Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts. Last week, she visited with Nazanin Fatemian, program manager for the International House of Blues Foundation, and Emmanuel Gillespie, the lead Dallas artist in a collaborative art project IHOBF and local artists and students are creating. This week, in Part II of her interview, Tina spoke with some of the teachers and art students participating in the project.
Art abounds in our fair city. It’s not easy to fit all the “behind the scenes” puzzle pieces together, but with art, where there’s a will, there’s always a way. The rhythms and originality of the following art advocates, young minds, and hearts share how this collaborative venture between House of Blues and local artists and students comes into reality – uniquely separate yet undeniably together in full force.
Greenhill School, Middle School, 2D Art Teacher, Valerie Bennett Gillespie
Dallas artist/educator, Valerie Bennett Gillespie, uses her art experiences and wisdom with her art students at the Greenhill School. When asked to do this venture, she immediately infused her enthusiasm and organized her students to develop their portion of the five panel installation. She visited with me about their experiences.
Tina Aguilar: How did you explore the themes with your students? What has this experience been like for you and your students, 13 students from four grades, right?
Valerie Bennett Gillespie: Yes, 13 students together between the grades and a lot of coordinating. At first, like the other schools, we participated in the Folk Art tour, workshops, and speaking to the House of Blues (HOB) musicians, and then brought our thoughts back into the classroom. I gave the students writing assignments, music interaction, and the space to consider what the Blues and Jazz represent. They were asked to get out a piece of paper and think about colors that correspond to Blues or Jazz music. I had them listen to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, as well as think about their conversations with the HOB musicians. They asked the kids what they thought about the music and what choices they were considering with their work. Understanding the importance of this music history and the fact that music and art connect was a new experience for all of them. We had a blank canvas and Emmanuel’s broad concept of the seated musicians with guitars.
T. A.: So you were getting them used to considerations between art and music? What about the dialogue and development it created in and out of the classroom?
V. B. G.: Yes, I watched them think about their ideas and about what comes to mind when they think about the connections between music and art. After much consideration and shading experiments they eventually decided on blue as the background color because it was relaxing, somber, and mellow in feeling for them. I think they knew it was a big deal to be part of an art team and the venue really made a difference to open up a conversation for them. My students did not know the HOB would even have an art collection. It encouraged them to examine their sense of art and ultimately their creative decisions. After viewing this art style they thought it looked so easy to create that type of art, but in fact as their ideas evolved they dealt with real challenges as any artist would face with their creative decisions. My students learned what it meant to create a design and the deep work involved with it. Their growth and even thinking differently is apparent in the work and they express themselves in new ways now. Part of the realization was the full participation of the students and how our group had to agree with our decisions because we were one part of the whole. It fostered respect for someone else’s ideas and space. They are so excited to see the rest of the panels and this enriches them to see other schools and students from various backgrounds. Art brings new voices and youth together.
Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts, Visual Art Coordinator, Lollie Tompkins
Tina Aguilar: In addition to teaching Design I and II, Jewelry, Elements of Media, and Gifted and Talented Mentorship, for over 20 years Lollie Tompkins, Visual Arts Coordinator, has been a conduit for students and community partnerships. This IHOBF endeavor involves five different layers and each contains such strength to forge its success. How did your students work and what parts of the process were important for them?
Lollie Tompkins: The nature of who we are played a significant role. In our arts program students have to visit at least two galleries or sites per six week academic period. This means the students have a lot of art looking, talking and evaluating under their belt. Prior to this partnership Mary Kathryn and Cris, both high school juniors, participated in a fall event called “Always Imagine” and were in charge of developing and creating art in one hour for their performance. This experience for both of these painters, knowledge with color and movement, and design of site worked well for them. Mary Kathryn and Cris were both responding to music and words on stage and when Emmanuel brought the canvas over we talked about the vibrancy of the HOB venue. One aspect discussed was how to assign colors to the emotional connection to music. Both were free to use their own strokes so they could respond normally and naturally throughout the entire process. They are encouraged to know the areas of freedom and restraint and then have the opportunity to just go. The students learn and participate in what is sought or the question and the responsibility to come up with multiple solutions.
T. A.: Why does this matter?
L. T.: I have let them work it out for themselves and have not asked them about it or asked for any explanations or analysis. This gives them a chance to work as they need to. In general it’s very positive and the panel seems to have such motion on the surface and is truly a living breathing work. What the students have done is worked together, stepped away from it, and then come back to it. They have had it out for viewing by their peers and for the other painting classes to see. There are comments and feedback.
T. A.: This offers a form of protection and value for their personal aesthetic. When will you ask them about it and what is your feedback like during this conversation?
L. T.: Yes, I really don’t want to press students through this process. Probably when we get back from the break I’ll talk to them about it. We are lucky to have a prime painting studio and even the other teachers have honored the space. These two students may not sit side by side but they talk about it together. I have seen that with the two of them. I am pretty blunt with the progress of their work and I can speak to them about the elements and design, more or less, and say this is an area you need to work on – rather than telling them how to change it.
Thomas J. Rusk Middle School, Teachers, Brenda Hatter, Dane Larsen and Art Students
Tina Aguilar: Art teachers Brenda Hatter and Dane Larsen, both Dallas artists, and their students welcomed me into their classroom studios to see their progress, thoughts, and inspirations. As the advanced art 7th grade students are trickling into Brenda’s room, I see on the chalkboard: Illustrate themes from direct observation and personal experience. Illustrate ideas from imagination. Tell me about the connections with the art collection at the HOB. How did you give direction to the students?
Brenda Hatter: We went to visit the HOB a handful of times, with sincerest gratitude to Elaine Thomas and Laura Sohm, who facilitated the budget and buses for our trips. We were inspired by the collection and in particular one of the folk artist’s, Roland Knox, who uses beads, glass and found objects. His mother worked as a maid for a wealthy family and the lady of the house left her all her jewelry when she died. His assemblages just like the other artists offer students a chance to see something different than the classical tradition. We decided as a group that each student would have a symbol for our canvas. There were about 24 students originally and about 18 have kept with the project.
T. A.: What else did you notice in your students’ experiences?
B. H.: Well, a lot of artists like to create with anything and the kids are pleasantly surprised by the mediums in the HOB collection. They see these professional artists in an art collection and learn that you can use a door to paint on or mud. These children have the access and ability to learn about a different style of art and the value creative expression.
T. A. with Brenda’s students: Good afternoon, and thank you for having me visit with you today. Can you each tell me a little bit about some of these symbols? What do you think about the art of Roland Knox and using glass or found objects?
Alexis: My symbol is a star and I like colors, bright colors. The canvas shines and when you see colors they express emotions and feel happy.
Evelin: Mine is a lightning bolt because I like to watch thunder storms. They relax me.
Trang: I was trying to come up with sort of a clover or square of colors and an art brush because I love art. It’s hard to make the pieces fit. It takes time to make each one fit just right, but I really like rearranging everything to get it just right.
Diana: I have a few here (pointing), the dove of peace and a flower. I like flowers a lot.
Evelin: I thought it would be a cool thing to do and a good experience. We haven’t used glass or found objects before. It makes it look real and because it’s random, it’s unexpected…instead of just painting.
Alexis: Yes, I like breaking the glass in the smash bucket to get our pieces, but we have to be careful.
T. A.: Are there other types of art that you enjoy?
Alexis: My brother and my grandpa both draw a lot. I like it when they draw flowers and roses because they put every detail into it.
Evelin: My uncles do tattoos and I like them because they use colors, like the colors I saw with Roland Knox’s work.
T. A.: During my visit with Dane’s students, I hear him asking them to think of a myth or a legend and prepare a drawing for a watercolor. Dane’s 8th grade art students gathered around the table to speak with me. What were some of the first stages like for you and your students?
Dane Larsen: The idea of using found objects and collage really spoke to us and we collectively decided to use glass. Each one would come up with a symbol that expressed a connection to imagination and music. We wanted to make sure each student had an opportunity to do something uniquely theirs, representing their own voice. I gave my students a 4×4 square to work out their symbol with shredded paper. This gave them the chance to use the smaller strips to piece the design together and see it take form. The students like hands on and this term we have even made our own inks from pecans, walnuts, and oak. I think it helped to work in the smaller format prior to beginning the real canvas.
T. A. with Dane’s students: Hello, what do I see here? Talk me about your ideas.
Sneha: Mine is a Hindu symbol that means peace, it is a common symbol in my culture and it means something good. I picked yellow for the background so that it is shining from behind.
Jorge: I have seen stained glass at church, the HOB, and in different theaters and I think exploring colors and textures makes it fun.
Giovanni: I chose the heart because it is a very important symbol and I made a design with different colors. Everybody needs a little love.
Dennys: I created a hand reaching for the sun, for the light. At first I was going through a few drawings but then the image came to me in my dream, and I used it.
Sulema: I picked music notes because listening to music is one of my favorite hobbies, hip hop and Spanish songs mostly. If I am mad, I use music to calm me down.
T. A.: What do you think about music and art and objects?
Jorge: I think it’s cool because you can make art to your own advantage, in your own style. Art gives you a good way to express yourself and even get things off your chest.
Sneha: Oh, we did a performance piece and used found things with Mr. Larsen earlier at the beginning of the year. We designed costumes as if the world was ending. Our clothing was grocery bags ironed together. The items came from outside and home. It was fun and different to use found objects.
T. A.: What have you seen with your students and this collaboration with IHOBF?
D. L.: They are able to visit a place where professional artists are on view with their ideas. That type of exposure is meaningful and shows them that people do this for real. It shows them something that is valuable. With these kids I tried to let them have their space. I have experiences through my travels and as an artist, as well as watching art educator workshops where ideas were not allowed to breathe as they came forth. This is Emmanuel’s piece and he gave it to us. Through his own dedication and generosity, he trusted all of us to do what we could as individuals. My students can also document on their resumes they have art in a permanent collection.
Valerie Bennett Gillespie, Lollie Tompkins, Brenda Hatter, and Dane Larsen continue their arts education and advocacy in the city and look forward to new collaborations in the future for their students.