In July and August 2017, Free Arts partnered with the Phoenix Art Museum on a Professional Artist Series program for unaccompanied minors. Free Arts Program Coordinator, Erina Meneses worked closely with the boys and the Art Museum on this project. She recalls the participants’ growth along the way.
Gathered together in the studio space of the Phoenix Art Museum, 8 boys ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old gathered. Most of the boys were from Guatemala; a couple from Honduras and one from Brazil. All having journeyed to this country in search of prosperity. Most of them spoke only Spanish and for others their primary language was a dialect from their country of origin. After the formal introductions from Free Arts and Phoenix Art Museum staff, teaching artist Emily Costello explained the project. The boys would be touring the museum and then creating landscapes and images of their homeland. They nodded in agreement and some of them slightly smiled, excited, and also overwhelmed.
That same night the boys were asked how many of them had visited a museum before and no one raised their hand. This was not only their first time at the incredible Phoenix Art Museum it was their first time at any museum. We provided a small sketch book and a pencil and asked them to take notes or draw anything that captured their attention during the tour. The nods of agreement continued. They seemed to enjoy the experience and, at times, asked questions about the artwork but their seriousness and calm demeanor had the team a little worried. We were not sure if the boys were going to want engage entirely in the project.
On day two of the seven sessions the boys decided what they were going to paint and, with the guidance of teaching artist Emily Costello, they started the sketches for their art pieces.
By the third session two more boys from a different shelter were welcomed to the group. The hard work continued and you could start to see the images and bright colors. They were smiling and talking a little more. The transformation was taking shape and they agreed to title their exhibit, El Alma de Mis Raices (the Soul of My Roots). Through their art they were able to connect with what they missed so dearly; their families, home, and culture.
On the second to last session we celebrated with a pizza party and a share-out of their experience. Lots of hands were raised to take a turn to talk and express their gratitude. Their big smiles reflected their resilience and confidence. They said they were excited and ready to share their art with the public at their opening exhibit.
The night of their final session they walked in to the beautiful gallery with the bright lights beaming on each of the canvases they had created and their eyes sparkled with pride. As true artists, they interacted with everyone who was there to celebrate their art and achievement. The quiet shy boys who used to only nod and grin a little were now the confident gentlemen, looking dapper in their ties, and courageously sharing about their experience with the Free Arts Professional Artist Series. They learned, they said that there is no mistakes in art!
This exhibit will be on display in the Phoenix Art Museum’s Wolfswinkel Education building gallery through November 15th. Please call the museum for dates and times.