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Urban Art and Education (Part 2)


[For Part 1 of this series, click here.]

As I designed this Urban Art class, I had several broad goals in mind:

  1. Create a place for our visual artists to practice, validate, and build a culture around their work.
  2. Teach these young artists how to do this professionally sustain themselves through their art.
  3. Give my kids the authentic networking skills they'll need to build the kind of relationships that lead to amazing collaborative projects.

I've been very intentional about how I've designed an actionable method to reach these goals, particularly around the second two. There has recently been a push to, "make sure the students can explicate the day's objective," but this seems to be a misidentified mechanism...by which I mean that it is a strategy that has been decontextualized and cheapened through retail implementation.

What I told the kids explicitly was, "We'll be painting a mural on the walls of the school--whatever and wherever we want--that shows the world who we are." But a complete, beautiful mural is not the goal--the mural is the process for the goals above.

So the idea that students need to be able to tell us the objective of whatever activity they're doing is reductive except in very basic cases. I think much would be lost if I were to ask/expect the artists to be able to recite or identify the three goals above. The following is a short story of how this has been working out for one of my students. This story is only getting started but worth talking about in any case.

Chelby examining and admiring hip-hop album cover reinterpretations.

As I mentioned, some professional artists have been coming into class regularly to teach, as role models, etc. and I just recently took one student, Chelby, to an art show that Patrick "GIRR" McGirr painted for.

Chelby is an 8th grade student who has had a hard time this year due to some struggles that many people never face. She is an incredibly resilient person and constantly impresses me with the depth of her empathy. During the several months that my class has been in session, she has had detention nearly every day that it has been held, meaning that she has missed half of our classes.

"Do you have plans this Friday? Are you going to the dance?" I asked. She replied that she was planning on going. I mentioned that I was going to one of Patrick's art shows, and to just let me know if she wanted to come with. I know what a big deal middle school dances can be, so I left it at that and walked away--I didn't want to add any pressure.

But before I even turned away, she said, "yes, definitely, this is more important." Later that night, I called her aunt to get permission and talk about logistics and she told me that she hasn't seen Chelby this excited about something in a long time.

Friday evening came, we went to get Pho across the lake from our school, then went down to meet Patrick. We had one great continuous conversation throughout the evening about food, travel, art, school, life, and ambitions.

When we arrived and met Patrick, the art was just being hung so we walked around, admired, discussed, and talked to another one of the artists. It was great to see Chelby in a new context--one that she one day (soon, hopefully) will be a part of.

Chelby, Patrick, and I examining last year's Colorado Crush walls.After we left the venue, we walked a couple of blocks to the site of Colorado Crush, one of the country's biggest annual graffiti art block parties. Patrick told us about the art and the artists, and we got some ideas for our own wall--especially some shading techniques for our mountains.

Chelby and I then went to look around on our own, and found a Star Wars wall by well-known street artist Dread (pictured below).

It was a great evening, and it is amazing to see Chelby's passion for art and her belief that it is something that she can do as a professional. The exciting part is that I think this will start to happen for her sooner than she thinks.

The project is coming along very nicely now and I'll have another update up soon that focuses more on the process and the actual mural. I'll be incorporating the kids voices more as well, so look forward to another update in the near future!

I'm very much looking forward to keeping you all updated on our progress. If you'd like an occasional email letting you know that I've published an update, just click here, enter your email, and be sure to click the confirmation link that shows up in your inbox.

[For Part 1 of this series, click here.]

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