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Students Create Altars for Dia de los Muertos Arts Festival

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated every year on November 1st, and this year several Tulsa Public Schools students took part in the festivities.

“Day of the Dead is this really incredible holiday that is celebrated typically in Latinx and Hispanic communities. A lot of people don’t understand completely what it is and how it is celebrated and how they can be a part of it,” said Jessica Dewey, the education and programming manager at Living Arts.

Living Arts hosts the annual Dia de los Muertos Festival where altars honoring lost loved ones are on display. Also known as an ofrenda, an altar typically includes flowers, candles, food, and photos. Students from Tulsa MET, Thoreau Demonstration Academy, Springdale Elementary, Hamilton Elementary, Hoover Elementary School, and Eisenhower International created pieces for the festival.

“We try to celebrate the cultures as much as possible,” said Anne-Marie Lawson, a French Immersion teacher at Eisenhower. “I also want children to be more aware and connected with their families. I feel like when children go to talk to their parents that it can lead to beautiful conversations about death, about someone that they haven’t known but they start to get to know. It’s keeping them in real life.”

Day of the Dead altar

Eisenhower students will go on a field trip this month to view the altars and murals at Living Arts. During the visit, they will work in teams to create their own murals in chalk on the sidewalk.

Springdale gifted and talented teacher Jennifer Salamon hopes her students find time to visit as well.

“We are an eighty percent Hispanic school. I love that we’re recognizing this, but even some of my Hispanic kids didn’t do it. It’s learning about their traditions. I hope it encourages them to get out and see the Living Arts museum with their parents and talk about those historic things,” said Jennifer.

Student working on Day of the Dead altar

“They are so proud of them. Ownership and agency are compatible. You have to give them ownership of something for them to feel agency in the space,” said Jessica. “Your art is in this space and twelve thousand people are going to see it. Now they feel like they can go, and they belong.”

The project also gives students a great opportunity to develop important skills and learn curriculum in an interesting way.

“If you start kids in classes with art and then they get that spark and their eyes light up. We can connect that piece of art to their curriculum, you won’t lose them. They stay engaged,” said Jessica.

“Even if it looks crafty, it’s still following directions; it’s still using motor skills of cutting, gluing. All of these things are important. This is whole brain development for the child,” said Anne-Marie. “There will be a visual presentation so that the children will have to present, speaking out loud to the classroom, projecting their voices, eye contact, knowing how to keep things within the time limit.”

Six schools participated in the festival downtown, but other schools had a celebration all their own. Students at Dual Language Academy created beautiful altars and artwork to display in the hallways, filling them with vibrant color. Students and their families enjoyed an evening of food, face painting, and crafts.

Check out the photos below to see how students celebrated the holiday.