A New Understanding


In the Dorchester Reporter: http://www.dotnews.com/2016/first-responders-inspire-teen-portrait-artists

After tremendously positive responses to Living Art’s pilot program, “Opening Doors; A New Understanding,” another season of “Portraits, People and Places” will open new portals of communication between groups that the national media often portrays as adversarial. Last summer, 2015, 16 inner-city teens painted life-sized portraits of First Responders, using donated wooden doors instead of canvases.

Far more than a “how to” arts class, the program fosters personal growth and teaches professional strategies including values clarification, building self-esteem, work ethics and expectations.

This portraiture class evolved out of the simple idea of teaching teens self-awareness by painting full size self-portraits. The experience is life-changing for many students who learn to appreciate their body and gain confidence in their creativity. Students painted on doors because they are large, durable, easy to mount in exhibitions, and very inexpensive, often free. Displaying the pictures in public builds self awareness and confidence, gives students the opportunity to impact the world, and it has the added effect of stirring conversation in the larger community where the art was made. Through the process of painting their portraits, students think about who they are, and what they want to be.

The class has focused on various themes over the years. One year used Shakespeare’s plays for inspiration, and the students painted portraits of themselves as a character of their choice from a play. An African American Shakespearian actor spent a lot of time with the class, sharing his experience as a career artist, and inspiring conversations about how we cross cultural boundaries. The idea for that class arose out of a conversation, where it was found that the students in a previous class had never heard of Shakespeare. Themes of love, loyalty, infidelity and betrayal are perfectly suited to give teens a vocabulary to describe their struggles.

Another theme had students paint portraits of people that keep the community working. Local carpenters, plumbers, politicians, and people from all different career paths posed. Civic figures like Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Captain of Police in Dorchester, and Maureen Feeney all sat for their portraits.

Hundreds of portraits from the program have been exhibited at several branches of the Boston Public Library, including the main one in Copley Square; Mass Art; UMass Boston; Northeastern University; Harvard; and many other public places around the Boston area. Portraits along with artists’ statements from the last class lined the railings of the B2 Station in Dudley for 6 weeks before moving to various locations around Boston. Now, 100 portraits are permanently installed in the Dorchester District Court House.

2009 participant Elvys Rodriguez said, “I love this program because it’s the place I can come and express my imagination and creativity freely without being discouraged or told to put my sketchbook away. The program has challenged me to think differently and see things differently. . . . I hope this program lasts forever so that other aspiring artists can develop and show their skills. It has opened up a new world in the city that I’ve always lived in.”


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