Sunday, November 1, 2009

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Fired Up
Kids and clay meet in Sowebo
by Brent Englar
Neighborhood icon: Baltimore students in the Middle School Ceramic Art Program have created murals to spruce up Sowebo’s Hollins Market.
(Photo by Kelly Wise)
On a crisp October afternoon, about a hundred people gathered on the south side of the Hollins Market in southwest Baltimore to hear Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings speak and celebrate the dedication of a series of 12-foot-tall murals. In colorful ceramic tiles, the seven murals depict neighborhood icons: the B&O Railroad Museum, H.L. Mencken, an arabber and his cart.

The artwork was created by Baltimore city and county schoolchildren in the Middle School Ceramic Art Program, which supplies area middle schools with free clay, glazes, and kilns. In return, the schools incorporate ceramics instruction into their general art curriculum, and art teachers sponsor after-school clubs that meet several times a week. At Rosemont Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore, teacher Shadi Nourbakhsh leads a jewelry-making club. For a fundraiser last spring, members made and sold earrings for Mother's Day. One student earned $90—of which she got to keep half.

The Middle School Ceramic Art Program began in 1993, when the now-defunct Museum of Ceramic Art received a grant from the Abell Foundation to host students from twelve Baltimore schools at the museum for a month-long workshop. According to Shirley Brown, the program's executive director, the experience was so successful that the following year it was reconfigured an on-site enhancement to art classes in city schools, and the Ceramic Art Program was born. Today the program serves fifty-nine middle schools—forty-six in Baltimore City and thirteen in Baltimore County—and artwork by participating students has been installed around the city in such locations as the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.

Brown can't quantify the program's effects on student achievement, but she says the feedback she receives is overwhelmingly positive. Working with clay, she explains, "requires tremendous attention to detail. The skills spill over into other subjects."

Other rewards are more tangible. Projects such as the Hollins Market murals provide "an invaluable opportunity to give students something of permanence that they'll be remembered for," says teacher Eric Volkmann, whose students at Catonsville Middle School created the Mencken mural.

"When you make something, it becomes part of your heritage. You can pass it on from one generation to the next," says Rosemont sixth-grader Jeremy Jimenez, whose class created a mural of the market itself. Naijma McGarrell, an eighth-grader at Rosemont, agrees. "With clay," she said, "you make it real. You can have it forever."

—Brent Englar
Urbanite Article

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