Trading TV Remotes for Paintbrushes
By Briana Seftel
BU News Service
SOUTH END — Paintings line the walls of the room. Brushes sit beside canvases and colored crayons. The students trickle in, trading their backpacks for a paint-splattered apron. It’s a Friday afternoon and instead of watching TV, the students of Teen Art in the South End are preparing for their art class.
With nearly a century of history in arts education, the Children’s Art Centre in the South End has gotten previously unmotivated teens involved in art.
Teen Art in the South End is a weekly art workshop for youth ages 12 to 15, run by the United South End Settlements, or USES. It focuses on educating youth by involving them in the rich South End art community. In partnership with the Boston Center for the Arts, these weekly workshops offer visits to galleries, time in artist studios, and an opportunity to learn new techniques and work with professional artists.
However, due to low attendance the Art Centre has recently decided make some changes to increase participation. Director of the Children’s Art Centre, Chelsea Revelle, said the class has always been free, but the center has decided to charge a $25 fee beginning in January. She said she hopes the change will make the class more of an investment.
“With all of the responsibilities of teens today, it’s tough to get them invested in something. We know the interest [for the art class] is there,” said Revelle. In addition to the fee, the students will receive an art pack of supplies at the completion of the class.
Cynthia Woo, who runs the Boston Center for the Arts portion of Teen Art, said she started the program three years ago with Revelle after seeing the need for an art program involving teens. She said the program is unique because it runs year long, with BCA running the summer program and USES during the school year.
Woo acknowledges teen programs can be tricky, but she said she is hopeful for the future of the program.
“[Teens] are a hard audience,” said Woo. “We know it will take time for the program to build.”
Catherine Aiello has been teaching the class since March and said it has been fun getting to know the teens and see their creativity come up along the way. Aiello said her small class learned a lot in the past eight weeks.
“Our small group size allows for individual attention and freedom to try new things and develop their voice,” she said.
During the eight-week session, the students learned art techniques like encaustics, or hot wax painting, in class, and visited artist studios and galleries. Aiello said the teens especially enjoyed the field trips. She said the students commented that they enjoyed seeing the studio and visualized themselves as artists. Aiello said she believes in the importance of an art education because it’s usually not part of a school curriculum.
“Teens have interest in art but may not have as many opportunities to be creative during the school day,” said Aiello.
Peggy Burchenal, director of educational programs at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, said it is crucial for teens to be exposed to art.
“For us it’s about connecting with young people at a key moment in their lives, when they are exploring the world and figuring out their place in it. We want teens to feel comfortable in museums, and to make art experiences – whether looking at or making art – an essential part of their lives,” said Burchenal.
For artist Jo Ann Rothschild, the value of arts education should be placed higher at the school level. She started an art program at the Women’s Inn at Pine Street shelter before volunteering with USES, where she became involved with the children’s art programs.
She said she taught younger students last summer how to paint a mural before having the Teen Art program visit her studio. She said she noticed a big difference in teaching art to teens, joking, “teens know what the color orange is.” Rothschild didn’t hesitate to tell the teens that most artists don’t make a lot of money.
“Art is something you have to love doing,” she said.
Rothschild said she strongly supports art classes like Teen Art and believes art does not get funded enough in schools. When she volunteered at Pine Street, she said she was shocked at how little people knew about art outside from television and cartoons.
“[Americans] don’t see art as valuable,” said Rothschild.
This lack of arts education in schools has been plaguing the country for decades, beginning with budget cuts in the 70s. However, with the Boston Public School’s arts expansion initiative, as of 2011, 47% of high school students are receiving arts instruction, up from 26% in 2009. In February city schools received an additional $4 million in funding for the arts, moving closer to the initiative’s $10 million goal.
On the last day of class of Teen Art, some students work with encaustics while others are making prints.
Joey yells out, “It looks like you’re cooking!” to Emmy, who is using a rolling pin to roll out her print.
Ellie then tells her classmates she made “bunny cookies.”
“Wait, actual cookies?”
The jokes keep coming. All five students laugh and talk throughout the class while they finish their art projects. They are just as inquisitive and interested, but now they could probably tell the difference between tempera and oil-based paints.
While the class may have ended, the students will continue their art education. The teens’ art is currently being displayed at the “Community Colors: Collaborative Art Exhibit” at the Harriet Tubman House, which will run until Jan. 9. Featuring local South End artists and USES program participants, the show will include art from Catherine Aiello and Chelsea Revelle, along with Jo Ann Rothschild.
A piece from Rothschild is paired with a painting done by 3 year-olds she previously taught, proving that art has no age limit.
This story also ran on boston.com