In the Classroom: Our New Teaching Artists

News • Urban Gateways News

In the Classroom is a new monthly feature created to take you inside a different Chicago-area classroom, introduce you to the Urban Gateways Teaching Artist who is working there, and share with you the experiences of the teaching artist and their students.

This month, we want you to meet three of Urban Gateways newest teaching artists! Each year, we welcome a handful of new teaching artists to our roster. After a rigorous application and interview process, a select few are asked to participate in professional development, as well as a provisional residency in the fall. Depending on the outcome of those short-term residencies, the teaching artists are then asked to officially join Urban Gateways roster.

We have some incredible new teaching artists this year. Below is a look inside three provisional residencies led by visual artist Jillian Gryzlak, media artist Hondo Lawrence, and media artist Jesse Avina. And definitely check out the photo slideshow of the residencies, as well.

Jillian Gryzlak – A Place for Everyone in the World

The first graders at CICS Loomis were already learning about the mapping of physical space, when Jillian arrived for her month-long residency entitled A Place for Everyone in the World. She wanted to take the idea of mapping one step further by exploring the mapping of an abstract thought or emotion. Through brainstorming, writing exercises and games, Jillian and the students examined how they react emotionally to their world, specifically exploring questions like:

  • What is the definition of emotion?
  • Are you aware when you shift from one emotion to another?
  • How can we symbolize emotion with color and line?

The students then created buildings that symbolized the emotions they had explored, and finally laid them all out together in an emotional city. “A main highlight of this residency was learning that one student, who rarely shares his thoughts and work, due to having difficulty in many subjects, was one of the students raising his hand to answer every question and share his artwork at every chance. He felt comfortable and confident while making art and creatively writing, I am so happy that he found this confidence within himself and hope he continues to make art and find the confidence in other subjects”. Hondo Lawrence – Universal Declaration of Human Rights Posters For his residency, Hondo Lawrence worked with seniors at Perspectives High School of Technology. The residency was inspired by Woody Pirtle’s Poster Series for Amnesty International, which is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights developed by the U.N. In his research, Hondo discovered that the U.N. declaration was intended for school students and decided that the posters would be a perfect way to introduce students to human rights and to support students in creating their own Human Rights Poster. For their posters, Hondo invited the students to use original drawings and photographs, as well as to create their own images using Adobe Photoshop. And while they were free to explore images, color and layout, Hondo prompted them to all use the same font to unify the posters. After the posters were complete, students participated in group critiques based on graphic design elements and discussion about the human rights themes from the posters. The students then shared their posters with their peers by displaying them at the school. Most students were very enthusiastic, and the teacher was really into the whole curriculum. I loved the posters and how the students conquered their imagination and asserted themselves within Photoshop, which has many buttons and tools. When I looked in their eyes I saw respect and admiration. I feel that they saw within me a gift or certain skills that they wanted to possess and trusted me that I could provide them with the same. Many of them were already artists and just never really had that sort of push or guidance to create such a project. Jesse Avina – Listen to me… I want to tell you something When Jesse Avina met with Erin Kerrigan, a teacher at Perspective Calumet High School of Technology, she said her eleventh-grade students were interested in talking about violence, particularly the sort they encounter every day in their neighborhoods. As Jesse has also dealt with violence as a theme in his artwork, he considered this an excellent opportunity to expand upon his own investigations and introduce the students to artwork that does the same. Through writing exercises, Jesse and the students explored, discovered and shared the issues and problems that were immediately and directly affecting them as individuals. These topics ranged from racism and teen pregnancy to global warming and mass consumerism. In the end, each student created a short video that served as a proclamation of his or her concerns, worries, and frustrations that are not addressed by mass media outlets. Jesse and the classroom teacher then met with each student to discuss the message and its effectiveness, and offered suggestions for future explorations on the topic. Students also gathered in small groups to view each other’s completed work. My favorite question was posed to me within the first ten minutes of the first class. “I am an artist.” I said. “Yeah, but what do you really do?” asked a student. “Well, I make art.” I replied “But what is that?” she asked. “Uh…” I replied. I answered the question after a momentary pause, but I was caught off guard by her confusion as to the role of a contemporary artist. This was very refreshing in a way; I mean there is starting with a clean slate and then there is starting without a blackboard at all. This question came at the beginning of the residency and allowed me to approach teaching the concepts and themes of the course in a straightforward manner that did not make presumptions on their exposure to video art. As a result the students showed no hesitancy in asking questions or expressing their opinions on the art pieces we viewed.