more. Students built vocabulary and skills as they deciphered visual materials and translated them into three dimensional forms. 

As Laura Bunkowski reflected on the residency experience she noted how Swen, “brought ideas that were developmentally appropriate, flexed with my students and their specific learning needs, and brought a depth of historical context and technical skills to students regarding ceramics. His easy-going nature and relational approach gave students immediate respect for him as he taught. As we collaborated, we planned and taught with fluidity and mutual regard for the other. I thoroughly appreciated the time Swen gave to Sullivan students and the way Northern Clay Center partnered with our school to make visual arts more accessible to our community of learners.” 

This residency, and the additional efforts of NCC teaching artists and staff in the Seward Neighborhood is supported by an Arts Access grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Northern Clay Center is working with individuals of all ages in the neighborhood with the assistance of other service organizations, staff members, and interpreters to provide high-quality ceramics experiences in the community. 

NCC’s ClayToGoprogram brings a specialized, hands-on clay experience to every school and organization with which we partner. If you have a school or organization that is interested in a clay session, a tour of NCC’s facilities, or a clay demonstration, please contact Alison Beech, Community Engagement Manager, at 612.339.8007 x313 or

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.