Seventeen-year-old Keevon Howard has mastered one cardinal rule laid down by his high school art teacher, one that resonates beyond the classroom. “Don’t erase,” his teacher counselled — accept the mistake and weave it into your composition. Coping is a vital life skill, she said, so whatever you put on the paper, that’s what you deal with.
For students from Lawrence, Massachusetts, the answer to “What is education?” comes best through the arts — painting, drawing, photography, narrative, poetry, music, and film – and through their own context as passionate learners in a historically immigrant, low-income community north of Boston.
Eight Lawrence students, along with their adult mentors from Elevated Thought and the Mayor’s Health Task Force, came to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in Washington, D.C. in mid-May for the opening of the students’ art exhibit, on view at ED through June. They also came to demonstrate what student voices can contribute to a community’s renewal and to learn from ED’s leaders about how best to exercise their Youth Bill of Rights.
During Keiji Ishida’s vacation last year in Japan, the 17-year-old Los Angeles teen observed an overwhelming number of subway commuters tethered to their cell phones, texting and playing games. “People were quiet — muted,” he noted, “and that just isn’t right.” Not, he continued, in a country alive with so much beauty and expression.
This discomfort sparked Keiji’s creative streak, evident in his painting, “Addiction,” now displayed in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Department of Education (Department) headquarters, along with 57 other 2016 Scholastic Gold Medal winners in 2- and 3-D art.
Since the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards’ inception in 1923, it has become the nation’s best- known recognition program for teen artists and writers, and their largest source of scholarships. About 250 people attended the Department’s 13th annual celebration of the winners and the opening of the exhibit. Present were 2016 honorees, their teachers and families, art educators and leaders, and Department staff.
Keiji’s painting — splashes of vivid colors covered with black outlines — creates abstract hands holding cell phones.
By the age of seven, Ona Neumann of Baltimore had already reserved a treasured spot in her life for art.
“What do you do, child?” Ona’s father, Gregory Neumann, affectionately asked his little girl, who is now a sophomore at the Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA).
“I do art and I play — that’s what children do,” she replied.
Today art remains central in Ona’s life as she immerses herself in both the visual arts and traditional academic classes. She was among 135 students from the nationally recognized public arts high school who recently came to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the opening of the school’s visual art exhibit, The Development of the Young Artist, which featured student performers, as well.
Ona created three of the exhibit’s 50 works being displayed at ED through April. Also on hand were students’ families, BSA teachers and administrators, state and federal arts educators and leaders from Maryland, Virginia and D.C., and ED staff. Performers included jazz musicians, vocalists, string musicians, and an actress.
The school provides 400 students with intensive pre-professional training in the arts in conjunction with a rigorous academic curriculum. Graduates go on to the most selective arts and academic programs nationwide, and achieve prominence in theater, opera, film, television, music, dance, visual arts and writing. Alumni have, for example, performed with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, played in the Philadelphia Orchestra, sung in Carnegie Hall, appeared in the Broadway production of “Hamilton!”, recorded, produced and performed music for and with Jennifer Lopez and Jay Z, appeared on “American Idol,” and had exhibits at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Other graduates apply the focus and discipline they gained at BSA to professions including finance, architecture, computer science, teaching, law, and medicine.
Ona grew up in an artistically inclined family (her mother teaches and is a potter), but other BSA students began their artistic pursuits less auspiciously.
Chris Ford, BSA’s director, told the story of Richard White, once homeless, who hobbled into the school with a broken hip, sustained in a football accident. He was carrying little else but a plastic tuba. Unfortunately, he was a week late for auditions, but Ford could not ignore the boy’s drive and spark. Richard was admitted. Today he is an associate professor of tuba and euphonium at the University of New Mexico and principal tubist for the New Mexico Philharmonic.
So how does one develop a young artist? Ford described six qualities that must be nurtured.
- Curiosity — “the driver of life-long learning.” BSA wants “to connect our kids’ interests to their learning in a meaningful way.”
- Confidence — “the willingness to take a professional risk, knowing that it may not succeed, but that one can recover and move forward.”
- Expertise — “is at the core of learning an artistic medium to a high level — whether it be oil painting or script analysis.”
- Collaboration — “the ability to work effectively with others, who may have different skill sets or working methods.”
- Individual purpose — “what will you, as a unique person add to the conversation in your field or beyond it?”
- Global perspective — “Baltimore is known as ‘The City of Neighborhoods.’ Which is great, but we need to get our kids beyond the neighborhood and into a strong place in a worldwide creative scene.”
Monique Chism, deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, cited longitudinal research supporting an arts-integrated education. Students engaged in arts overall have higher grades, particularly in high school; have fewer discipline problems; increase their odds of graduating from high school; enroll in competitive colleges at greater rates; and, among low-income students and English language learners, are more than three time as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Nancy Paulu is an editor and writer for the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Leslie Williams.
The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jacquelyn Zimmermann at Jacquelyn.email@example.com. Visit the Student Art Exhibit Program at https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit/.
Gone are the days when the impact of art museums was felt largely within their walls, when an institution’s purpose was to house artwork and awe visitors. While this intent remains key, today’s art museums are forming partnerships outside their institutions to educate, expand their reach — and broaden their impact. Major beneficiaries of this innovation include educators and students.
This was evident on May 12, when the results of the education programs at 16 major museums were featured at the opening of the student art exhibit “Museums: pARTners in Learning 2015.” The museums are all members of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), which partnered with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to develop the exhibit on display at ED headquarters through June.
In opening remarks, Jamienne Studley, ED’s deputy under secretary of education, cited the benefits of having students “participate in the age-old challenge of understanding the world through art.” Through art, she said, students learn critical thinking, interdisciplinary skills, creativity, focus, problem-solving, teamwork, persistence and collaboration.
By integrating art into other core disciplines, schools can provide students the strategies Jamie listed to master rigorous material and enrich learning. The opening highlighted ways schools accomplish such integration through collaboration with art programs at museums in their communities.
AAMD’s members alone serve roughly 40,000 schools in a given year. Their programs range from single-visit museum tours to partnerships with shared teaching, curricula design and professional development. For example, a program at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, “Stop, Take Notice,” taught art’s role in promoting social change and public awareness. The museum helped a high school highlight concerns about pedestrian safety, with a project incorporating street art, after one of the school’s students was killed in a crosswalk.
Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and incoming president of AAMD, spoke at the opening to the value of partnerships: “I want to lift up the power of partnership by sharing with you the words of a wonderful African saying. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ It’s good going together.”
In Washington, D.C., the Phillips Collection developed Prism.K12, a nationally recognized program for arts integration, and approached Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, about creating math lessons in conjunction with the museum’s recent exhibit on surrealist Man Ray. Phillips’ educators worked with Kenmore educators in art, science, technology, engineering and math to develop integrated, interdisciplinary lessons.
Guests at the opening stepped into the students’ shoes to experience one math and art lesson — “Increasing Exponentially.” For some, this required harking back to middle school for a reintroduction to the concept of exponent, a quantity representing the power to which a given number or expression is to be raised. In the case of this exercise, it was the number 2.
To master this concept, each guest built a tiny hanger from pipe cleaners. Groups of guests then constructed multi-tiered mobiles from the hangers, with each tier containing more hangers to reflect the exponential increase
Preparation for College and Careers
Art can launch 21st-century careers, as 16-year-old Yuliya Kosheeva explained. Yuliya arrived from Uzbekistan about four years ago. Her passion for art blossomed in 2014 when she enrolled in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Saturday Sketching For Teens. “Finding this class,” she told the audience, “helped me find myself.” During one session, she focused on a bronze sculpture of a Mexican warrior, which she used as the basis for a charcoal pencil sketch. In the class, Yuliya discovered ways to merge her love of traditional art forms with computer art, which she now intends to study in high school and college, and pursue professionally.
Nancy Paulu is on the staff of the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
All Department photos are by Paul Wood. More photos from the event may be viewed on the Department of Education’s Flickr site.
The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at firstname.lastname@example.org.