Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Student story: creating change by Sara Berg '06

from RISD VIEWS: Inside RISD campus community article,

Three years ago, finding it a challenge to integrate into the Providence art community as a transfer student to RISD, I decided to work off-campus at New Urban Arts (NUA). Founded in 1997 by Tyler Denmead, NUA is a free after-school art program for high school students, serving about 100 students each year. The studio on the wets side of Providence is a center where youth come together to work with artist mentors, learn an art form, expand their creative practice, and most importantly, build strong trusting relationships with others.

Twice a week during the fall and spring semesters I teach a sculpture workshop to students from the Providence area. As an artist mentor, I hope to empower the students as artists and leaders of their communities and help them develop creative practices that can sustain them throughout their lives. Working in a group of about four or five, we develop projects that explore the ideas of shape and form, from three-dimensional sculptures to full wall installations. Some of our most successful projects have been creating African-inspired masks from recycled materials, enlarging everyday objects in papier-mâché (inspired by sculptor Claes Oldenburg) and forming line and paper into wall-drawing installations.

Over the year, a student’s development as an artist becomes clear. For instance, last fall I worked with a student named Rebecca, a freshman at Classical High School, who did not appear to be confident about her artwork, and worked timidly and apprehensively. At the end of the year, to everyone’s amazement, she completed an aluminum, vellum and yellow paper installation over an entire wall of the gallery space. She had clearly blossomed and grown through taking risks and gaining a voice in her artwork.

The NUA studio is an environment that makes me forget the long list of things that need to be accomplished in the day, and it’s rare for me to leave without receiving high-fives, hugs and contagious laughter. I enjoy talking one-on-one with the students and being inspired by them as they develop and change as artists. Their work has positively influenced my own sculpture work at RISD, often reminding me that the best pieces are a result of working freely and intuitively. The relationships that grow between artist mentor and student are memorable and honest, and often continue after students have left high school.

The students and mentors of New Urban Arts exercise muscles to be creative and independent thinkers. It is often the case that this skill set is not promoted in public schools with limited resources and little or no arts programming. The director of NUA has pointed out that “young people must develop a more active imagination, world.” New Urban Arts inspires dreaming, imagination and the motivation to accomplish great things.

Sara Berg


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