By B.L. Wilson
Eleven young artists sat quietly in the brightly lit room at THEARC in Southeast Washington, studying their images in mirrors propped in front of them. Each student had the same assignment—create a self portrait.
Fifteen-year-old Amari Walton displayed a contorted facial expression as she explained that it wasn’t her favorite exercise.
“It looks way better now… the way it is supposed to be,” said Ms. Walton, who has been taking the portfolio development class at ArtReach for the last four years.
ArtReach, a community based arts program, has worked with young people ages 8 to 18 from communities around THEARC in Southeast D.C. for 27 years, but when one high school student’s application to art school was rejected, Melissa Green, the director of ArtReach and the Community Gallery at THEARC, said she realized students needed something more rigorous. So, she reached out to the George Washington University.
This led to the portfolio development class at THEARC. The class is a creation of a partnership between GW and ArtReach.
“The classes include critiques of work by the students,” said Ms. Green, describing the program that runs for seven sessions from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. “We have class discussions. There are different exercises and lots of different formal training. They learn about important artists and are exposed to different arts careers.”
That’s particularly important, Ms. Green said, because many parents are nervous about students pursuing careers in the arts.
Robert Yi, director of the GW Corcoran Arts Continuing Education Programs, described the class as a pathway toward college readiness and preparation since most art schools require a portfolio as part of the admissions process. Students must apply to get into ArtReach programs, and the process includes having teacher recommendations. In addition, ArtReach participants can apply for an ArtReach scholarship to attend a summer 2017 GW Pre-College Corcoran Arts program.
“It’s academically structured, there are certain academic requirements for portfolio development, mainly observational work,” Mr. Yi said. “We concentrate primarily on drawing and painting.”
Mr. Yi said teachers in the community have spoken to him about the challenges to providing this kind of opportunity. The fact that there is a free program is one reason they are happy to have it.
“STEM gets the focus of attention. Arts aren’t always appreciated,” he said.
Amari Walton uses her image from a mobile phone to create her self portrait. (GW Today)
This is Deyan Johnson’s first year in the portfolio development class. He’s proud of having contributed to an ArtReach mural in the community that he thinks will help people to face serious issues that need to be solved. He plans to one day own a sneaker customizing business that designs sneakers to individual consumer taste.
“I like the curriculum, the way it was set up for students like me who like art, who want to put it to the test,” said Mr. Johnson. In other words, he said, people can see what it is that you know and understand about art.
“That way people can see where you are,” he said, “and acknowledge it.”
On the recent Saturday morning, Lorenzo Cardim DeAlmeida, B.F.A. ’14, an ArtReach teacher, moved among the students offering pointers on the self-portraits.
“You’re looking down, so your eyes are not as wide open as you’ve made them,” he said to one. And to another: “Just get something down on the paper.”
“I have to adapt pretty quickly to their needs,” Mr. DeAlmeida said. “I need to individualize everybody’s needs. It’s 15, sometimes 11 students per class, so I have to find ways to reach each one of them and make sure they get enough attention.”
He pointed out 15-year-old Emmani Phillips-Quigley, who is using an image of herself on the phone instead of the mirror for her self-portrait. She has visions of living in Japan and working as an anime manga designer—a highly stylized animation in graphic novels. She already can see herself incorporating lessons on impressionism from the portfolio development class into her own style.
“There are things I already know I come across all the time,” said Ms. Phillips-Quigley, who has been attending ArtReach programs since she was 7.
“That’s how art is. You come across things that you have already learned. But each time I do it, I kind of, like, start fresh. I grew learning it. So it comes out different every time.”
Emmani Phillips-Quigley has attended ArtReach programs since she was 7 years old. (GW Today)
Deyan Johnson, in his first semester in the Portfolio Development program, says the sessions allow him "to put to the test" what he knows about art. (GW Today)
To get involved with ArtReach or get more information about the program contact Melissa Green at [email protected].