A little corner of George Washington University was lit in a mid-December evening by the lights beaming from the crowded Corcoran School of the Arts and Design’s Gallery 102 where elementary, middle and high school students presented the creations of 10 weeks in the ArtReach program: portraits, still lifes, computer animation characters, polished digital architectural designs and models. The exhibition closed Jan. 5.
Quinton Burns, a first-year student at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, contemplated his various experiments with painting that were on display in the gallery, the layering of brush strokes in green, splashes of color with mixed media on another and a sharply outlined cartoon figure on another.
“I draw mostly when I’m at home. When I have access to canvases I paint,” Burns said. “I got motivated to learn more about values and stuff,” said Burns pointing to a painting done by another student in which depth was created by shading that he wants to figure out. “The class is a good way to learn different techniques to make your art better.”
ArtReach GW is a community-based arts program offering arts education to students, families and community members who live in the District of Columbia’s wards 7 and 8 and surrounding areas. More than 79 students participated last semester, and as many as 334 youth and their families are involved in ArtReach programs.
Seventh grader Savannah Robinson sat with her parents, Charrise and George, in front of a pointillism still life created, Savannah said, by “putting dots on a paper with different colored pens.” Her mother said the program has been great for her, “in helping her to express herself.”
Honey W. Nashman Center of Civic Engagement and Public Service Executive Director Amy Cohen said ArtReach continues a tradition started by the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Design to bring fine professional arts to communities east of the Anacostia River, and GW hopes to build a stronger partnership with the Corcoran School in the future.
Iyana Benjamin, an 18-year-old home-schooled senior, was at first a little skeptical about ArtReach. “It’s been a lot of fun,” she said, standing in front of a professional-looking portrait and still life. Last semester, she learned about quick drawing and “not [spending] too much time with tiny details to keep the art looking cohesive.”
Her heart is really into architecture, and she showed off computer-generated designs for a Library Café at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Northeast D.C. that is part of a digital design course exploring the intersection between community and design.
“People come for the lotus that bloom once a year, but the rest of the year it is empty,” she said. “I want to create something like a library café type thing to go to all year round to attract more people.”
Benjamin’s mother, Angela Benjamin, is part of a community of home school parents that tap into ArtReach to supplement their academic programs.
“We want them to have a trade, artistically, and be able to generate their own resources as well as understand that there has to be a balance with academics,” she said. “During the pandemic, we gave Iyana all the tools she needed so she could just use that as her outlet because that was a very stressful time for all of our teens.”
The ArtReach architecture classes are among several offered in partnership with the Washington Architectural Foundation and taught by volunteers from architectural firms. Other courses, taught by local professional artists, include Digital Design and Portfolio Development, which helps ArtReach students to prepare the professional portfolio required to apply to art and design colleges.
Eva Owen, a senior at Thomas Edison High School in Alexandria, took the design class online and came into the city on weekends for the portfolio development class and is relying on it to create a portfolio to submit to colleges.
“They require an art thesis, and I had never taken an art class at school,” she said. “It’s really nice they’re reaching out to different communities to get kids more immersed in what they want to do when they go to college.”
Aselin Flowers started as a volunteer at ArtReach when she was a student the Corcoran School and has been its director for more than five years. Introducing Flowers to the cheering crowd at the gallery, Cohen said, “Without her, we would not have this vibrant fabulous program. She has brought all her creativity, her energy, her power, her kindness and arts knowledge to this program.”
Flowers in turn credited the students for keeping her motivated and pushing for programs like these. “You are brilliant. You matter,” she said. “It’s like seeing myself in your faces and being able to support you as you learn and grow and develop, it’s just such a pleasure. It makes me a little bit emotional now… to see your young faces.”
She said she hopes the exhibition gives more visibility to the program and brings in more of the GW community including faculty and more students to become involved to build deeper learning experiences for kids, in areas of the city that need it.
More than 150 parents and children registered for the opening, and from all appearances, they showed up.