Block party launches student exhibit at Arts@Large gallery

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Students from Escuela Vieau School, 823 S. 4th St., dance at the block party opening for the art exhibit. (Photo by Maggie Quick)

Students, parents and community members celebrated the opening of a student art exhibit called “Somos Uno, Somos Muchos” (We are One, We are Many) at a block party featuring dancing and face-painting outside the Arts@Large Gallery, 908 S. 5th St.

“Somos Uno” explores the many facets of Milwaukee’s Latino culture through artwork produced by students at Lincoln Avenue Elementary School, Allen-Field Elementary School, Escuela Vieau School and Grandview High School. The exhibit includes retablos (shadow boxes), masks, multimedia presentations and other art forms.

Arts@Large is a nonprofit organization that works with Milwaukee schools to integrate art into education.

“I think it’s great; [it] brings the community together,” said artist Gilberto Botello of the opening. “If it’s in a gallery maybe it feels like not everybody is invited. When it’s in the streets it feels like it’s for everybody.” Botello helped Allen-Field students create retablos that tell immigration stories for the exhibit.

Botello’s students had previously displayed their retablos and other works in a museum they created in their school library through an Arts@Large partnership with the Kid Curators program.

The “Somos Uno, Somos Muchos” exhibit features artwork by students from four local schools. (Photo by Maggie Quick)

Two teachers each from Lincoln Avenue, 1817 W. Lincoln Ave., and Allen-Field, 730 W. Lapham Blvd., along with other Milwaukee Public Schools teachers, were trained to guide students in creating their own museum through the partnership. Funding for the three-year program, which is now training its second cohort of teachers, comes from a professional development grant from the Department of Education.

“It teaches how to engage students on research, engage on writing and engage with interviewing,” said Kim Abler, art curriculum specialist for MPS and co-director of Arts@Large.

Allen-Field’s museum focused on “Immigration Through the Eyes of Children.” The students used interviewing and documentation techniques they learned from artists Adam Carr and Sonja Thomsen to create videos of family and community immigration stories, which can be viewed in the gallery. Other artwork by Allen-Field students featured in the exhibit includes a life-size immigration fence decorated with stories, photos and crosses representing student ties to the Mexico-United States border crossing.

The museum at Lincoln Avenue School explored the diversity of Milwaukee’s Latino culture through the study of Spanish-speaking countries and Hispanic artists, foods, music and celebrations. Visitors to “Somos Uno” can see an identity quilt students made with the help of artist Andrea Skyberg, as well as maps and books about the Latin countries represented by Milwaukee immigrants.

Abler and Linda D’Acquisto, Arts@Large professional development specialist, made sure to include pieces from both school museums in the exhibit. “We went to the [museum] openings and identified pieces that are being showcased here in a broader way in the community,” Abler said.

Abler said the museum program lets students lead. “They begin to take ownership,” she said. “It’s a little scary for teachers to not have all the answers … When you let the process really happen it makes a huge difference in how the kids are engaged.” D’Acquisto agreed that teachers must be willing to be a little uncomfortable at the beginning of the program.

“Some kids just blossomed when it came to the art,” said Allen-Field second-grade teacher Martha Lopez. “They ended up loving something they didn’t know they had skills in.” Lopez added that she is excited that her students’ work is reaching a larger audience in the Arts@Large gallery.

Lopez and third-grade teacher Germand Diaz focused their museum on immigration. Lopez said when they discussed the subject with students, they asked very simple questions that became the focus of their work: What is immigration? What are the challenges Latinos have? Why did Latinos come to Milwaukee? How do Latinos celebrate their culture? The students then explored the questions through their art.

“Somos Uno, Somos Muchos” runs through Oct. 4 at the Arts@Large gallery. The exhibit, along with more than 100 Milwaukee nonprofit arts organizations, is supported by art$upport.

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