In Julie Taylor’s arts enrichment program, Douglass Academy high school students connect with artists and their works. In the process, they’re learning about more than art—they’re learning to tell their own history.
“When I asked them why they think that it is important for high school students to study art, their replies included ‘Art tells us about history’ and ‘We learn about ourselves,’” said Taylor, associate professor of social studies and multicultural education.
The members of Douglass Academy’s History, Art, and Culture Club are drawn to the artists, to their personal histories, and the stories they have expressed in their work. For most, the club has been an introduction to African American artists like Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and William Johnson.
“They are considering how art and culture shape identity and preserve the memories of humankind,” Taylor said. “They are reflecting on the role of art and artifacts in the construction of narratives about the past.”
The students’ personal connection to art grows as they create their own pieces. They discuss how their artwork—and the preservation of that artwork—helps them tell stories about their own lives.
In last month’s project, after viewing images of decorative gourds from Africa, the students painted gourds themselves. This month, they will be working on mosaics as part of a service-learning project to beautify the school.
The students are taking photos of every piece of art they create. At the end of the semester, they’ll choose their best pieces to be displayed in a collaborative electronic portfolio. The links will be shared with their parents.
Taylor began the History, Art, and Culture Club in September, working with the support of Douglass Academy’s principal, Berry Greer. Interest in the club is growing at the all-boys school; new students attended the February meeting, bringing the club’s membership to 14. The club meets in the social studies classroom of Mr. Okezie Iroha.
“Principal Greer is a strong supporter of arts education,” Taylor said. Greer has offered the use of school buses so that club members may visit the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Taylor would call the museum trips capstone events, except that she’s already planning for next year’s class.
“The students in the program are first rate. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to work with them,” Taylor said. “Whenever we meet, I feel like we’re just getting started when it’s time for us to leave. I would like to teach there longer to explore the material.”