20 Neighborhoods at South Side Community Art Center

Teaching Artist Juarez Hawkins tells us about the workshops at South Side Community Art Center

July 8

The 20 Neighborhoods project got off to a great start on the South Side. Over 15 women attended the first session at the South Side Community Art Center. We had 24 sign up (forgot to specify class size on our mailings!), so I may have more next week. A tad unwieldy, but the group dynamic was great. The heat settled down to a balmy 84 degrees.

After talking about the Center (the SSCAC, dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt,  is one of the few WPA-era art centers still in operation), Woman Made, and the project goals, I asked the women to split into pairs. Each woman was to learn about her partner, then the partners introduce one another to the group. I felt this would be more engaging than a “round-the-circle” introduction, since the participants begin getting to know one another right away. The dialogue and networking were great, and yielded more information than I originally asked for.

I talked about assemblage, and showed sample works from Bettye Saar and Amalia Amaki, along with samples of my own work. I discussed how each artist used assemblage to tell her own story- which to me is the heart of the project. After reading the poem “Where I’m From”, I gave a writing prompt similar to the one we did in the training sessions. Participants  created lists of favorite childhood smells, tastes, songs, stories and loved ones. They narrowed down their lists to create their own poems. I provided  5×7″ cards of heavy watercolor paper, along with exotic papers, colored tissue, and maps, and they created collages that integrated the poem in some way. “Integration” was open; students were invited to tear, cut, write passages from their poems to include in their collages. For many, this was a good introduction to the joys of gel medium. An 87 year-old artist came by to watch us work and share nuggets of wisdom on her birthday (yes, we sang to her).

The results are beautiful. We will finish and share next session. I shared my “self” objects and showed the progress I’d made assembling my base. After assigning “homework”, I had them pick out and claim their bases.

Next week, we will cover attachment techniques, which will be a great lead-in for the topic of Home/Family: Who are we “attached” to?

July 15

We began week 2 with a re-introduction of each other and the project. This helps me too, as I test myself on the participants’ names. I listed the various sites that post info about our projects, including Facebook and Twitter. The women trickled in at the start, but as the afternoon rolled on, 14 participants made it in.

We shared our poetry from last week, based on the reading “Where I’m From”. With a group this large, I don’t require everyone to share every single time, but try to fit as many as I can within a limited time frame. The stories that we did share, however, were great. I also decided that I’d have participants share their “Self” and “Family” objects as part of their work in progress each week, rather than by themselves. My hope is that participants can inspire one another, as well as gently remind each other (through their work) to stay on task.

I shared my own work in progress. I’d incorporated collage/decoupage onto my box, along with lines from my poem. I discussed my plans for my “Self” and “Family” objects, stressing the need to plan one’s design before committing to glue.

Next came Adhesives 101, a primer of the best joining methods for various types of materials, followed by a demonstration of acrylic gel transfers. After that, studio time! We’re finding that creativity cannot be confined, and the time seemed to fly by. Many participants took their bases home to work on.

A note to teaching artists: We sometimes find ourselves in the position of confidante, particularly when the artmaking may bring up rough memories for a participant. We know that art is good for catharsis and all; however, I encourage you to take care of yourselves as well, as some of those memories may be hard to bear. You may need to check in with your own support crew, take a hot bath, meditate, jog, chew some gum or whatever to help you unwind after class. I think of it as cleansing the psychic/spiritual palate in preparation for the next round.

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