Becoming Murals

There's one part of Becoming that we haven't really touched on yet: murals. Kristen Brown, one of our teachers, developed and led the curriculum for Becoming during both its parts. The most obvious and direct connective tissue between part one and part two of Becoming is that the hero collages created during part one are being turned into murals in part two. At the end of 2016, Kristen secured funding to put up several of these murals in the McElderry Park and Middle East area, near where most of our youth live. With funding in hand, Kristen went out to local businesses, organizations, and residents to see who would be interested in having one of the murals on their buildings or homes. And she found some takers! 

Next, she had to figure out a number of logistical issues ranging from determining best locations to figuring out the best materials for the murals to dealing with copyright issues related to images of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson. With all the details settled, Kristen started working on the first mural in May. She employed a unique method to put up the morals. Since the collages were based on photographs, she didn't want to simply paint the murals. So, she had the collages printed on polytab, a cloth-like paper that adheres to walls and can be as durable as painted murals. Stay tuned for a how-to video on using polytab for murals, which is in production now.

Over the course of the summer, Kristen put up four murals with the help of Ronald, a super talented local artist. It's been especially exciting when the Jr. Viewfinders have seen the murals of themselves; they're pretty thrilled to have their faces and collages in the neighborhood. There are still more murals to come. And, ultimately, the murals part of the project will culminate in a parade, walking tour, and celebration of the murals with performances by the Jr. Viewfinders this fall! Check out some pictures of these amazing murals below.

Community Art Collaborative Festival

Baltimore Viewfinders is part of the Community Art Collaborative (CAC), a partnership between AmeriCorps, MICA, and non-profit arts education organizations all around Baltimore. Each year, all those arts education organizations that are part of CAC come together to curate a show that highlights all the amazing artwork done over the school year by youth from all around Baltimore city.

This year, the exhibition and festival occurred on MICA's main campus in the Pinkard Gallery in late May. For the Viewfinders, we decided to highlight our two most recent projects: Becoming and Eastside Stories III. For Becoming, we printed the magazine covers that youth had created for their superhero personas on poster-sized paper. We also put up some of capes, masks, and shields that they designed. Finally, we had the Becoming wrap up video playing on a computer, so that attendees could see all the awesome video and photo work that went into the project. For Eastside Stories III, we had a copy of the publication that was available for people peruse and look through, along with two photo prints that had previously been in our Finding Home exhibition. Oh, and we also put up the emoji cyanotype prints in a string. Check out this photo of our section of the exhibition!

Then, on Thursday, May 21st, the CAC Festival happened. Youth from all the different organizations around the city came to see the exhibition. There were games, a photo booth, face painting, pizza, and a drum line performance. We took a bunch of the Jr. Viewfinders over to MICA's main campus for the event and they had an awesome time. First, they went straight to our section of the exhibition, checked out their stuff on the wall, and watched the video. Then, they looked around at everyone else's artwork, before diving into the games, food, and face paint. It was an awesome event that highlighted all the amazing arts education work being done in Baltimore every day! Check out the Jr. Viewfinders enjoying themselves at the CAC Festival!

Learn More About Becoming

Before we go on, I just want to take a moment to share two things from the Becoming project.

First, you can use this curriculum for Part Two of Becoming that this Junior Viewfinders' project. It's available for free.

Second, check out the video below, which puts together all the video work we did, along with some behind the scenes interviews of how we approached this project.

Finishing Costumes | Photoshoot | Magazine Covers

The Jr. Viewfinders have been working on their costumes for a few weeks now. They've been adding intricate details to their capes and starting on other parts of their costumes. For the most part, they've focused on making masks, shield, and crowns to accompany their capes. As they've been working on their costumes, they've also started to develop their superhero personas. We've got Black Venus, Girly Genius, Gold Girl, and The Fighter. 

Once they finished their costumes, we had a photoshoot day. We set up a plain, white backdrop and we had Shan, our professional photographer, come in to do the shoot. The youth got into costume and struck a bunch of different poses. They had a great time getting in to character and loved having their photos taken. Then, we looked through their images and they picked their favorite one. We brought that image into Canva, the graphic design website we'd used during Campaign for Change, and they designed a magazine cover featuring their persona. Most of them were already adept at using Canva and they made some truly fantastic magazine covers. Check out Black Venus, Gold Girl, Girly Genius, and more below!

Starting Costumes | Recording Interviews

This week the Jr. Viewfinders started the next big phase of the project: costume design. Now, that they'd thought through some of the larger ideas and concepts around heroes, we wanted to embrace the more fun, creative side of heroes. We brought in a bunch of materials: fabric, paper, beads, doilies, pins, pipe cleaners, and more. The catch was that everything was gold. So, gold became a sort of theme of this project. To start their costumes, everyone made a cape. They picked out a fabric and used a template to cut out the shape of a cape. Then, we showed them how to used a sewing machine. We didn't go into too much detail, but showed them the basics that they'd need for the project. Sewing was a hit! A lot of the youth were really interested in learning how to sew and used their newfound skills to add awesome details to their capes. Overall, the cape making was incredibly successful. It was a totally new, different type of activity and the youth got really into it. You can see some photos of the youth at work on their capes below!

While we were working on the capes, we also had one of our video instructors take aside a few youth at a time to be interviewed about their heroes. We also asked them about their own dreams and goals. We took those responses and turned it into a short video, which you can find below. 

Examining Heroes

After examining their own experiences and ability to impact who they become, the Jr. Viewfinder turned to examining their own heroes personal stories. We started by selecting a hero. The heroes ranged from Harriet Tubman to Ruby Bridges to Oprah to Eminem. As a warm up activity, we did blind contour drawings of our heroes and wrote some words that embodied their story and spirit. Then, we set about doing some research. Using the same personal growth storyboard handout, the youth wrote out the story of their hero and how their choices led to them making a huge difference in the world. Filling out the storyboard handout was actually more successful this time than it had been when they were filling it out about themselves. 

After they finished the storyboard, they started their videos. We used Adobe Spark, which is a free program that provides templates for short videos. Our storyboard handout aligned really well with one of their templates, so the youth just had to type in what they had on their storyboard and find some photos to accompany the text. Some of them also recorded voiceover, which is a feature of Adobe Spark. Overall, these videos went really well. We did have lower attendance than usual and that helped in terms of being able to provide one-on-one help to the youth with their videos. They seemed to enjoy making the videos and were definitely proud of them, once they were finished. Below are two examples!

Examining Our Experiences

To start part two of Becoming, the Junior Viewfinders explored a life-changing moment for them, a moment where things truly and significantly changed for them. We asked them to think about that moment and then either write or draw about it in their journals. We offered some examples: the birth of a younger sibling, moving, switching schools, meeting a new friend, a big mistake they made. It proved to be rather difficult for the youth to figure this out. Partly, they weren't that interested in answering that question, but also, more fundamentally, they struggled to step back and see a moment where things really changed for them. We managed to get responses from everyone, but they tended to mimic our examples pretty strongly.

Next, we showed an example video that one of our instructors had made about a life-changing experience for her. This was meant to help guide them as they worked on a personal growth storyboard, which contained deeper, more detailed questions about that life-changing experience. Again, the lack of investment at the beginning of the lesson carried over to filling out this handout. So, we called a sort of audible. The youth were supposed to all take or find photos that could be in a video they were going to make about their experience, but instead we decided to focus on one youth's experience because she'd done a stellar job on her handout. We turned it into an acting game, where all the youth recreated the scenes in her story and we took photos. The youth enjoyed this much more than the prior activities. It was a good example of the importance of improvising and the willingness to respond to the group's energy when working with kids, especially in an after school setting. Below are some photo from our improvised activity. 

A New Project: Becoming

With the completion of the Finding Home project, the Junior Viewfinders are moving on to a new project--well, sort of a new project. Really, it's a continuation of a project that Junior Viewfinders worked on in the 2015-16 school year called Becoming. Part one of the project focused on creating soapboxes and collages of the youth with their chosen hero. Please check out the free curriculum for that here.

Part two of this project continues the thematic and conceptual questions addressed in part one, while encouraging the youth to go deeper and introducing them to some new art mediums. The questions that string through this project encourage youth to think critically about who they are, the decisions they make, and where these decisions are leading them in life. Most importantly, it prompts reflection on how we become the people we want to be. It addresses these topics through artistic processes, such as, photography, video, and fashion design. 

Moreover, this project will culminate in site-specific murals throughout communities in East Baltimore, Maryland. And you'll be able to see some photos of those murals in future posts. Here's just a taste of some of the images that will become murals from part one of this project.