It was a typical chilly Wednesday morning in the middle of February in Seattle. The clouds are grey, there’s just enough breeze to chill you under the layers of clothing that you have on. The only option really is to keep moving, and in this case, I was moving along with my colleague, Jaala and the ten Cleveland high school students we tugged along for a field trip. This trip is an “art walk” so that these students may learn of the possibilities of what art is, and where and how art can be shown around town. We chose the neighboring neighborhood of Georgetown as the place to explore.
8:30am is still rather early for most businesses to be open. We walked into a coffee shop briefly to talk about the plan for the day. Only about half of the students seemed semi interested in what was going on. Once outside, we took a gaze upon a mural on the side of a building displaying images of waves collaged with people, random objects and volleyball. Jaala explained to the students who the artist was, and asked the students to reflect. Most everyone pulled out their cell phones to take a few quick snapshots before tucking their hands away into the pocket. We kept pointing and looking around other murals nearby before walking into the Miller School of Art.
We were greeted by a nice man by the name of Mark, who runs the establishment that is the Miller School of Art. He asked a lot of question to the students to keep them engaged, showed them different materials and processes that could make up a painting. He went on to explain that not every painting needs to tell a story, and that it could just be aesthetics. The students’ eyes wandered off into the rest of the studio where 3 other artists were working on their paintings. There were art supplies and paintings everywhere- on the easel, on the walls, on the tables, with no square inch spared from the splatters of age old paints. After about an hour worth of discussions and interactions, we thanked mark and moved onward to the next site.
As we walked toward our next site, we stopped quite often, as if to smell the flowers. In this case, we were just stopping to look at fascinating little things on the walls, on window displays, boxes attached to telephone poles, anything that caught our eye and how they could all be considered art. Jaala encouraged the students to think more critically about the possibilities of what art could be for each of the students. More cell phone camera snapshots ensued as we finally arrived at the Georgetown Arts and Cultural Center. We met a woman by the name of Angielena who is the founder of the place, and she took us up on a dark wooden stairs to show us all the possibilities of a community artist’s space.
The narrow wooden floors at the top of the stairs gave way to the plenty of windows that let the natural light in. There were quite a few doors on the opposite side of the windows that were closed. Angielena explained that these were doors to the artist’s studios, and that these weren’t open for us to view at the moment. She then proceeded to lead us through the hallways to show all the various types of art work on the walls, from paintings to photographs, to collages and prints, all framed in its own unique ways. While these were all pleasant to look at, the narrow corridors were a bit tough for 13 people to move through. She finally led us into an open door at the end of the hall, where we were presented by a large print press machine. This was the magical room where Angielena teaches teenagers how to make prints.
The reaction from the students were nothing short of excitement and fascination. An old school print press machine was the monstrosity that was the elephant in the room. One couldn’t help but to talk about its massive size, heft, and the presence it had. The walls in the rooms were also covered with many of Angielene’s framed woodblock and linoleum prints. We were then shown what types of materials and tools were used to cut out these blocks. Most of these students were really only familiar with painting, drawing and digital photography, so to see this new material appeared fascinating to them.
We stepped outside and out through the balcony steps before excusing ourselves to the next stop- the trailer park store that sat right behind the Georgetown Arts and Cultural Center. We met with the owner and artist, who talked about how and why she opted to open this trailer part art store full of her little art that ranges from drawings, cards and jewelry. The students were especially amused with some of the more sassy, smart alec cards that the artist made. The students had an epiphany- that art can be used as a form of freedom of speech. They giggled away as we stepped away onto our next stop.
I made an arrangement to meet up with a curator/owner of “LxWxH” gallery, Sharon. Her gallery is a single, large rectangular space about 600 square feet located above a pizza restaurant with one natural light sun roof window that illuminated the whole space. This space is far more different in looks and feel of our previous three stops. This gallery is much more contemporary and conceptual, with the current artist on display focusing solely on abstraction. Sharon explained the artist’s intention, but she also explained what type of space the gallery was, and what it meant to curate a show. The students were explained just how each month, a new show goes up and gets taken down, how an exhibition is promoted, and how she also tries to juggle being an artist herself. The meeting with Sharon was very informative, but it seemed like a lot of information for the students to take in.
We then headed down to our final destination, Seattle Design Center. We had ordered pizzas ahead of time and the SDC was an ideal stop and break since it was about 12:30pm. The students seemed to enjoy this break, after all, we have been walking all morning long. Half of the student groups sat around in a semi circle around Jaala, while the other half sat down by a table and played cards with one another. We were finally warm, indoors and after sharing some relaxing moments of laughter, cheese and soda bubbles, we moved onto a ceramics gallery since it was right next to the area we sat in.
This gallery seemed to be a really engaging moment for the students. Everyone took their time to look carefully at each of the ceramic sculptures, from all the different angles. Photographs were snapped, notes were taken, questions were asked, and comments were made to one another. Both Jaala and I noticed something special happening in an otherwise quiet large space of fired clay. There was a moment of connection, of bonding, that the students had not just with each other, but with the art works and the artists that weren’t present in the room. Students thought some of the sculptures were weird, some of them were beautiful, and others were cool. We ended up spending quite a bit of time in the space considering it wasn’t exactly a scheduled stop. I felt rather guilty directing them out of the gallery onto the next gallery, Center Of Contemporary Art, or COCA for short, where the students were met with more modern and contemporary art works.
As soon as we walked in, the woman behind the counter started giving us guided tours without any prompts. She went on to explain how the show was juried and curated, the intentions behind each artists, and how art can be art just because someone claimed it to be so. Some of the students laughed at the idea, but again much like the previous gallery, students were extremely engaged. A couple of the students were so excited, they decided to buy a COCA T-shirt on our way out.
We made one more stop at Gallery Context, where we got to meet with gallery owner and curator, Zal, along with two of the exhibiting artists, Beth and myself. Zal explained to the students that his idea of opening up a gallery is to connect people with the community and bringing everyone together. Beth talked about her process of art making that has personal meaning. When I talked about my work, I reflected back on both what Zal and Beth had said, that art should have a sense of community and personal meaning. I told the students that if they made their art with sincerity and authenticity, then people will understand and people will connect. After our introduction speech, we let the students wander about. One of the students were curious and eager to ask questions to Beth, and she happily obliged. This student, Marena, was really interested in how one becomes an artist, what type of thought process it might take to be an artist, the questions kept coming and coming. The Q&A session between Beth and Marena lasted a good 20 minutes until we all had to head back towards the school.
While not every student were excited or engaged, watching the life come to the eyes of students like Marena makes our efforts completely worthwhile. Engagement, education, creative thinking, alternative ideas, connection and a sense of community were all achieved on this day of walking field trip. This happened thanks to all of the different types of people involved in the arts, but it also took a lot of passionate efforts by my colleague, Jaala Smith. She was able to reach out and make these powerful connections with the Georgetown arts community to make this day possible. We still have a long ways to go before the end of the school year, but I am excited to see what else and how much more we can accomplish as a team with these group of Cleveland high school students. Our goal is to culminate the end of the school year with an exhibition in Georgetown, this was merely step one of the process. Onwards.