Why this matters: The Studio 345 Summer Program provides middle and high school students an intentional space to create, allows opportunities for free expression and deepens their understanding of the world around them through the arts.
By Amy Mitchell
To spark inspiration for a mixed media art project about the Civil Rights movement, middle school students that participated in the Studio 345 Summer Program spoke and listened to Dorothy Counts, one of the first African-American students to integrate public schools in Mecklenburg County.
Hearing Counts describe how she was spat on and called racial slurs on her first day at the predominately white Harry Harding High School on Sept. 4, 1957, left an impression on the students.
“Even though I sometimes have troubles at school, I know my experiences are better than what she had to go through,” said Stanly St. Vilus, who attends Piedmont Middle School.
That conversation with a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Civil Rights pioneer manifested into intentional and though-provoking works of art, including a dismantled school bus reimagined by the students inspired by Counts’ experiences.
This and other artworks created by participants of the Studio 345 Summer Program – which provided students with an intentional space to create and learn from professional working artists – are on display in the Wells Fargo Gallery at Spirit Square (345 N. Tryon St., Charlotte).
The podcasts, videos, artworks and community-based projects middle and high school students created or participated in during their summer vacation reflect how they sought to first learn about issues of race, education, equity and incarceration and then creatively respond to what they learned.
High school students spoke to residents of Edwin Towers, a Charlotte Housing Authority residence for senior citizens, about these issues in the context of the Civil Rights movement. They also created a questionnaire and took it to the streets of uptown Charlotte to interview passersby. The students recorded responses by volunteers and photographed their subjects for the Summer Program exhibition.
The experiences helped the students become creative risk-takers while growing emotionally, intellectually and artistically. And that’s the point.
Counts said she continues to advocate for education equality to “ensure that the things that happened to me won’t ever happen to students like these.”
It’s experiences like the Studio 345 Summer Program that allow students to creatively explore issues of equality that will allow the next generation to continue her work.
The Studio 345 Summer Program exhibition at Spirit Square will be available until early October 2016.