Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Walk In Your Shoes

I was lucky to work recently with at-risk high school students in a unique program at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center called Telling Your Own Story. In this after-school program Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity youth volunteers and students learned how to use their own personal experience in combination with visual art to produce autobiographical art works. The program was developed by the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, in collaboration with several non-profit organizations.

The students created artists books made from their own shoes, as an invitation to viewers to walk a mile in their shoes. Students were prompted to bring in shoes that had an interesting story behind them and painted, glued, stenciled and collaged images on them. They also created small accordion books with images from their stories.

I watched the students faces light up as storyteller and artist Ellouise Schoettler told her story of her visit to Egypt many years ago and held up the sandal that she wore. She later taught the students how to tell their own autobiographical stories. I brought in my Salsa shoes and talked about ways that I could decorate them with hot peppers and sequin and shared my stories about dancing.

At first the students seemed puzzled about exactly what we wanted them to achieve. Many of them hadn’t had much experience with art. Some of them struggled with words, since many spoke English as a second language. But after a few sessions we broke down many of the barriers and shyness and they freely shared aspects of their lives.

Posted in May, 2008