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Weekend event: ArtEsteem turns local students into showcased artists

on September 26, 2009

Shades of blue are swished across a white canvas. Bold red fish contrast against a painted sea while faint bubbles surround a mermaid with green hair, bright lips and golden sunglasses. The mermaid’s name is Jasmin Flower. She has special powers to make the world a safer place.

And this afternoon, over 200 works of art like “Jasmin Flower” will be on sale at Studio One Art Center at 365 45th Street in North Oakland. Today’s event, which celebrates the Attitudinal Healing Connection’s (AHC) 20th anniversary of service to Oakland, begins at 1:30 p.m. and goes until 4:30 p.m.

The mermaid Jasmin Flower has special powers to make the world a safer place

The mermaid Jasmin Flower has special powers to make the world a safer place

In addition, the mermaid “Jasmin Flower” and other works from AHC’s ArtEsteem series Self as Super Hero will be displayed until Monday at the Rock Paper Scissors Collective on Telegraph Avenue. Studio One will feature youth artwork from the ArtEsteem program for another three weeks. Also, on October 17, the California College of the Arts (CCA) will exhibit ArtEsteem artwork alongside CCA faculty art responses to the student pieces.

Santa Fe Elementary School third-grader Jasmin Farly painted “Jasmin Flower” as part of ArtEsteem, a program run by Attitudinal Healing Connection, an Oakland organization that addresses violence, racism and fear through spiritual and educational programs. The mermaid came out of the ongoing Self as Superhero program in which school children, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, create themselves as a superhero who practices social justice in their community.

“They connect their superhero to what’s around them,” said ArtEsteem Exhibition Coordinator Naema Ray, a highly articulate 21-year-old. “I teach my students that each and every one of them has a place and responsibility in their community and that they cannot be indifferent,” Ray said.

Social justice is a theme that runs through ArtEsteem, created by AHC Associate Director Amana Harris, 37. Harris was raised in Oakland, graduating from Oakland Tech and later California College of the Arts. As she grew up, Harris said, she became increasingly conscious of educational, racial, and economic disparities throughout the city, and wanted to begin a program that would use art as a tool to engage youth, and combat violence, marginalization and the achievement gap.

In her early twenties, Harris said she “cultivated” ArtEsteem while substitute-teaching in Oakland schools. It began with seven kids in a small room at AHC and has since grown to over twenty staff and volunteers working in twenty-five schools across Oakland, Berkeley and San Lorenzo. Studio One will feature youth artwork from AHC’s ArtEsteem program through October 17. The program doesn’t stop at teaching students how to express themselves through art. It also focuses on literacy, financial responsibility and other life skills. Students are taught to communicate the thoughts and feelings behind their artwork through writing to help them understand the process behind their creations.

They can also sell their work at an annual exhibition, but must submit a carefully composed proposal that explains why they believe their art should be displayed. If the artwork is sold, the young artists receive 20 percent of the total amount. The other 80 percent goes to the ArtEsteem scholarship fund, programming, and staff funding.

“We’re giving the youth a realistic understanding of what it takes to sell in a gallery,” Harris said. Students are also encouraged to create personal bank accounts to save money they’ve earned from their art for college and other educational opportunities. “It takes hard work, diligence, intention and consistency to be successful,” said Harris.

The instructors at ArtEsteem spend a lot of time reflecting with students about what their artwork means and what process they took in creating their final product. “It gives students a way to focus their energy, build relationships, and reflect on the self,” said Ray.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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