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May 5, 2011

Art Workshop Stretches High School Students’ Creative Skills

High school student David Mendez in the City Art Lab program sculpts figures for a three-dimensional study. 

High school student David Mendez sculpts figures for a three-dimensional study at City Art Lab.

Aspiring and Early-Career Teachers Master Techniques Outside Classroom

Late every Tuesday afternoon, 16 students from nine New York City high schools convene in a studio on the third floor of Shepard Hall on The City College of New York campus.  For two hours, they stretch their creative talents as early-career and aspiring art teachers get to practice their pedagogical skills outside the classroom.
 
“We’re giving high school students the chance to explore and experiment like (college-level) art students,” said Marit Dewhurst, CCNY director and visiting assistant professor of art education. “They learn outside the hierarchical structure of typical high school classes and get to make their own artistic choices.”
 
The program, launched this spring and called City Art Lab, is part after-school course and part art education graduate student lab.  It is run in collaboration with Creative Arts Workshops for Kids (CAW), a nonprofit organization that utilizes the visual and performing arts to teach life skills to children and teens. Partial support comes from the Office of the Dean for Humanities and the Arts at City College.
 
The high school students apply through CAW.  Their skill levels are secondary to their motivation.  “Beginners are welcome.  They just need a desire to learn and the curiosity to explore,” explained Professor Dewhurst, who added that City Art Lab is another way for City College to connect with community organizations.
 
City Art Lab, which runs 12 weeks, is organized as a series of thematic workshops. The first applied the theme of metamorphosis to develop drawing techniques.  In the second, students worked with three-dimensional materials to explore the concept of transforming the ordinary into extraordinary.
 
CCNY graduate students prepare and lead the workshops, which run over three to four weeks.  They also work alongside the high school youth on their own projects, helping to create a collaborative feeling inside the studio.
 
“We’re teaching one another,” said Asya Abdul Majid, a junior at Bronx High School of Science from Washington Heights. “I’ve never been in a place with so many encouraging teachers.  I always come away inspired.”
 
Milan McNeil, a sophomore at Cathedral High School, added she not only is learning different techniques but also how to accept criticism from other people.
 
“For someone like me who is already teaching, this is an opportunity to practice things I would not be comfortable with jumping into the classroom,” said Julie Wilson, who is working toward her MA in art education while teaching at Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice in Brooklyn.
 
In the “making the ordinary extraordinary” workshop that she co-leads, students get to create sculpture with a choice of different materials.  At a recent session, students worked with everything from clay to wire.  “We give them a million ways to accomplish something,” she added. “They get the creative freedom to explore, and we’re making art while they’re making art.”
 
Similarly, in the metamorphosis workshop students worked with pencil, charcoal, water colors or pastels.  “We discussed different manifestations of metamorphosis in life and let students figure out different ways to interpret the theme,” said Jeannine Armbruster, a grad student from Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.  The student interpretations ranged from harmony to deformity to adaptation to relocation.
 
Ms. Armbruster describes City Art Lab as “teaching in an ideal setting.  The students want to be here and they are ready and willing to do art.  There are no classroom management issues.  To see what is possible is inspiring.”
 
When the workshop concludes, the students’ work will be exhibited in new gallery space in City College’s North Academic Center building and at the CAW booth at the Hike the Heights Festival, a community event to be held June 4 in Upper Manhattan.
 
On the Internet:
 
City College MA in Art Education Program
http://tinyurl.com/43lrvdn
 
Creative Arts Workshops for Kids
http://www.caw4kids.org/
 
Additional City Art Lab Photos on Facebook
http://tinyurl.com/3k4s8ed

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