Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Two Area Teens Win Spots in NEA Grant-Funded "Art in Urban Environments" Festival in Easton This Summer

Shayna King of Easton Area High School and 
Amanda Jimenez of Phillipsburg High School

Posted by: Noël Jones

At the recent groundbreaking of the Karl Stirner Arts Trail, I met two teenagers from our area, whom the Mayor had announced were going to be exhibiting in the "Art in Urban Environments" festival happening in Easton this spring through summer. The festival is funded by an NEA grant that the City of Easton and Lafayette College teamed up to win last year, totally $200,000. Eventually, the call went out to the

international arts community for submissions. 

Shayna King, of Easton, and Amanda Jimenez of Phillipsburg were encouraged to enter a submission, along with other students taking part in The Lafayette Experience, part of Lafayette's Community-Based Teaching Program (CBTP), through which high school kids get to take art classes at the college, under the direction of Jim Toia, an artist and art professor at Lafayette. 

They did, and to their surprise, their projects were two of the 20 selected, among 75 artists who applied from all over the world. Now the fun begins.

King's piece, "The Nest," will be a large metal woven structure, "with grapevines interwoven into the metal," at which point she will begin working in bits of yarn and rags, "like what a bird would take to contribute to a nest." She will be watching over the exhibit on certain days throughout the festival, inviting people from the community to bring their own bits of fabric and string to add into the nest themselves. I ask her what she had in mind when she came up with the idea, and she explains, "Easton can be an arts community and come together to create something...also the beauty of nature and how it can be translated into an urban environment."

Jimenez' piece, which is untitled, is an audio piece that incorporates speakers connected to motion sensors that will trigger a heartbeat at different locations around the city whenever someone passes by. The piece was inspired by a quote from a child character in Jonathan Sanfran Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, "What if we swallowed little microphones that played the sounds of our hearts through speakers? I wonder if everyone's hearts would start to beat at the same time..." Her piece will initially be designed to be installed in various gallery spaces around town, but depending on budget, she would like to possibly install in other locales, including outdoors. Her father is an electrical engineer that has promised to help on the technical side with wiring and waterproofing if she gets that opportunity. King's piece will be outdoors, right outside of the old Case's Tire building that is now owned by Lafayette.

When it comes to budget, both artists are in the dark. King explains, "We were told we would be getting 25% of the money for the supplies in the beginning, and get the rest later, if the committee is happy with what we did upon completion. But we're students. We don't have the money to go out and buy all the supplies ourselves in hopes that they'll pay us back." I ask when their exhibits are supposed to be ready. "Originally the exhibits were supposed to start at the beginning of May," says King, "and now it's been moved to the end of May--that's what the last email said, right?" She looks at Jimenez, who nods and shrugs. "We haven't been told exactly when." Could they buy all their supplies and be ready by the end of May? "I could, but I would have to know this week, and get the money for the supplies soon, otherwise it's going to be really hard to be ready in time," says King. Jimenez nods. In general, the girls seem excited about being selected, but completely in the dark as to when and how they would be able to start, if they are only going to get 25% of the money for supplies when they have to buy supplies to begin the projects at all. They are also unsure as to how much money they will be getting for the projects, which makes it hard to plan.

What I find most interesting about these artists is that neither consider art to be their primary calling. Unlike a lot of artists, King, a senior at Easton Area High School, loves sports, and is an avid soccer player (she has just come off of a win against Emmaus) and plans to attend Juniata College in Huntington, PA, to study Psychology and Accounting. Amanda, a junior at Phillipsburg High School, wants to go to either NYU or Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, to study International Relations and Japanese Studies, and says she has always been more math and science oriented than artistically oriented. But both say that art has always been an important hobby in their lives, which is why they decided to participate in The Lafayette Experience. I'd like to see someone try to tag these students as "right-brained" or "left-brained" as these girls seem to have both lobes firing equally...

With all the discussion that has taken place on this blog with regard to the quality of education in our local high schools, I decide to "get it right from the horse's mouth." Do they think their high schools offer a good education? And do they think that sports take precedence over the arts?

King, who is 17, says she has received a great education at Easton's high school, and that sports is not over-emphasized over the arts, "I took lots of AP classes...the music program is huge--they're great...then there's the theater department and the Freddies each year." She also thinks that the No Child Left Behind program of assessment through standardized testing is "unfortunate," because while her school is rich in cultural diversity, which she thinks is great, there is also a great diversity in learning levels, "some students taking the test barely speak English." So while  many students do really well on the tests, the school is judged by the performance of the student body as a whole, and when the high school ends up in Corrective Action year after year, "it drags us down."

Jimenez, 16, says sports definitely overshadows academics at the Phillipsburg High School. "About 5% of the students take good classes, so you can get a good education, but you have to really want to, because the emphasis is not on academics there."

When I ask them what drives them, King credits her parents, who she notes, didn't really drive her, so much as they have always "encouraged" her in academics and extracurricular activities. Jimenez replies that she has always had an internal drive of her own, but also credits an inspirational math teacher, from 9th grade, Mr. Chilmonik for "brainwashing" her to think about her future. "He pushed us to do more than our best and be more economical about school and academics. He definitely made me think about my future. He introduced the idea of going to a top fifty university, which I would have thought to be impossible until then. So I have him to thank for taking my AP classes and doing what I can in and outside of school to make sure I get into a really prestigious school. He was one of the few teachers that told us how it is, whether about the school system or the real world. Basically, it's because of him that I have such a hectic academic life, but I really wouldn't have it any other way." 

I couldn't help but think of how often we hear this as a community--how the success of our youth in school is largely the result of meaningful human connections--either with parents, or a particularly gifted teacher who is able to connect and inspire his or her students, rather than just going through the motions. In the ongoing debate in our community about the "value of teachers" in our society, it is important to remember that "teachers" are not a monolith. And that within the context of the nurture vs. nature debate with regard to education, students are not a monolith either--that many have an inherent drive all their own as well.

I asked the girls how they felt about the current economy, and whether or not it affects the choices they make with regard to their courses of study in the future. King wants to become a sports psychologist, but points out that, "you need a PhD for that, so I'm planning on taking Accounting too, so that I can get a job as an accountant while I finish school, so that I don't have to take out too many loans." She will start college on a combination of scholarships and work study. Jimenez still has another year to figure it out, but says, "I've always been interested in Asian studies, so why shouldn't I just pursue what interests me?"

And what of art? "Art has always been a major part of my life, and always will be even if it's not my career," says King. Jimenez nods in agreement. I have to say, both these girls are way more together and focused on the future than I was at their age, and I was impressed with both their drive and their sense of balance in terms of art and science, dreams and pragmatism.

I look forward to the nest, and the heart beats, as well as Karl Stirner's metal sculptures along the Bushkill, and the exhibits of other artists from around the world who will be installing exhibits. Easton is shaping up to be pretty interesting this summer! It's nice to know that when this festival descends on our city, there will be some local flavor in the mix, and that it will reflect the energy and creativity of our region's younger set.


tachitup said...

What a great story! Maybe there is hope for our future. Kinda makes you want to follow if they can get some money fronted; how can one do that?

noel jones said...

not sure i understand the question...could you rephrase?

david said...

art as always shall previal. It will be whaat our failing empire leaves behind. Hoefuly lng afyer we're dead granted. I'm getting to old to survie the fall.
still, cudos add blessings to ou two outstandinsudn. Hopefully they can turn this into cash, or at least a decent collge.
I really don't have hrons btw...or at least I do hide them in public....
Sorry for my abscence, but I actually am trying to get back into the work force. And that takes both time and effort as , clearly did the work of our winners. A big huzzarh for both and hopes for thier seperate but hopefullt happy future.
Art is what we will leave , let us salute it!!!

david said...

sorry, my key board us having issues again.

tachitup said...

It was a minor point; it seems the students aren't getting even their 25% on a timely basis.

noel jones said...

hopefully that will be resolved this week, so the girls have enough time to get their projects ready!