CMA Stories

“Making art accessible to children and their families is essential so a creative life can be something available at everyone’s fingertips” — Meet Kathleen Armenti of The Look Make Show

Have you heard the news? We debuted the first episode of our new television channel, The Look Make Show, which follows Rod and Coney as they make a TV show with all of their friends to learn about art, face life’s challenges, and make new art — together! We need your help to finish the first season — pledge to our Kickstarter campaign through May 14 and earn amazing rewards such as naming or voicing a character, being Executive Director for a day, or fun gear like hats, shirts, and stickers. Below, meet former CMA Teaching Artist Kathleen Armenti, who voices Rod in the series.

Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?

I’m a singer, actor, writer and improviser.  I love to use my voice in song, to make funny sounds, and to create silly characters. I like making things that sound good and things that make people laugh. I also write short fiction stories, nonfiction autobiographical work, and songs. I use my art practice as a way to process grief, and to explore how comedy and tragedy are intertwined with each other.

I’ve been performing musical improv since 2013 at the Magnet Theater with the ensemble Wonderland. I’m so grateful that during the pandemic we’ve been able to continue performing weekly over Twitch, but I miss the audience and being on stage with my friends so much. It’s not the same without the laughter.

Working with children helps with improv because there is a certain level of being an adult that you have to turn off to accept that you are making up a reality. You have to deactivate parts of your brain that are booted up by the self-consciousness and fear of looking silly that can come with adulthood. Children do this naturally but sometimes grown-ups have to re-learn how to be open to following their scene partner’s imagination wherever it wants to go. In a live improvised show, when improvisers discover what is funny, they can build on it and return to it, and the audience will laugh again. It isn’t that different from when a child realizes they’ve done something that has made you laugh, and wants to do it ten more times in a row to keep hearing that happy sound.

Why is children’s television important within the context of art education?

In addition to sparking artistic creativity, children’s television reinforces so many important ideas about friendship and kindness. Everything from the Rugrats teaming up to help Chuckie Finster on a bad day, to Sadness helping Joy see how complex emotions can be in Inside Out, teaches lessons that can be challenging for a child to learn if they’re just hearing it from the voice of the tall person standing above them.

It is such a special idea to incorporate children’s own artwork into the The Look Make Show. Having that tangible connection to the story can only further reinforce the positive lessons that are playing out on screen. Voicing the character Rod in The Look Make Show feels like a childhood dream fulfilled. Watching this first episode, I was so excited to see my name pop up in the opening credits of a cartoon! If someone had told me at a young age that I would get the opportunity to voice a cartoon character someday, I would have said “That sounds like the kind of thing I’m supposed to do.” I say that proudly and with confidence because using my voice has always been my primary form of artistic expression, and I was lucky enough to have that creativity encouraged by caregivers at home and in school throughout my life.

Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

Whether it was singing while my father played the piano, or making crafts with my mother, as a child I was always given the privilege of an opportunity to be making something. I am incredibly grateful for this invaluable source of joy and means of expressing emotions. As we grow, we can quickly forget how much of our early learning comes through making art. I think about that paper that is half blank space, and half lines, that I was handed in 1st grade. We were asked to write sentences on lines on the bottom half, and to illustrate the sentence in the space on the top half. By 3rd or 4th grade, while we still had dedicated art class, the paper we got was all lines. While writing is its own beautiful artistic outlet, this paper feels symbolic of having separate creative space and business space in life. That space for art-making can become smaller as we grow up if we don’t hold onto it. As our lives fill up with responsibilities, it can quickly become a struggle to make time for art, especially if it is not presented to us as an option. In this way, making art accessible to children and their families is essential so a creative life can be something available at everyone’s fingertips, rather than something with a barrier in front of it, whether that barrier be time, money, or other stressors. In addition to just being so much fun, art can be an incredible tool for developing emotional intelligence and that’s something we can never have too much of.

If you could choose any artist to create a portrait of yourself, who would it be and why?

I am fortunate enough to have had my portrait done by my favorite artist: my niece. In her art I am a happy circle with arms and legs, and I have never felt more seen. As a variation, if Josh Groban wants to sing a beautiful song inspired by my existence, that would be totally fine. I still have my ticket for the rescheduled Radio City show, now in April 2022, so you’ve got your due date, Josh. If it ends up being a duet, just give me a shout to schedule rehearsal. I’m ready.

Follow Kathleen at @kathleenarmenti

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