Middle school students get a lesson in art and civil rights
MIDDLEBURY — Spray graffiti on a wall at school, and you’re apt to get a trip to the principal’s office. Instead of picking up a hockey stick for practice after school, you’ll be picking up a brush and some suds to scrub off your ill-advised doodling.
Unless you attend art class at Middlebury Union Middle School, where around 20 students in Lisa Maggio’s after-school Art Club picked up magic markers, aerosol cans other paint-based products to craft a depiction of legendary civil rights activist Rosa Parks on a section of the wall at the MUMS front entrance.
And they had some great help and guidance in their artistic endeavor. Renowned graffiti artist Will “Kasso” Condry, the former Alexander Twilight Artist-in-Residence at Middlebury College, gave the students pointers as they mapped out the Rosa Parks design and began bringing it to two-dimensional life. Condry is currently teaching a January Winter Term class called “The Origins and Politics of Graffiti and Street Art.”
Several Middlebury College students also lent their considerable talents to the MUMS project, taking turns applying colors with their younger protégés.
It was multi-age, multi-cultural collaboration in creativity that transcended art and provided a real-life lesson in diversity, as well as a celebration of Parks, a towering figure in American history. The African American woman’s refusal to give up a seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. in 1955 was a major milestone in the civil rights movement in the U.S.
“Graffiti, street art, aerosol art — these are art forms that cater to youth, because it’s an art form that has been primarily produced by youth,” Condry said. “To be able to teach it at a collegiate level, I’m honored. It’s always been a dream of mine.”
Condry was very pleased to see the MUMS and college students working together on the project.
“We’re doing it as a community,” he said. “I’m the lead designer, but everyone has a piece of this wall.”
Condry is a Trenton, N.J., native who now lives in Middlebury, where he continues to thrive as an artist and educator. He is considered the godfather of the Trenton art scene and Kasso continues to promote and produce graffiti-inspired art throughout the Northeast and the West Coast. He has created many hundreds of murals and drawings on walls and structures, and is considered a master of the art of aerosol painting.
Area residents might have seen an example of his work at the Bristol Hub and Skate Park.
He and his students offered to do a joint mural project with MUMS art students, and Maggio thought it was a great idea. The MUMS students had practiced some graffiti in October, so the Condry visit provided a nice tie-in.
Maggio believes the mural work will help her students “see how far art can go, what a movement it can make and what kind of inspiration it can provide for everyone who walks through that (MUMS) front door. Everyone who comes into MUMS is going to see that mural.”
Bit by bit, the majestic profile image of Rosa Parks began to take shape as the students worked on the mural late Tuesday afternoon. The image was picked from a historic photo of Parks, seated in a bus, gazing out a window. Students carefully colored in her crimson hat and green dress. All were encouraged to write words on the mural that defined Parks’ spirit and that of the civil rights movement. “Love each other,” “community” and “bold” were among the words used.
Students thoroughly enjoyed the assignment.
Maleka Stewart, a Middlebury College student, jovially confessed a lack of artistic aptitude. But she was there to give it a try, to listen and to learn. Stewart, a junior, hails from New York and has thus seen a lot of graffiti-emblazoned facades in urban settings.
She’s always wanted to learn more about graffiti writers, and the J-term class is helping her do that. And Stewart believes Tuesday’s event at MUMS was about empowerment.
“One of the biggest takeaways I’ve gotten from this class is … this urge to follow your passions and your dreams — and not be fearful of people’s perceptions of you doing so,” Stewart said. “Regardless of what you desire and what you seek to fulfill, there will always be people who kind of prompt you not to do so.”
Carly Browdy is a MUMS 8th-grader and student in Maggio’s art class. Her mom and other family members are artists, so she is understandably interested in the creative process.
“I think it’s really cool. I mean, painting on a wall — you don’t really get that opportunity,” she said. “I love murals and have wanted to do one for a very long time.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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