This is the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art’s 13th year sending trained teachers to community centers in the Montgomery area to offer weekly art classes for underserved youth. In March of 2013, the MMFA began its first year teaching weekly art classes at the Mt. Meigs Youth Detention Facility, working with the young men incarcerated there. Miriam Jones, the MMFA Outreach Coordinator, describes her experiences.
“Teaching the students at Mt. Meigs is a joyful challenge. The boys are usually hesitant to dive into a project, claiming, ‘they don’t know how’ or ‘they don’t know what to make.’ It has been a good reminder to all the adults involved that if you haven’t tried to draw anything since you were a child it actually requires a good bit of bravery to try to express yourself in a brand new way. Teenagers particularly are plagued with worries about ‘messing up’ or being embarrassed, so, during a recent session, I, along with others, tried to include projects that each student could enter at their own level, ending in a group result that no one person would feel the burden of having to make a perfect piece of artwork.
With the assistance of Sarah Struby, our Outreach Teacher, we made clay masks that we then mounted onto ‘Totem Poles’ to be placed in their common space. Clay encourages playing and masks can be all varieties of abstract, simple, mimicking, or complex. We were all inspired by the carved wooden totem pole by William Dawson in the Museum’s collection .
We also recruited Brian Cooley, sculptor/outdoor educator from the Montgomery Public Schools, to work with the boys on making flower planters out of old tires. The boys got really excited to see how they could reclaim a trashed object and with a bit of paint and cutting make something pretty. We also thought it was important to stress that you could make a place look more pleasing or improve the world around you without having to perfect fine painting skills or technical drawing techniques. Numerous boys talked about making planters for their grandmothers or moms when they went home.
The tire planters and the ceramic totem poles are now installed in public areas of the Mt. Meigs campus so the students can share their work with everyone and to help with the larger goal of beautifying the facility. These projects were balanced with lessons on one and two point perspective to give the boys more confidence with drawing.”
The following quote from Carmen Archie, of the Mt. Meigs staff, sums up the importance of the MMFA’s outreach program. “The success of this has far exceeded my expectations. The students’ response to the art class is overwhelming. When the students hear another class is starting I get bombarded with requests to be in the class. The number of students per class started with 10 to 12 students and we are now having to turn down students and place them on waiting list…. I see students who felt they didn’t have any artistic abilities open up and realize the potential they have.”
MMFA Outreach Coordinator