Art for the Sky: Daniel Dancer

Photo by D. Thomas

Daniel Dancer is the creator of a highly unique program called Art for the Sky.

Dancer (contrary to common first impressions) is his real last name and he likes to be called by it so I will do that here. I met Dancer in graduate school in 1975, and we have remained good friends ever since. Dancer was not destined to become either an academic or a practicing psychologist. Rather, from the beginning, he was an artist. His interests were wide ranging: photography, art, ecology, lifestyle… the latter being his specialty. Even in graduate school, Dancer created a way of life that was nearly idyllic.

His first book was a testament to his abilities as a photographer. Entitled The Four Seasons of Kansas, it was a survey of the natural beauty available to anyone who travels the state. It was also a call for the preservation of that beauty. That was to become a hallmark of Dancer’s work: art combined with education, both in service to the natural environment.

It was Dancer who introduced me to Stan Herd (FIELD MURALIST). Stan was beginning his work as a field muralist and needed someone to photographically document his creations. Dancer volunteered and, in the process, found for himself a direction that would define much of the rest of his creative life.

While Dancer photographed the 27-acre Indian Portrait (pictured below), an idea emerged. The Indian headband needed color. Dancer arranged to have the students from the Oskaloosa, Kansas elementary school to come to the field mural, adorned in red and blue t-shirts. They then formed the pattern on the Indian’s headband. Thus was born Art for the Sky.

Art for the Sky

Here is how Art for the Sky works: Dancer is invited by a school to become its artist-in-residence for 3 days. During that three-day time period (and in advance through communication with the school), Dancer identifies with the aid of students and teachers an image that represents the school or region. Often, it is an image of a signature species, an animal that would be found in the area if the region’s ecosystem were thoroughly healthy.

Then, with the help of students, Dancer outlines the image on the school’s athletic field. Once the outline of the image is prepared and accented with mulch, blue jeans, recyclables or whatever the particular image requires, students, teachers and administrators, wearing the properly colored t-shirts, give the image color by arranging themselves on it. Dancer documents the entire process on the ground and from the sky via a drone or crane. The resulting pictures and video are then used in the presentation he will make to students and teachers on the final day of his residency.

The Six Lessons

There are six lessons Art for the Sky attempts to deliver. In Dancer’s words, the six lessons are:

  • INTENTION: Each sky art creation begins with an intention to make the world a better place for the creature we embody on the field, to be kind to our school mates, to always do our best and to begin a new relationship with the sky. And of special importance, since this is outdoor art, to imagine good weather on event day!
  • COLLABORATION: Knowing how to be a team player and collaborate is crucial to leading a successful life. When we THINK BIG and collaborate with others, we always make the greatest difference.
  • INTERCONNECTION: The sense that the world can be divided into “me” and “not me” is not only the source of bullying problems in school, but of all the ecological crises that confront modern times. What we do to the Earth, to the Sky and to each other . . . we do to ourselves.
  • SKY-SIGHT: The father of wholistic thinking, Immanuel Kant said: “For peace to reign on Earth humans must evolve into new beings who have learned to see the whole first.” This ability to see the whole first is what Art for the Sky seeks to awaken. Training our imaginations to rise above our problems and see the Big Picture, to see how each part fits into the whole is a vital skill that can lead us to the most creative solutions.
  • GRATITUDE AND APOLOGY: Participants are encouraged to view the fleeting art in the indigenous tradition of “The Giveaway” . . .  a gift from hundreds of hearts beating together. . . from Earth to Sky, honoring all the blessings of life on Earth. Each creation is also an apology to the Earth and Sky for the abuse done by humans and a promise to do better.
  • IMPERMANENCE: Art that leaves no trace is a lesson in impermanence, an understanding that nothing lasts, everything is always changing and we must appreciate each moment as precious.

These lessons are discussed with the students during Dancer’s residency, but they are also experienced in the course of creating the artwork.

Here, for example, is the wonderfully creative way Dancer presents the notion of impermanence.

On the last day of his residency, a school-wide assembly is held, attended by students, teachers, administrators, secretarial and custodial staff. Toward the end of his presentation, Dancer asks the students to yell: IMPERMANENCE. In unison, they yell: IMPERMANENCE! He then asks: What does impermanence mean? The question, invariably, is met with silence.

Dancer then shows the series of slides that depict the dissolving of the image as students run off the field. “Here is what it means,” he says. He then offers something along the lines of the following: Everything comes and goes, doesn’t it? Nothing lasts forever. Every moment is precious. Each day: an opportunity. Like the days you spend here at your wonderful school. Learn. Create. Perhaps make something special happen.

It is the lesson offered by the Buddhist monk who, after days of painstakingly completing a multi-colored sand mandala, runs his hand through the sand, delivering to himself and others a lesson in impermanence. Everything comes and goes, doesn’t it? Nothing lasts. Each day: a gift. Learn, create, enjoy.

The Sky Wolf – West Clay Elementary, Carmel, Indiana. Completed image and image as it dissolves.

Newport Beach Middle School, Newport Beach, CA. Completed image and image as it dissolves.

To date, there have been over four hundred Art for the Sky projects. Most have been in the United States (forty-four states and counting) but projects in eight other countries, as well. Thousands of students and countless teachers and staff have participated in this work and have been exposed to the Six Teachings.


Here is a sampling of Art for the Sky images. (Materials used in images, in addition to children and adults in colored t-shirts, include mulch, recycled blue jeans, sand, top-soil, thrift-shop clothing, shredded bark, etc.)

The Crescent Elk, 700 students from Crescent Elk School,

Crescent City, CA

Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts. 500 students/teachers.  Inspired by Louisiana artist, George Rodrique. “You can see the “419” below the left paw . . . the current PPM of CO2 which is something students learn about during my brief effort to instigate a new relationship with the sky. I put the current number somewhere in each image as a way to track the planet’s ‘temperature’.” — D. Dancer

Canada Goose, 750 students and staff from Jewell Elementary School, Bend, OR – 2007

Sea-Dolphin and Chinese symbol for water, 800 students and teachers from

Tampa Bay Blvd. Grande School, Tampa, FL

The Elephant in the Room (Climate Change), 3000 students at Ryan

International School, New Delhi, India – first Art for the Sky project visible from space.

Bobcat, Bayou Blue Elementary, Houma, Louisiana – 2019

Program motto for Art for the Sky: Art Changes People, People Change the World.

Program description and mission: Art for the Sky is an application of teachings inspired by the ancients that dissolve separation and help bring us back into right relationship with the Sky, the Earth and one another.

Addendum I

Quilt of Images

Below is a digital quilt Dancer recently made comprised of hundreds of Art for the Sky images.

Copyright © D. Dancer, 2021

“Art For the Sky opens hearts, instills vision and changes the way we see the world.” 
                      Claes Nobel, Senior Member of the Nobel Prize Family

Addendum II

The Art of Dam Removal

Go to The Art of Dam Removal for a film documenting the power of art to bring about change. As Dancer indicates: “this video celebrates the role local children and art played in the effort to finally remove antiquated Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in Washington state.” Both Dancer and Art for the Sky played a prominent role in this remarkable initiative.

Addendum III

Above: Dancer’s front yard. Photo by D. Dancer. Dancer above Columbia Gorge and yoga pose. Photos by D. Thomas.

For more on Art for the Sky or to contact Daniel Dancer, go to


David Thomas, PhD