Mary Rossi and Noreen Wojtan, two full-time art teachers from George Washington HS, a Chicago Public School, were chosen to participate in a collaboration with C.A.P.E. Chicago this spring, and I was chosen to be the designated teaching artist in a three month long collaboration involving community outreach and the visual arts. It would be my first ever residency with C.A.P.E. (Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education), an organization I’ve deeply admired for years and was thrilled to finally get an opportunity to work with them. Both teachers had already begun to reach out to not only students from George Washington, but also to the parents of the students, and parents of students in neighboring elementary schools. We presented the following questions to our prospective participants and ourselves: Can the classroom community expand into the neighborhood, and vice versa? How do communities work together to achieve a goal? How do people within communities collaborate with each other? How can a community of young artists create a unified work with limited resources? How are those resources designated?
After about a three week period of recruiting artists through flyers and word of mouth, we finally gathered a core group of about 7 girls and a couple of boys who would be willing to participate in about a dozen sessions. Most of the kids involved had no painting experience at all, so I proposed we consider hard-edged abstraction as a vehicle to get some of our fundamentals down. The kids loved it. Technically, it’s a relatively easy way to get exciting results in a short amount of time. I showed them paintings by Brigitte Riley and Sol LeWitt (and of course some of my own work), and we discussed “limitations”, that is, a self-imposed rule system that we might be able to use in our collaboration. I was searching for a method to operate within where we could all feel united with one common goal, and they bought in. After scouting locations in the school, the boy’s entranceway was finally chosen as the spot our collaboration would be installed.
What to do?
How do we keep all our members engaged?
What would be a common theme the members of this artistic community deem worthy? Are there any contemporary issues that directly effect the teen community?
Since the location is by the “boy’s” entrance, is there a message the girls would like the boys to see everyday as they enter school? Is this an opportunity for the girls to inform the boys about things that matter to them?
How have other artists dealt with messaging?
We proceeded to look at the works of Barbara Krueger and Jenny Holzer, to women whose work revolves around the concept of messaging and advertising.
Questions abounded. Why is this becoming limited to “girls and boys”? What if you don’t identify with either gender, are those kids being left out of the conversation?
Do we need to use text like the other artists did?
And most importantly, how can this group of unique individuals create an artwork that appears unified and consistent?
Can the group propose ideas that can be “voted” on? Can they agree to follow a set of rules? Will these rules allow enough freedom to create an interesting work, or will they stifle the community of artists involved?
After a couple of meetings, the students actively voted on the following:
-Only triangles are allowed.
-There will be no more than 12 but no less than 9 triangles on each panel.
-The colors will be the same colors used on the Gay Pride flag, their symbolic gesture of solidarity with the LGBT community within George Washington and the world at large and a replacement for “text”, as the colors speak to a universal subject that should be understood regardless of language.