Education Assistant Davinna Barkers-Woode shares her experience helping facilitate a school partnership with Washington School for Girls which culminated in an exhibition.
Working with the Washington School for Girls this past June allowed the Phillips Education Department to expand on the ideas presented in our recent Lou Stovall exhibition. The exhibition centered on themes of community, collaboration, accessibility within the arts, experimentation, and calls for social change. When we merge these concepts with a real-life application we can uncover what these concepts mean in our reality. With Art + Music: More Than a Feeling, we focused on Stovall’s love of community: he stayed connected to his community through creating music festival posters that would hang in the streets of D.C. Musicians, artists, and activists for Black liberation often worked with each other to host these festivals and donate a portion of the proceeds back into the community—emphasizing the cyclical nature that goes into sustaining a community.
Looking at these music festival posters featured in Stovall’s exhibition, color, shape, rhythm, and repetition are emphasized. We encouraged the students to listen to their favorite songs and explore how these musicians use rhythm, repetition, tone, and mood. They also looked closely at their song lyrics and underlined any repeating words or phrases that stood out to them. With these elements in mind, the students began to sketch their ideas for their print. Many of them were clever enough to translate the sonic aspects of their songs into different shapes to create a visual language.
The cutout shapes allowed them to explore many possibilities with the composition. Many took advantage of layering their cutouts, creating more dynamism within their print. Next, they brushed their cutouts with a thin layer of glue and let them dry completely before arranging them one last time on their inking plates.
Watching the students cover their inking plates and shapes with all these crazy colors would be a nightmare for some. Still, I found it fascinating to see how confident they were in their decision-making and their ability to capture their song’s mood visually through color. With the help of teaching artist Gail-Shaw Clemons, students sent their inking plates through the printing press and were able to carefully remove their prints and reveal their final results. Each student had the opportunity to write their own wall text that accompanied their finished print in the exhibition, which gave them a chance to reflect and articulate the reasoning for how they depicted their song.
Showing the students the possibilities with printmaking made way for understanding that artmaking does not have to be reserved for traditional mediums like painting. If you have a message, find whatever means to communicate it best. Also, experimentation shouldn’t be scary or something we should try and avoid. You never know the possibilities that will come from thinking outside the box and trying something new. Lastly, we created an atmosphere invested in the students’ self-expression and honored them as individuals to make their own decisions. As educators, we came together with our various skill sets and bonded over this common goal—we created a community that desired to uphold the students’ visions.
Critical engagement with artists and their work elevates their contributions and allows us to explore contemporary issues and new perspectives. Keeping this objective at the forefront of our school partnerships has made us cultivate youth activities that nurture their foundation with love, respect, and compassion, while providing them with the tools necessary to build on the work of influential artists in personally relevant ways.