Showing Some HeArt for the Arts in High Schools
Most art exhibitions are shows that stay on view for at least several weeks. But on Dec. 8, the Autry hosted a one-day lightning exhibition in its Heritage Court of art by students from The HeArt Project.
In museum time, one day is the blink of an eye. But the impression on the students often is a lasting one.
“We want to introduce them to these experiences to make sure the arts are an integral part of their curriculum,” said Cynthia Campoy Brophy, executive director of the HeArt Project, which aims to keep students from dropping out of school for good by exposing them to art and artists on a consistent, long-term basis. “We also use this to connect them to their city, to Los Angeles. We want them to see that cultural institutions have a vital and important role in a healthy city.”
So the organization’s curriculum is not just intensive and continuing, but progresses along what Campoy Brophy called The Ladder, a program structure that progressively challenges students who remain involved with the program.
Each school year, the HeArt Project picks three arts institutions in the city to partner with it to provide one-day-a-week arts programming for the students for 10 weeks at a time through the school year. On the 11th week, the students participate in a culminating event — like Wednesday’s exhibition. The other partners this year, besides the Autry, are the Los Angeles Opera and the World Arts and Cultures Department at UCLA.
Campoy Brophy said that the roughly 130 students from at least eight schools who participated in this HeArt Project quarter at the Autry took on the theme “The Mythic West” and interpreted it in a variety of visual media: there was a carnival scene done in miniature sculptures that included taco vendors, Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam, a watercolor featuring landmarks of contemporary Los Angeles, and a mixed-media representation of a loteria game board, but with images of both real and fictional characters and scenes of the West.
“We bring them together at the Autry for the exhibition,” Campoy Brophy said. “They get to see how their peers interpreted the same theme they worked on.”
Besides showing their work, the students got an arts-oriented tour of the Autry that began in the plaza, in front of a bronze statue of Gene Autry, continued with a docent-led explanation of the
current Siqueiros in Los Angeles exhibition, and ended at the Heritage Court, where their own work was on display. Later, they participated in a panel discussion in the Wells Fargo Theatre where they talked about the techniques they used in finishing their works.
Campoy Brophy said arts education is in danger in many high schools across the state. But in the continuing education high schools with which HeArt Project works, it is non-existent. And yet, she says, it is art education that can develop skills that employers today are looking for.
“What’s actually valued in the workplace is creative thinking,” she said. “We don’t live in a time anymore where you trained to have applicable skills in cert career. We need to train kids to have transportable skills, and creative thinking is a highly valued transportable skill.”
She mentioned a recent conference she attended in which creative thinking was part of what even the most seemingly traditional careers demand.
“A banker is valuing creative thinking,” she said. “Banks need that to create new financial products. They want to hire people who have the capacity to solve problems that don’t exist yet.”