Art club. That’s how I’ve spent March- hanging out with middle/high school art students & teachers at three DISD schools.
Sometimes I arrive just as the bell rings, instantly surrounded in a swarm of teenagers with their typical angst & attitude, earbuds & goofy smiles. But these students have already experienced many hardships, much more than a “typical” teenager. The ethnic ratio is 95% Hispanic, & some of these Dallasite teens’ reality is they are “undocumented.” They were born undocumented, or brought here by their parents. Besides dealing with normal high school stuff, they aren’t sure where they fit in as citizens, aren’t sure about their rights to drive or go to college or work. Many of them have to take care of their brothers and sisters and help support their families.
Big-city class sizes are large, & there is a lack of funding. No surprise there, but I’m extremely surprised at how attentive and respectful the students are- (based on my own experience teaching middle/high school, and once being a teenager.) Art class is their special haven; the teachers spend their own money & time outside of school to help the classes flourish, & most of the students throw themselves 100% into their projects.
I came into the classrooms with the idea of starting a program called Young Artists in Studio, where I’d bring in art mentors from the local Dallas community. In March, two professional artists have come
and talked with them, which has shown me how even one conversation can make a difference. Mentorship works.
So why art? Why is an art education important? What is an art education? I’m researching these
basic questions, since across the board, district school art budgets are being cut and class sizes are growing, often 30 students to 1 teacher. I’m working
to get a non-profit status, get funding, organize my group of artist mentors. I have to write my report to give to the potential funders. I have to explain what we need and where and why and how and who.
Since my internet is not working, I grab a pen but the ink won’t come out; my head swims with the frustration of all the words I need to write. Feeling stuck. Broken systems. When I talk to the students about their creations, their eyes reflect a mix of hope, happiness, heaviness, and sadness. Their paintings, sculptures, graphic designs, and poetry are passionate, relevant, and well done; they are already designers and engineers and painters and writers. Their dreams of a good future are a mix of the harshness of their reality and the typical cluelessness of youth. More than anything, they need a mentor to connect with them personally, and show them a way. I scribble my pen on the paper and the ink finally starts to work.
Why is an art education necessary?
As one of the mentors told the kids, “even the chair you are sitting in was designed by an artist.” There ARE creative
jobs that pay the bills. There is a great need for creative professionals, and a good art education opens up children’s eyes to this. A poor art education can actually deter students from exploring their greatest talents, as many of us can relate.
An art education is a safe, healthy place to express. Yesterday in class I met Maria, who was kidnapped and held in a basement when she was 6 years old. She proudly shows me a beautiful sculpture of a 3D home she’s created. She explains to me what it means, it has perfect white front side, but the back of the house is surrounded by shattered glass and the walls are dilapidated and broken.
Mark Mumme of Gratuitous Sets Labs came and spoke to the kids about
what he looks for in an intern for his set design studio, and I noticed a student, Felipe completely engaged
and interested, nodding his head and asking questions. Talking with Felipe later, I notice
a notebook of his poetry, part of what they do in art class. He shyly lets me read it, and I let him know I really respect poetry and feel honored to see how he expresses his inner feelings. I find a poem he wrote about finding his father bleeding to death, full of bullet holes.
Hector allows me to read a poem he wrote to accompany a beautiful pencil drawing. His English is perfect but he likes the way Spanish sounds better. I’ll finish my thoughts for today with his words, which I agree are more beautiful in Spanish. They reflect what I see in these art students’ eyes.
“Granny’s coffee is like a warm hug to the heart, it brings a shine to our eyes, like the sun’s first rays that give brilliance to those grey walls, walls marked with sad moments that they have lived through, and all that wants to bring me down, but like those walls, I continue on, surviving hard knocks as time goes on.”
**All student names have been changed for anonymity.**