Middle school art is on the rise

It was only a few years ago when I could take my art classes on a walking field trip to the Downey Museum of Art at Furman Park for what turned out to be a great opportunity for students to experience local art in their very own backyard. Taking my students to view art, enjoy lunch in the park and then create a drawing or painting inspired by the artwork that the students just viewed was an excellent real life connection to what they were learning in class. My name is Ed Plant and I have taught Art for nearly 19 years at Griffiths Middle School in Downey. Those walking trips were unfortunately short lived when the Downey Museum of Art shut its doors several years ago and thus closed off many students from the chance to view, exhibit and appreciate local art until . . . . . NOW.

A new day has dawned on the Visual Arts scene for the students of Downey Unified with the impact that Stay Gallery is having in our schools. If you are not aware, both high schools have clubs that support, plan and produce excellent opportunities for their students to connect with the downtown art space. Stay has hosted art and photo exhibitions, musical performances and spirited eating contests between the rival schools. As well as created opportunities for high schoolers to work in the areas of art curation, program development and mentorship.

Besides the work with the high schools, the Stay Young initiative sponsored by Stay Gallery is working to bring every third grader from the Downey schools to see and create art at the gallery. Those students also have the opportunity to view civic and community pride in the new Downey Doodle-licious mural.

With all that said, the thing I am most excited about is the connection being made by Stay Gallery and our four awesome middle schools. In fact, hundreds of 11-14 year olds just featured their artwork at Stay Gallery re-envisioning the seal of the Downey Unified School District.

It was pure joy to watch the faces of the students and their parents light up with pride as they saw their artwork displayed in the real gallery. Many of students were able to attend the opening night, which featured dignitaries of the city of Downey along with DUSD. The students were especially proud of their schools as well and took pictures with the large mascot murals that were painted by students from the different middle schools.

Many of the parents we spoke to have driven by the gallery many times but never stopped in. This amazing exhibition of over 100 student entries not only drew people to visit the gallery but also the newly revitalized Downtown Downey area. For someone that has lived and worked in Downey all of his life, to witness the transformation of our downtown area to feature art, culture, food and nightlife is quite exciting.

Speaking on behalf of the three other middle school art teachers and myself, we are extremely grateful that Stay Gallery values the need for the visual arts in education and is tirelessly working to help fill a void in many of our schools. Is was especially rewarding to see many of our past students who are working, volunteering or supporting the efforts of the Stay Gallery.

In addition, the vision of Stay Gallery will continue to be a large part of the creative cultural shift in Downtown Downey with the implementation of their Stay Young Initiative and the inclusion of our DUSD students. I look forward to partnering with Stay Gallery to launch an after-school arts program for 11-14 years olds, add another mural downtown and a greater presence of the visual arts in our classrooms.

Ed Plant is a Griffiths Middle School art teacher.

 

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Published: May 14, 2015 - Volume 14 - Issue 05