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The Sculpture Project.


AS AN ARTIST WHO ALSO TEACHES, I'M OFTEN REMINDED of the difference between being an art student and being an artist. There are so many things that artists have access to that most students do not: a real studio to work in, large chunks of uninterrupted work time, a wide variety of available materials and public exhibition space. For most students, this difference may be acceptable but talented and mature art students need more than we can give them with a fifty-minute, thirty-student art class. How can we give our talented art students the experience of being artists? My answer to this question was "The Sculpture Project."

The Sculpture Project was, in a sense, a sculpture honors class for talented high school students. It was also an independent project, which I conducted as artist-in-residence at INSTALLATION, an "alternative" gallery in downtown San Diego, and as an artist-in-residence in the San Diego City Schools Fine Arts Unit. It gave ten students from three high schools in San Diego the chance to design, build and publicly display large works of sculpture. The eleven of us worked together for three months--after school and on weekends--for an average of fifteen hours a week.

So there we were, ten young artists and one artist/teacher, in a bare section of a cavernous gallery, with electrical outlets, a sink, some folding chairs, enough grant money for materials and tools, and the desire to make and show big, exciting sculptures. There were five young women and five young men, with varied social and ethnic backgrounds, all recommended by their art teachers as motivated, talented and interested in the project. My aim was to work with them as a facilitator, a materials provider and a technical consultant. I wanted to teach them some of what I know about making large sculptures, help them build works of their own design and exhibit these works in public spaces around the city of San Diego.

We started by showing each other our work to date, and talking about our interests. We discussed what we knew about sculpture in general, and experimented with quickly made "junk" sculptures on various themes. Next, students made small models and life-sized drawings of the sculptures they planned to build. We used these to work out conceptual and physical problems--what was the sculpture about, how was it to be fabricated, and how could it be improved? Finally, after three weeks of conceptualizing and discussing, we began actually building the sculptures.

In theory, the group could build their sculptures out of anything at all. In practice, we wanted to build large works (some over eight feet tall) in a relatively short amount of time, and within a price-range commensurate with our funding. Because of this, eight of the artists began working with plaster or cloth-mache on a wire mesh and wood skeleton, while two of them worked with plywood and cardboard.

As days passed and our project progressed, what had been a bare work space became packed with objects and activity. A radio played in the background, joined by a cacophony of sawing, hammering, ripping, rasping and animated conversation ranging from the silly to the philosophical--in other words, the normal sounds of an artist's studio times ten. As the sculptures grew, our work space became tighter and tighter, and we became adept at stepping quickly through a veritable forest of white forms, from sculpture to sculpture, over what sometimes looked to me like dunes of plaster dust.

As our opening date approached, the artists who had finished their work early helped the new who were behind by cutting strips of cheesecloth, rasping the plaster forms smooth, painting base coats, and so on. And when I wasn't helping to smooth over the last cracks, I was busy on the phone, ironing out the many problems associated with transporting and exhibiting the sculptures.

Many of these sculptures were far more ambitious than initially imagined, and I think it amazed all of us that everyone finished their work on time. But finish they did, and on a Saturday in late April we laboriously muscled the ten works onto an enormous flat-bed truck, tied them down securely, and slowly rolled off to install sculptures in a theatre, a bank lobby, a private gallery space and a community college building. The sculptures were exhibited at these sites for about a month. Following this, we exhibited them formally at the gallery where we had begun the project three months earlier.

At the final meeting with students and their parents, I showed slides of our progress from start to finish, and we wrote down some of our feelings about what we had done. Although we all agreed it had taken a great deal of time and energy, each of us was enormously positive about the project. Solomon wrote that "every student should have the experience of building (a) sculpture from the ground up." Kim said she most like "the proud mother type feeling that I got from creating the offspring of my mind." Melinda appreciated being given the "individual freedom to do-...something totally original." And Adisak wrote, "Let's do it again!"

I agree. What these responses tell me--as well as the responses of parents, teachers, administrators and all the people who saw the sculptures exhibited--is what we succeeded in our goal. The Sculpture Project gave these ten students the chance to work and create as "real" artists. In the process we worked hard, we made friends, and we learned a lot about making art.

PHOTO : The Sculpture Project was funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and COMBO (a San Diego arts support organization), matching funds from the San Diego City Schools Fine Arts Program and an Artist in the Community grant from the California Arts Council. Kay Wagner, the director of Fine Arts Programming for San Diego City Schools, was of much help in organizing the project, as was the staff at INSTALLATION.

PHOTO : Roberto Aguilera at work on wire armature for "Unknown Knowledge."

PHOTO : Exhibition view (from left to right): "Master?" by Kim Pinkney, "Mr. Buffalo and Me" by Adisak Sae-Hor and "Progress!" by Tod O' Daniel.

PHOTO : Exhibition view (from left to right): "Untitled" by Renee Garcia, "That Was Then, This Is Now" by Sheila Smith, "Unknown Knowledge" by Roberto Aguilera, "Mr. Buffalo and Me" by Adisak Sae-Hor, "Master?" by Kim Pinkney and "Progress!" by Tod O' Daniel.
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Title Annotation:San Diego high school art honors program
Author:Keevil, David
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Previous Article:BASIC: a model partnership for art education.
Next Article:A looking and making collaboration.

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