Taking Snapshots 

Alternative students share their lives through art

The exhibit is called "Snapshots," but photos aren't all that students are using to document their lives. Students will show the community exactly what they can create from deconstructed Barbie dolls, photography and more at the April 27 opening of "Snapshots: Lives in Transition."

Stewart Gallery hosts the exhibition that features artwork by students at the Work and Learn School. A secondary school for at-risk youth, Work and Learn teams with local artists on an annual basis to help students create multi-media art projects that explore students' lives through photography, words and various artistic elements.

This year, Eve Marie Bergren, Todd Newman and Jessye White taught students about everything from marionettes to shrines. After Bingo Barnes instructed students about the elements of photography, they incorporated photos and text from journal entries into each piece. Each project was designed to help students examine their lives and emotions through art.

The artists each created a theme for students to use in their project. Newman showed students how to make hand-painted photographs and construct marionettes from found objects using a "what makes me angry" theme. Pieces vary from anger toward authority to anger toward family members.

White, who is also a teacher at Work and Learn, helped students create shrines made out of cigar boxes, exploring the theme of "where I am from." Students incorporated poetry; one project varies from statements like "I am from BBQ ribs in the kitchen" to "I am a child from hell." White said shrines are so personal because it is about the artist's past. "It tells a lot of where they've been and who they are," she told BW.

Bergren taught students how to apply photographs, text and encaustic to glass with the theme of "water and cleansing." Bergren said, "Wax is really unusual for them because they're used to just putting stuff on paper." Students had to get used to the idea, she said, because "Sometimes to get what you want you have to take away, and that's a really hard concept."

Overall, Bergren said, "It's taught me a lot about working with teenagers." The stereotypes that often surround at-risk youth aren't necessarily the truth, Bergren said. "They're constantly surprising me," she added.

The show is juried, so there is no guarantee that a student will get a piece in the exhibit. However, Bergren also helped students with one group project: panels that will be hung together and show the theme of "what lifts you up." Ranging from subjects like parents, music and skateboarding, the piece incorporates every student who participated in the "Snapshots" project.

The project itself began five years ago, as a collaboration between Karen Passey, a teacher at Work and Learn, and Boise Art Museum. Passey said the final projects often surprise even the students. "They see each other's work in another way and come to appreciate what their peers have done," Passey said. "It's a wonderful thing." When students attend the gallery opening, Passey added, they are amazed at what they have accomplished. Passey said it isn't until they see their artwork in the gallery that they realize they are capable of creating art. The past four exhibits have been successes, Passey said, and "Every year the gallery is packed with people. It's not just parents or probation officers."

Part of the reason the exhibit is always so rewarding, Passey said, is Stewart Gallery. "It really does make a difference that the students have a venue for their work that is so beautiful," she said.

Stephanie Wilde, artistic director for Stewart Gallery, jumped at the chance to help the "Snapshots" project during its beginning stages. "It's really nice for me to see how the arts give these students a vehicle for expression," she said. "Every year it gets better and better." While community members do attend the opening, Wilde said, "I feel as though I'd like to see the community come out in a bigger way." The students surprise the community as much as their art does, Wilde said, because of their attitudes. "I go over and tell them how I expect them to conduct themselves," Wilde said. Passey said each year she's pleased at the way students behave and think it helps reverse the stereotypes that exist with at-risk youth.

All of the artists and teachers involved said the best part of the exhibit is seeing how students are so willing to share their stories. Whatever their history, students are often willing to put it out in the open through their artwork. One student said, "It makes you think. I had to bring up everything and put it down on a project." Subjects like drug use and family problems are let out in the open through the artwork, and often provide a type of healing for the students. "They run the whole spectrum. Some are just heartbreaking," Passey said.

The "Snapshots" project is funded through an Arts Powered Learning Grant from the Idaho Commission on the Arts and the Boise School District.

Work and Learn is run by the Boise School District, Ada County Juvenile Courts and Hays Shelter to help alternative students earn high school credits or work for a GED.

An opening reception will be held April 27 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Stewart Gallery (2212 W. Main St.), with a presentation at 6:30 p.m.

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