Arts & Education

Since its founding in 1969, The Touchstone Center has made its arts and education programming a primary commitment. Beginning with its first major residency at PS 9 in Manhattan in the early 1970s, the Center has implemented many programs throughout the years in New York City schools that are based upon elemental themes and images derived from the natural world and the nature that is ourselves. The Center has explored with children and teachers, often on a multi-year basis, themes such as Humankind: The First Artisans; Realms of the Sea, Sky and Earth; In the Spirit of Play; Speakings: The Many Voices of Language; and most recently The Bird of Imagining; The Tree of Knowing and The Rivers of Our Thoughts.

A major focus throughout the Center’s residencies has been the unique role of each person’s imaginative and poetic understanding to reflect upon and express, through various art forms, the depth of their knowing and experience, as participants in the natural world. Residencies generally consist of five to fifteen weekly sessions, primarily in elementary and middle school classrooms, and are conducted by a team of artists in collaboration with the Center’s director, Richard Lewis, working in a variety of mediums that emphasize the interplay between art forms that include writing, the visual arts, storytelling, drama, movement and music.

Beginning in 2010, The Touchstone Center has been initiating a series of conversations entitled A Community of Dialogues, at community-based organizations, for teaching-artists, classroom teachers, administrators, and parents, centered around the vital importance of the arts and the life of the imagination in the overall development of children – both within and outside the school setting.

These conversations, hosted by Richard Lewis, and funded in part, by a grant to The Touchstone Center from the New York State Council on the Arts, are intended for all members of communities concerned with finding new and compelling ways to articulate, through their own experiences and understanding, why the arts and the overall life of the imagination, are crucial to the well-being of children and adults alike.

The Center has established partnerships with a variety of organizations for these conversations – among them being, Poets House; PS 99(Queens); the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning; the Early Childhood Education Department of CCNY; Wave Hill; The Performance Project, University Settlement House; the Storytellers Collective, Woodstock, New York, and the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, Corning, New York.  At each site, different conversational models are being utilized – ranging from a series of short two-hour gatherings of interested participants – to longer residencies and workshops over a period of time. It is envisioned that these conversations will lead to new dimensions of thinking and understanding related to expanding and supporting the role of the imaginative process and the arts at all levels of learning and education.

Interested organizations and individuals should contact the Center for further information about ways to participate in the series.


Our Wondering, Our Imagining

Beginning in November of 2015, Richard Lewis and Karen Fitzgerald began a series of lunchtime conversations at PS 99(Q) with a self-selected group of 3rd grade children – centered around our reflecting on the nature and life of the imagination. Given over a period of six monthly sessions, these conversations will explore the marvels and mysteries of the imagination – and how, through our own art and writing, we can share, both individually and collectively, its many qualities of knowing and expression.

Worlds into Worlds of our Imagining

Fall 2014 – Spring 2015

A year – long collaboration with visual artist Karen Fitzgerald, as part of her teaching-artist residency at PS 99 (Q), exploring some of the ways our curiosity and wonder can come alive through the many expressive qualities of our imagination. The residency will begin with a reading by Richard Lewis of his poem, In This Small Box, evoking the many possibilities of how our imagining can initiate new and personal ways of expressing our interior worlds. Under the direction of Ms. Fitzgerald, who will be leading art and writing projects, along with visits of Richard Lewis, the residency will take place over twenty-six weeks in all the Kindergarten, 1st and 3rd Grade classrooms. The residency will culminate with children creating their own three-dimensional representation of their evolving imaginative worlds. A special workshop for teachers and staff at PS 99, based on the residency, will take place in the Spring of 2015.


Spaces of our Imagining, Spaces of our Dreaming:Children and Their Inner Worlds of Knowing

Winter/Spring 2014

A year long arts and education project at PS 99 (Queens), initiated by and in collaboration with visual-artist Karen Fitzgerald, exploring the life of the imagination as an ever evolving structure within our thoughts. Working with all of the 1st grade 3rd Grade and Kindergarten classes, students will build a variety of two and three-dimensional spaces documenting and expressing, through art and writing, the experience of their own imagining and wondering. A workshop will be given at the end of the year for teachers – in and around the purpose and results of the project.



The Conversation of Wonder

Fall/Winter, 2012-13

A ten week inter-disciplinary arts and education project with the 3rd and 4th Grades at PS 99 (Queens) under the direction of Karen Fitzgerald, in collaboration with Richard Lewis and based on his book A Tree Lives, exploring the nature of our awareness, imagination and wonder – and the ways they can be expressed through writing and the visual arts.

The Dance of Light and Air

Fall/Winter, 2011-12

A writing and art residency for 4th grade students with Richard Lewis and Karen Fitzgerald at PS 99(Queens) exploring our experience of the phenomena of light and air – with particular emphasis on the ways these elements interact and move, change and become a language of their own. As part of this residency an after-school workshop for teachers at the PS 99 will be given on the ways elemental phenomena can be used as a means of helping children recognize the sustaining importance and profound insights of their imaginative abilities.

On the Infinite Migration of Thoughts and Ideas

Spring, 2011

In association with Karen Fitzgerald, teaching artist at PS 99(Queens), the Center’s director Richard Lewis, entered into a partnership, based on their work together in 2009-10 at PS 99 – to create a series of workshops for both children and teachers that highlight the meaning and purpose of the imagination. In the Fall and Winter (2010-2011) Richard Lewis and Ms. Fitzgerald completed a workshops series for 4th graders entitled, On the Infinite Migration of Thoughts and Ideas, in conjunction with exploring the roots of immigration in America – as well as how thoughts and ideas come into being and migrate through the powers of our imagining and art-making. As an outcome of this collaboration, a special workshop for teachers at PS 99 – Suddenly, It’s Spring: A Conversation and Arts Workshop on the Role of Wonder in Learning will be given on May 19th, 2011.

Listening and Speaking: The Dialogue of Children with the Natural World

Spring, 2010

As part of the Center’s presentation at the Queens Botanical Garden (Upcoming Activities) – the Center’s director, Richard Lewis will be working with teaching –artist, Karen Fitzgerald, in the first of a series of workshops in a 3rd Grade classroom focusing on the secret languages of growing things. Emphasis will be on the ways ‘language’ takes many forms – and ‘nature’ has its own way of speaking. A workshop for parents and teachers, The Many Worlds of Language: Imagination and the Speaking of Nature – will be presented following the classroom workshops.

The Rivers of Our Thoughts Project

Spring, 2009

An Arts and Education project, under the direction of Noah Baen, Kathy Creutzburg and Richard Lewis, taking place in classrooms at the East Village Community School and the Children’s Workshop School exploring with children, through art and writing, the many shapes and forms of their thoughts – as they travel the flowing rivers of their thinking and imagining. The project will culminate with a mural, created by Noah Baen and Kathy Creutzburg, over the entrance of the school integrating the children’s original writing and artwork.

The Play of Playing Project:
How the Arts Come Alive

Spring, 2008

An eight session residency, under the direction of Richard Lewis, consisting of weekly workshops with visual artists Noah Baen and Kathy Cruetzburg for children in the 3rd Grade from the Children’s Workshop School and the East Village Community School, in which Touchstone Center teaching artists representing music, drama, movement, the visual arts and poetry – will demonstrate how play and playing are a profound part of what makes the arts come alive. Children will reflect upon this relationship by creating their own images and writings to be incorporated into tiles to be incorporated into a large mural, The Play of Playing, designed and constructed by Noah Baen and Kathy Cruetzburg for the outdoor playground of both schools. Additional guest teaching artists in the residency will include Clea Rivera and Harry Mann of the Touchstone Center Theatre Ensemble. The workshops will take place in collaboration with – and in the art-rooms of Roberta Valentine of the East Village Community School and Gary Morston of the Children’s Workshop School.

The Sound and Movement,
Word and Image Project

Spring, 2007

An eight-week residency program at the East Village Community School, in which Harry Mann, Clea Rivera and Richard Lewis of The Touchstone Center Theatre Ensemble, in collaboration with the school’s Art Teacher, Roberta Valentine, explored with two classes of children the beginnings of language and the depth of music, gestures and imagery within our words.

Beginning with a performance of Each Sky Has Its Words each session of the residency used improvisation, dramatization, listening, writing and art to uncover the languages of the natural world – and how these languages influenced our own creation of words and their meanings. At the end of the residency booklets of writings, drawings and artwork by the children were shared in a day celebrating the delight – and marvel of our language making.

The Tree of Knowing Garden Project


Beginning in the winter of 2006, the current major Arts and Education project of the Center will be The Tree of Knowing Garden Project. Under the direction of Richard Lewis, in collaboration with the Center’s artists, Claudia Keel, Kathy Creutzburg and Noah Baen – and the staff, children and parents of the East Village Community School, the Center is planning to rehabilitate an inner courtyard of the school so that it will become a space in which children and all members of the community can enjoy as a learning resource for imaginative thinking and reflection.

The overall plan of the rehabilitation of this space is to extend the Center’s two year theme of The Tree of Knowing Project – which was successfully brought to fruition in conjunction with Julie Kirkpatrick in her art room with four classes from the school during the academic years of 2002 – 2003 and 2003 -2004 respectively. The extending of the theme of The Tree of Knowing Project will be focused on the diversity of life and natural events that live in and around The Tree of Knowing. Working with six classes in the school, each of the three artists will encourage children to express their ideas and imagery in relation to the living world surrounding the Tree of Knowing – which will be a large steel sculpture by Kathy Creutzburg. Using the mediums of writing, clay and two dimensional drawings – all three artists will incorporate and translate the children’s work into the sculpture of The Tree of Knowing, murals for the walls of the courtyard, and two stationary flower beds.

The garden was finished in the Fall of 2006 and dedicated on October 19th, 2006.

Air Water Light Project


Beginning in the winter of 2005, The Touchstone Center will initiate its Air Water Light project with the East Village Community School. Working with two classrooms within the school, for ten sessions, in conjunction Julie Kirkpatrick, the art teacher at the school, the Center, under the direction of Richard Lewis and Claudia Keel will explore, through art and writing, each of the elements of air, water and light – with a particular emphasis on their poetic and imaginative qualities. The residency will begin with a performance for participating children and teachers of In the Space of the Sky by the Touchstone Center Theatre Ensemble consisting of Harry Mann, Clea Rivera and Richard Lewis. The end of the residency will consist of an exhibition of the children’s art and writing as well as the creation of booklets of the children’s original writings given to each child.

The Tree of Knowing Project


Beginning in the Winter of 2003, the Center will initiate its new thematic project, The Tree of Knowing. This project will explore the concept of knowledge existing throughout the natural world, with a particular emphasis on the growth and life of a tree as a source of knowing.

The first of a series of eight workshops (with two classes a 3rd/4th and 5th/6th grade) based on this theme will take place at the East Village Community School in February 2003. The Center’s staff, Claudia Keel and Richard Lewis, will work directly in collaboration with Julie Kirkpatrick, art teacher at the school. As a starting point for the workshops there will be a reading of A Tree Lives, a poem by Richard Lewis with painted visualizations by Noah Baen and music by Harry Mann.

The Bird of Imagining Project


In the fall of 2001, the Center concentrated its arts and education work on The Bird of Imagining project. This project involved the creation of a steel sculpture, The Bird of Imagining, by Kathy Creutzburg based on a poem by Richard Lewis. The sculpture was designed so as to contain over 200 wooden feathers, painted by all the children attending the Children’s Workshop School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The painting of these wooden feathers, which was done under the direction of Claudia Keel, took place in the two art rooms of the school, over a period of five months in a series of four workshops for each of the classes in the school (Pre-K to the 5/6th Grade). The finished sculpture, dedicated in June of 2002, was placed in Sauer Park, a city park a block from the school and is scheduled to be on display until June 2003.

In October of 2002, an exhibition entitled The Bird of Imagining was on display through December 29th at the Children’s Museum of the Arts. This exhibition highlighted the artwork of children from New York City Public Schools, who participated in The Bird of Imagining project in previous years. The exhibition also marked the publication of The Bird of Imagining by Touchstone Center Publications (see Publications for further details).

As of June 2001, the Center concluded its four-year thematic program, Speakings: The Many Voices of Language that took place at PS 20 in Manhattan, and IS 227 and the Townsend Harris High School in Queens. The overall intent of this theme was to explore, with children and teachers, the variety and subtlety of language-making taking place both in ourselves and the natural world. The following is a historical overview of this project from its beginnings in 1998 to 2001.

Speakings: The Many Voices of Language

2000 – 2001

In the Fall of 2000 through the Spring of 2001, the Center concluded its thematic program, Speakings : The Many Voices of Language at PS 20 in Manhattan and IS 227 in Queens. The overall focus in each of these schools was to culminate the Center’s work in relation to the gardens it had built collaboratively with school staff and students.

At each school, a project centered around the imaginative life of the garden, was brought into being. At PS 20, students and teachers were involved in a project entitled The Imagining Garden, in which every student in a third and fourth grade class, created, through art and writing, their own imaginary gardens in individual cardboard boxes. At IS 227, a sixth and seventh grade classroom worked on a project entitled The Celebrating Garden in which students created masks and rituals centered around how the various natural elements found in their school garden come back to life in the Spring.

An additional school, PS 134 in Manhattan, also participated in a project entitled The Listening Garden, in which students from a third and fourth grade classroom used their school garden to create a group of original wall hangings of original art and writing exploring, through attentive listening and observing, the life and growth of their garden through different seasons of the year.

Touchstone Center artists participating in the final year of the Speakings project were Richard Lewis, Claudia Keel and Noah Baen.

Speakings: The Many Voices of Language


In January 1998, The Center began its residency working with all the First Grade classrooms of PS 20, an elementary school on the lower Eastside of Manhattan. Built into this residency was the overall plan to continue work with the same group of children through the third grade.

As part of the Speakings theme the first year of the residency was focused on the “language” of butterflies, succeeded in the second year and third year by an exploration of the “language” of flowers and trees respectively.

In the summer of 1999, staff member Claudia Keel painted a large outdoor mural on one of the corners of the schoo, based on the art and writing of the children who had participated in the Speakings project during the first two years of the Center’s residency. During 1999-2000, Ms. Keel began construction of a flower garden adjacent to the mural. In June 2000, each of the five Third Grade classes planted a group of sapling oak trees in the new garden as a tribute to their three-year participation.

Artists of the Touchstone Center participating at PS 20 were Claudia Keel, Sarah Cooke and Richard Lewis.

IS 227


In January 1999, The Center began its residency by working with four sixth grade classrooms at IS 227 (Louis Armstrong School) in Queens. The first year of the Speakings project emphasized the many ways the natural world speaks to us. The result of this thematic exploration culminated in each student making two clay tiles expressing, through words and images, their individual “listenings” to nature.

During the summer of 1999, around a large mulberry tree on the school’s grounds, staff member Noah Baen built a series of cement blocks where each of the tiles was mounted. In and around the mounted tiles, a garden was begun – planted in large part by students of the school in the fall of 1999.

During the second year of the project, the Center, beginning in January 2000, worked with three additional sixth grade classrooms, depicting through writing and art, the emergence of the universe and our earth’s nature. A group of large murals created by each class expressing their collaborative vision of this early life were installed in the garden and formally dedicated in June, 2000 to the memory of Lewis McNeece, a member of the faculty of the school who died in the fall of 1998.

Artists of the Touchstone Center participating at IS 227 were Noah Baen (assisted by Noon Gourfain) and Richard Lewis.



Townsend Harris High School


In February 1999, the Center began its residency by working, on an after school basis, with a group of students at the Townsend Harris High School in Queens. These students, chosen by members of the faculty of the school, concentrated their efforts, as part of the Speakings theme, on exploring the nature and origin of language. Each student, after a number of in-depth conversations and reflections on the emergence of language, made a series of tiles, under the direction of staff member, Elizabeth Crawford. These tiles, in conjunction with Ms. Crawford, were eventually designed and formatted by the students into a mural which was mounted in the hallway of the school and officially dedicated in the fall of 1999.

Artists of The Touchstone Center participating at Townsend Harris were Elizabeth Crawford and Richard Lewis.