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Sep 2001 / young minds :: email this story to a friend

New Art in the Neighborhood
By Roseann Weiss

What do pizza and art have in common? Starving artists!

New Art in the Neighborhood is a visual arts education program for high school students at the Forum for Contemporary Art (FCA). Based on the philosophy that good art can't be made on an empty stomach, a half dozen large pizzas arrive at noon, the same time the student artists do. It's the breakfast of champions and it's the icebreaker. It provides proof for the theory that breaking bread brings people together and that all artists — even the internationally known ones — will eat pizza. And as one student noted, "It's fuel."

Designed for teenagers, New Art in the Neighborhood is intrinsically a high-energy program that provides lots of "fuel." Approximately eight years ago the FCA staff and some faculty from Washington University School of Art conferred with educators about visual arts programs in the St. Louis region. It was quickly apparent there was no program in the St. Louis region that adequately filled the need for visual arts career training for young adults. The lack of a formal art curriculum in some public school systems prompted FCA to target the students who are often overlooked. These students are not necessarily athletes or scholars, and their families, schools and community centers are not equipped to foster their talents as artists. New Art in the Neighborhood introduces them to other young people like themselves and to adults who value creativity and the arts.

New Art in the Neighborhood provides educational experiences using a multi-tiered arts approach that enables these high school students to communicate visually as a vehicle for personal expression and career growth. Currently, twenty students, accepted on a scholarship basis, meet each Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. for two 12-week sessions with instructors in the visual and language arts. The objective of New Art in the Neighborhood is to use the study of the visual arts as an opportunity for these young artists to cultivate their talents and expand their experiences beyond the pressures of the contemporary urban challenges they face daily.

New Art in the Neighborhood provides students with practical training in the visuals arts by allowing them to work with professional artists of regional, national and international renown. The students work with these artists and others in a series of classes as they expand their own creative process. The focus of the curriculum and accompanying workshops is on creating a portfolio for college art and architecture school applications. With this goal, the emphasis is on gaining and honing drawing skills, particularly in portraiture and self-portraiture, as well as working from a model; printmaking and multiples; 3D design; plus an emphasis on critical thinking and analysis.

The exhibitions at the FCA are "jumping off" points for discussion and for creating work. Teaching and mentoring by both the faculty artists and the visiting exhibition artists are an integral part of the curriculum. The students often participate in workshops with artists exhibiting at the Forum for Contemporary Art. In 2001, San Francisco artist Enrique Chagoya, whose exhibition Utopian Cannibal: Adventures in Reverse Anthropology dealt with history and social issues, led a collective workshop that partnered immigrant students from Latin countries with the New Art in the Neighborhood students. They all examined the notion of utopia and worked in printmaking, mixed media and collage to produce two collaborative books. Radcliffe Bailey, an Atlanta artist whose exhibition The Magic City examined family histories and migrations, worked with the students to explore similar themes in a mixed media workshop.

Every year, New Art in the Neighborhood presents a public exhibition and/or installation of their work. In the past, students created three different designs for bus shelters in urban neighborhoods with professional artists Karen Papechek, Danny Tisdale and Steve Modzelewsky. In 2001, using their skills in drawing, printmaking and writing, the New Art in the Neighborhood students used computer graphic programs to create a collection of limited edition prints. The works in the collection, titled Window, are all self-portraits with some writing or poetry in the composition. This portfolio, as well as original works and the Utopia books created with Enrique Chagoya, were exhibited for a month at the May Company's Famous-Barr department store in downtown St. Louis.

At the FCA, quality of education, not quantity, is the focus. In seven years, about ninety students have participated in the program. This has allowed us to create real relationships with the students, for artists to act as mentors and for us to be able to track their progress. The majority of the students who have made the commitment to the program have gone on to pursue higher education. This program cannot solve the social and economic restraints some of these young artists will continue to confront. However, this program is helping them to develop deep convictions in their own abilities. One of the students, when asked who was his favorite artist, replied, "Me. Because sometimes I even amaze myself."

The Forum for Contemporary Art's New Art in the Neighborhood is sponsored by Emerson and receives additional support from the Whitaker Foundation, the Trio Foundation, the Regional Arts Commission and in-kind support from Artmart. The FCA, founded in 1980, today is recognized as one of the leading contemporary art museums in the Midwest. Offering six to eight critically acclaimed exhibitions each year, the FCA presents the work of artists who are at the forefront of the regional, national and international art scene. The FCA's exhibitions, programs and operations are member supported and privately funded through contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations. Additional support is provided through the Regional Arts Commission, Missouri Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. The FCA is a member of the National Association of the Artists Organizations and the American Federation of the Arts.

Currently, the Forum for Contemporary Art is undergoing construction of a new 27,200 square-foot facility. The new home of the FCA will be at the corner of North Spring Ave. and Washington Blvd. and will open in early 2003. Included in the design is designated studio space for New Art in the Neighborhood and other educational programs.

The Forum for Contemporary Art is currently located in Grand Center, St. Louis' arts and entertainment district, at 3540 Washington Blvd. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, and admission is free to the public. For more information about the FCA, its exhibitions, memberships or education programs, please call 314/535-4660. We'll save you a piece of pizza.

Roseann Weiss is the Program and Education Director at the Forum for Contemporary Art.

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