Arts center program wraps with students’ Bridgeport gallery show
Published 1:08 pm, Thursday, June 8, 2017
BRIDGEPORT — Inside a brick building several blocks from their school, students’ graffiti works lined two walls, adding splashes of color, political statements and diverse interpretations of graffiti style to the gallery space.
At Bridgeport art gallery 305 Knowlton Monday night, the Westport Arts Center’s “Connections” outreach program finished with a flourish. The experience, which offers high school students in underserved urban areas an intensive 10-day artist-in-residency program, concluded with a gallery show of students’ work for the first time.
“I never knew anyone in my class could do any of this,” said Gio Alvarez, standing beside his piece on display Monday.
The 16-year-old Bridgeport resident was among about 50 tenth grade students at Bridgeport’s Bridge Academy who participated in this spring’s Connections program. The program runs about four times each year and aims to serve 50 students during each session. Funded and coordinated by the Westport Arts Center (WAC), it has commonly partnered with schools in Norwalk and Bridgeport.
“You give the kids a reason, it makes them proud,” said WAC Director of Education Lillie Fortino. The program typically concludes with a museum visit or other excursion, but Fortino explained the inaugural gallery show gave students a purpose for their hard work.
Bridge Academy art and film teacher Jill Imse concurred that the show gave her students a platform, explaining it helped them “sing their own voice.” She noticed many students feared showing their feelings and thoughts when Connections began but many were surprised with what they expressed by the end of the experience.
One piece, peppered with magazine cut-outs — reading, “There is no truth,” “Black beauty” and “I’ll do it my way” — represented to Imse a student’s art voice exploding on the page. She said the student had been quiet and soft-spoken but discovered a strong artistic voice through the 10-week program. Imse described another piece — a dark-hued work filled with images of raised arms and scrawled with words including “Hate,” “Ignorance” and “When it all ends, are you happy!” — as the strongest political statement of the group.
The recent Connections session focused on graffiti-style art. Norwalk-based artist Jahmane (West), who served as the artist-in-residence and has worked with Connections for several years, had students develop a tag name, learn various styles and conclude with a “wildstyle” piece.
Jahmane, who is a member of the WAC artists collective, called the gallery show a great ending point for the class to see their work displayed, especially just blocks from their school.
Alvarez first became interested in art after a minor accident four years ago when he spent time playing video games and noticed the art in the games. Interested in being able to create himself, he started sketching and learning from YouTube videos. Connections offered him a chance to work with a professional artist and try something new.
“It was really fun learning a new style,” Alvarez said.