Holding Chicago High with Mosaics

Residency • Visual Arts

An ambitious art project proved the perfect opportunity for students at Southside Occupational Academy to flex their creativity. Over the course of two residencies at the school from 2015-2016 (Southside’s first visual arts program!), teaching artist Jesse Avina crafted lessons that were educational, hands on, and that particularly supported the students’ unique abilities.

Southside Occupational is an educational “transition center” between high school and the workforce where students with disabilities are supported in exploring their strengths and developing their work skills. Jesse chose to create lessons and projects about abstract art, as he favored its open acceptance and felt that it allowed the students to express their creativity more freely. The students completed projects based on the styles of Ad Reinhardt, Jackson Pollock, and Keith Haring.

Jesse’s last project for the students was an ambitious 8 foot by 20 foot mosaic mural for display in Southside Occupational’s hallway. The Keith Haring-inspired design features people of different colors – including a person in a wheelchair – holding up the Chicago skyline. Students participated in every stage of the mosaic-making process, including cutting and laying tile. This beautiful piece is now permanently installed in the school hallway as a lasting reminder of the students’ hard work and incredible skills, and as a symbol of the values of unity, diversity, empowerment, and acceptance that the students at Southside Occupational Academy embody. 

Read more about Jesse’s residencies at Southside Occupational on our blog!