on teaching art locally

CH: Dennis and I are political activists, too. We have both have been activists all our lives. So we wanted to get very involved in our neighborhood. And the first thing we did was we went over… There was school across the way from us—now a Montessori public school—but it had been called Mildred Monroe [School #32, Mildred D. Monroe Elementary School]. It was a public school. It was named after a janitor. One of the few, if not only, schools in Maryland, and maybe the country, I don’t know, named after a janitor.

We found out that they didn’t have an art teacher at the school. And we were horrified. We couldn’t imagine, either one of us, having gotten through school without art. So we decided to volunteer our time and to become the art teacher for Mildred Monroe on Fridays. We could only… You know, we had to do some real work, to make ends meet. So we picked Friday, and we became the art teachers for the kids at Mildred Monroe. And that was a wonderful entry into the community, because we’d meet all the kids, and then you’d meet their families and stuff.

Bob [Levine] and Kate [Thomas] helped us. I was in a program at the time to get a Master’s degree in non-profit organization, because my graphic design business only dealt with non-profits. My slogan was “do no harm,” so I didn’t do Chanel No. 5 ads and stuff; it was all work for non-profits. But I thought that I should understand them better. I sat on lots of boards. So I was in that program, and I created a non-profit for us as one of my projects, called “The Cork Factory Inc.”

We got other artists to help us, too. But then, unfortunately, the wisdom of school board in Baltimore closed that school. It was doing really well. It had small classes. And that was the problem—they thought that it was under-utilized. So then we launched a fight to save our school, using our art talent for posters and stickers and whatever other way we could whip up support. And it didn’t work. And then our kids went to Dallas Nicholas [School #39, Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School] up the way.

And we decided at that point, Kate [Thomas] and Bob [Levine] and myself and Dennis—There was an opportunity to buy the gallery space next door to the space that I’m living in, 4 North. And we decided that we should do that. So we bought it together. And what we did is we taught the children fine arts as best as we could.

So we continued teaching our kids. We went into Dallas Nicholas and we taught them fine art. They did printmaking. And they did painting. Things like that. Photography. And then we gave them a show in the gallery. And we hung their work. And we tried to do it during open studios, so that we would definitely have an audience to come. And often it hung with our own work, or other people’s work in the building. And they acted as little docents for their work. And it was a really good thing for them. It helped build confidence in them. Their work sold. So sometimes, they would make forty, fifty dollars in a week, which was fantastic. I mean, this is a low-income neighborhood. We had parents come in that had never seen live art. They had never been to a museum. They had only seen art in books. So they had never seen paintings or anything. And now they’re seeing their own child’s work as well as professional artists’ [work]. So it was really fun. It was a great, fun project.

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