Thursday, March 22, 2018

#WalkWithMe - Bridgeport Art Center Professional Development Day

On March 20th, 2018 our D97 art staff visited the Bridgeport Art Center to learn about the artists and programs at Project Onward, and to receive a gallery and studio tour. 

Frida's Room Interior

It all began with a stop at Frida's Room, a Mexican/American breakfast grill in the Pilsen neighborhood. We gathered for some conversation and to discuss how the days events would connect to our classrooms.

The ambiance was awesome. There were several large paintings hung alongside some framed smaller pieces with drawings or objects in them. All in all, it was a very relaxed atmosphere, a great place to start the day and put our thinking caps on.

Frida's Room Interior

Bridgeport Art Center Facade

It was a chilly and windy day although the sun did attempt to peek through. As we approached the building we could see several large sculptures ahead (like the one in the title image above). It set the scene nicely for what we were about to encounter inside.

We made our way through a loading dock and stumbled across a large freight elevator that took us to the 4th floor. I snapped this shot seconds before it started closing and ran to make it on.
Impressive, no. Fun, yes.

Project Onward Reception Desk

Through the several winding twists and turns of the hallways, we followed the tape arrows and wound up at Project Onward.

 "Project Onward is a nonprofit studio and gallery for professional artists with mental and developmental disabilities."

"Project Onward serves 50 artists, each with unique creative styles and facing diverse challenges, from autism to mental illness. All artists pass through a competitive selection process that evaluates their artistic talent, potential for creative growth and desire to advance as a professional artist before joining Project Onward. Member artists range in age from early-20s to early-70s and represent over 30 Chicago neighborhoods and several suburbs."

While in the studio/gallery space, the staff greeted us and shared a bit about the history and mission of Project Onward. They have made some incredible connections with their artists, many of which receive commissions on a regular basis. A connection we noticed between their approach and ours as teachers, is the role of facilitator. Rather than telling the artists what to do, they provide guidance and support, while pushing their abilities, in order for each artist to reach their highest potential.

If you are so inclined, please donate here.

Our first stop was at the work-space of artist William Douglas. He shared his most recent work with us, and talked about his process. As a result of her conversation with Bill, D97 Art Educator Jenny Raia said, "It was inspiring to hear Bill talk about his experiences as a child making art. He's so grateful that he had an art teacher in elementary school that recognized his talent and encouraged him to create. He now uses his art to help manage his mental health challenges and express himself. Talking to him really underscored the importance of building strong relationships with all of my students. I want them to use art as a positive force throughout their lives."

I love the look of artist workstations and the materials they use. I dedicate a place in our Artsonia student gallery to this. As we navigated around the studio space, I couldn't help but take some shots of some of my favorite studio vignettes. Look closely at the work being created here.

work-space 01

work-space 02

work-space 03

An artist really needs their own creative comfortable space, surrounded by their favorite materials. However, even with a dedicated work-space, and their own sense of independence, the artists of Project Onward talked about the community aspect and sharing of ideas that happens during any work session. Collaboration is paramount in keeping perspective, working out ideas, and finding your personal voice.

Artist Fernando Ramirez
This is Fernando Ramirez. He paints portraits, characters from mythology, and famous Chicago locations. His work is full of color and detail. I was completely blown away when he mentioned that the individual portraits in the top row take only about 30 minutes to create. Check out his work and a painting of The Beatles Sgt. Peppers album cover on Instagram @fernandoramirezfineart.

Bridgeport Art Center Main Gallery
The afternoon found us in the main gallery with our host, artist, and curator Lelde Kalmite. She talked about the current collection and gave us a tour of the space. The building is slowly being taken over by the art community as there are studio spaces for rent, and the galleries have been expanding. We had some time to look around and view the artwork, as she highlighted various pieces.

It was fun to see art teachers in their element discussing and getting inspired by the work in the gallery. It's so important for us to be engaged in ongoing conversations about modern art, art making, process, intent, and ultimately figuring out ways to make these ideas and concepts accessible to our students. The world must be our textbook.

Art Discussion with Lelde Kalmite
I would recommend to my students that whenever possible, listen to artists talk about their work. You not only learn about them, but it's inevitable that you will learn about yourself. Listening to Lelde talk about her work pinpointed a necessary phase of evolution that artists go through as they explore their own media and vision. You must learn to work on your work.

Studio Space of Artist Lelde Kalmite

This is D97 Art Educator and department chair Jennifer Raia. I took this shot near the end of our experience to give you a better sense of the space we were in. Every turn we made was greeted with artwork. There were paintings, collage, mixed media, graffiti, photographs, sculpture, and a piece that was 3-D printed. It was refreshing to see new technologies work their way into the art world as a viable way to share ideas. Our students that continue to explore art, or that find it as they evolve, will no doubt benefit, utilize, and revolutionize new ways to express themselves.

Some take away thoughts from our Institute Day, 
compiled by D97 Art Educators Kristen Sundquist and Casey Klemp:

•Specific approach to facilitation.
•Alter our mindset, from teacher to facilitator.
•Push students to reach their potential.
•Mindful of student needs, adjust the approach.
•Art careers for all types of artists.
•Artists who are relevant & relatable for students of various cognitive abilities.
•Introduction to a community resource.
•Use of kid friendly materials (i.e. cardboard & color pencils, glitter)

stay awesome.

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