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Bringing the Classroom to the Street, the Street to the Classroom

by Sarah Hennigan 18 Jul 2012 3:22 PM

Dallas Contemporary brings graffiti artist Arturo Donjuan to lead a week-long workshop for young artists. Students explore different aspects of the vibrant street art scene.


Graffiti might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about art class, but Dallas Contemporary is serious about supporting local artists, of all styles and media, including the  next generation. It’s hosting 20 young artists this week in a workshop called “Taking It to the Streets,” where they are learning the technical skills to create engaging street art. Students get to work in the cool, industrial atmosphere of what will be the gallery’s new Espace Learning center. A part of the Contemporary’s extensive education programming, the workshop takes students through many forms of street art and introduces them to master graffiti artists for one-on-one critiques.

Artist Arturo Donjuan is a member of the local graffiti collective Sour Grapes, whose work has been showcased at the Dallas Contemporary. The exhibition, Sour Grapes: Rest in Power was created as a tribute to influential graffiti artists of the past who had passed away. Arturo — along with assistant instructors Carlos and Miguel Donjuan — creates street art that reflects the medium’s long and often troubled past. This cultural awareness enlivens the Streets classroom.

Each day, the students begin by working on small projects, such as silk screen designing. With the teaching assistants’ help, they work from concept to the silkscreen. After this short warm-up, the master artist joins the class to lead them through the day’s work.

On Tuesday, the goal was to create a vibrant graffiti cartoon character (real or imagined).  Even though this was only their second day, the young artists were already pros at handling spray cans on cardboard. After spending a moment looking at their blank canvas, one by one they went to work bringing their visions to life with gas-masks and spray-cans. From a twisted Mickey Mouse to a whimsical Pegasus, their first pieces quickly took shape.

Soon enough, many had finished and started again on a new design. As each minute passed, the questions fell away as students began to fall into their own rhythm. The talent and passion brought out in the students was both surprising and inspiring. By the end of the day, not a single blank canvas sat against the wall. Each young artist had at least one new piece of street art to be proud of.