I Love Libraries – Museum of Contemporary Art Miami Exhibition Opens THIS THUR, May 31

The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.                          Albert Einstein                                                       

I just spent a year as a ProjectArt resident teaching young kids in a wonderful, tiny, beat up, inner-city library. Here is what I learned. The public library remains one of our last optimistic spaces, a refuge of focus, exploration and escape, no matter your age, wealth, race or education level. 

All hail the nerds!

Each Wed and Thur afternoon, as I set up my art table with the week’s lesson, a group of studious coed teens sauntered in from Edison High across the street. Week after week, as I taught clay and mandalas to 8-yr-olds, I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing these not-quite-kids’ and their teenage interpersonal dynamics. Over spirited games of Uno, as they earnestly debated the merits of various Superheroes, they also navigated obvious crushes with telltale touches on an arm or shoulder. They argued playfully about various video games and dug into meaty topics with a genuine hunger to know the truth, ie. “are we born gay or is it learned?”

Living the library dream!
Wannabe nerd!

Watching their camaraderie and the unmistakable smack-talking affection of friends-for-life filled my chest and gave me hope. I worked so hard at being a cool kid in high school, when I’m really a bookish nerd deep down. Could I do it all again, I’d far prefer to have hung out in the library with these goofballs, debating history and pop culture instead of wasting time and getting high. No tough guys here. No players. Just kind-hearted, smart kids trying to be normal, happy people in a world stacked against them as young black men and women. I’d love to hug their parents for instilling such basic decency and hope my wife and I succeed likewise with our kids.

The Best Words, 2018. Created in a public library.
The Best Words, 2018. Created in a public library.

Another unique aspect of my ProjectArt residency was that each of the eight Miami artists were tasked with making work IN the library. We had no limitations other than responding to the library environment. Come out to MOCA THIS THURSDAY to see what each talented creator conjured up in his or her spot. The works will be exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami from 6-8pm – On view May 31 – June 3, 2018.

ProjectArt Article May 2018

I’m not going to rant about how America is becoming dumber, fatter and less tolerant as our right brains wither into brittle bitter fossils. But I do urge you to read this wonderful article above, A Response to Creativity Crisis, for a lovely take on how ProjectArt, currently in six cities, is part of the solution. Or just look at the face of my student below.  

Mandala class for ProjectArt
Mandala class for ProjectArt

And while you’re reading articles, check out this terrific piece titled, From dystopia to utopia and back with Stuart Sheldon, chronicling my Fall 2017 London exhibition and my Art Basel 2017 installation, LUSH at Fancy Nasty Studios. London based writer, Fiona Doyle, really captures the essence of these recent epic endeavors. 

LUSH at Fancy Nasty Studios
LUSH at Fancy Nasty Studios, Art Basel Miami 2017

Hope to see you at MOCA this week or at a library somewhere soon. 

Paint A School, Save The World

Amazing wall by Melbourne artist Adnate. Photo by Sean R. Sullivan
This amazing wall by Melbourne artist Adnate typifies the dreary public middle school’s transformation. Photo by Sean R. Sullivan

“Our school used to look like a prison. Now it looks like a place I want to come to everyday,” a shining 13-year old girl told Miami’s Jose de Diego Middle School’s rookie principal, April Thompson-Williams. Like so many inner city schools, JdD was a sprawling, windowless bunker before one of its teachers had the brilliant yet simple idea to reach out to local artists. 

Before
Before
After
After. The delicious work of Douglas Hoekzema, aka Hoxxoh.

In just a few days, twenty-plus huge walls went from big blank barriers to mesmerizing portals. Now, says principal Thompson, the 700 students consider the space “sacred.”

Nothing like this existed at the mass of sour yellow boxes that was my public middle school, and we were located in a leafy suburb. Our grounds were beat up and adequate at best, certainly not inspiring. Sacred? Yeah, right.  Now, at JdD, a pent-up enthusiasm has been released in an underserved student population, where 96% receive subsidized lunch and where, like so many schools across the country, budgetary cuts have removed art and music programs. There is a new “calmness, where students feel the need to behave out of respect for the art,” Thompson said. “Because they were there to bear witness to these works from beginning to end. And they feel a responsibility to protect the work and tell the story.”

WHAT IF WE EACH DID THIS WITH ONE INNER-CITY SCHOOL IN OUR OWN COMMUNITY?

Whimsical Norwegian artist Martin Whatson brought two new stencil works, including this interior piece called “Dancer” to the Raw Project at the Jose De Diego Middle School.
Whimsical Norwegian artist Martin Whatson brought two new stencil works, including this interior piece called “Dancer”

JdD sits adjacent to the Wynwood Arts District, a darling of the international contemporary art scene. Still, as is so often the case, the working class neighborhoods nearby saw little to none of the creative and financial influx happening a few blocks away. So, JdD joined forces with the local business association and together, they succeeded in bringing both killer local and world renowned street artists to the school, all of whom graciously donated their works. Next, they aim to support the creation of a permanent arts and music magnet program at JdD. If the government can’t do it, passionate citizens can. They are seeking donations of any size, and I urge you to support them here.

One 7th-grader said it all, “Now that they came, they made our lives better. It makes us want to come to school.” America’s (and the world’s) excellence is predicated on kids who want to come to school.

Giddy students line up in the hallway. Photo by Walter Michot, Miami Herald staff
Giddy students line up for class in the hallway. Photo by Walter Michot, Miami Herald staff

Each class was assigned to a different artist and was engaged in that artist’s process from inception to completion.

Each class was assigned to an artist. Chrome Dog by Puerto Rican street artist Bikismo.
Chrome Dog by Puerto Rican street artist Bikism
Chrome Dog by Puerto Rican street artist Bikism

The work is fierce and brutally honest, as fine art should be. It conveys deep and dark truths far more effectively than words ever could. When I was 12, I knew nothing of the power of art and its secrets. For me, art was trying (in vain) to keep my fro perfectly round. 

Fro

The students gathered and patiently watched the works slowly unfold and reveal their potent messages … about isolation and hope and fear and fantasy. 

Up and coming superstar, Santiago Rubino from Spinello Projects
Up and coming superstar, Santiago Rubino from Spinello Projects

More and more kids now walk around with sketchbooks, sitting between classes and drawing. “When can I paint? Will you give me free time so I can paint?” one 6th-grader asked the principal.

The fuse is lit!

Shark Eating the Kids at the entrance
Artist like Toof AND the school showed enormous boldness, exemplified by this Great White shark devouring the kids as they enter. The metaphors are endless!

“Keeping it 100,” is high praise in teen slang. It means to to be honest and stick to the way you are, no matter what any one else thinks. This was how the students described the artists. Can you think of a finer example for impressionable teens in the face of the frenetic and superficial world they occupy?

Suck Face by British star DFace
Suck Face by British star DFace

Much respect goes not just to the mind-blowing artists but to the young school principal and the public school system for allowing such no-hold-barred images to attack their barren walls.

photo courtesy of Walter Michot, Miami Herald Staff
The label on the dunce cap reads ARTIST in this masterpiece by French genius MTO. 

The sad truth is that our public schools are crumbling, physically and academically. With some paint and the magic of visionary artists, we can begin to bring some of the lost sparkle back to our kids’ learning environments.

Schools don't need to look like this. Find local artists in YOUR TOWN and set them free on these walls. EVERYBODY WINS!
Schools don’t need to look like this.

I am a co-founder of a non-profit called Build Crew, devoted to bringing large-scale public art into our lives. Email me to help bring the magic of large artworks to more underserved schools across America.

The Irish street artist Fin DAC depicts his signature Asian ladies.
The Irish street artist Fin DAC depicts his signature Asian ladies.

Let’s find local artists in YOUR TOWN and set them free on your kids’ walls … and hearts!