Artist-in-Residence at South Verde High: Camp Verde, AZ

“Ms.  Joan, I think I’ve decided on the figures for my mural,”  Marco says.

“Don’t tell me about your mural.  Show me,” Ms. Joan replies with a kind  but firm smile.

By the way she emphasizes “show” I deduce that she has used this phrase several times.  Joan Bourque is the artist-in-residence at South Verde High School for the 2011-2012 school year.  This year is her first at South Verde.

South Verde High School is a charter school located in Camp Verde, Arizona.  To simply write that the school is diverse would grossly undercut the uniqueness of the student population.  For the purpose of giving you perspective:

  • Students are primarily of Native American, White Non-Hispanic and Hispanic descent.
  • Many students are young parents and their children have the option to attend the Early Childhood Education Center offered by South Verde High.
  • Several students live on the Yavapai-Apache Reservation.
  • Some students live with foster parents and are or have been separated from their siblings.
  • Many students have taken extended absences from attending school.
  • 100% of the students are individuals with distinct thoughts and opinions.  Though not everyone has exerted themselves as a leader, not one of them is a follower.

Steve King, the principal of South Verde High, approached Joan last year about becoming the artist in residence at South Verde.  Joan’s work in other schools has been to create a mural with mandatory participation from all students.  She assumed the work at South Verde would be the same.

“When I brought up the idea to Steve, he told me, ‘That’s not how we do things here’,” Joan says.

Initially, they planned to paint a mural on the outside of the building.  However, the building owner did not grant permission for the project on the exterior.  Without missing a beat, Joan and Steve decided to allow the students to paint individual murals inside the school.  Today, students are hard at work creating murals in classrooms and offices.

“We started with three students who wanted to paint.  Once the other students saw the work being done, they volunteered to create a mural of their own.  We now have approximately 15 students working on murals,”  Joan says.

Before Joan arrived, there was no art program at the school.  In fact, when I asked around, some students told me they have had no previous art classes.  The quality of the murals is a testament both to Joan’s guidance and the students’ perseverance.  Joan works with each student, helping the individual to hone in on their vision and create it on paper.  Rather than projecting the mural onto the wall and allowing the students to fill it in, Joan teaches students how to create a grid and use the grid to expand the image onto the wall.  Using the grid incorporates math principles.

Of course, Joan only suggests the way students might create their murals.  How they actually draft the mural on paper and paint it onto the wall is up to them.  Some students have chosen not to use grids and to freehand their mural.

One student discovered that his mural “was not working.”  He had created a rough sketch and thought the mural would take better shape on the wall.  Joan was delighted to hear him admit that the mural was not working.

“This is the statement of a true artist.  I told him there are no mistakes,”  Joan says.

Joan gave him some assistance.  Currently, he is reworking the mural on paper.

The content and style of the murals are as diverse and unique as the students of South Verde.

“The word of the week when I came to the school was ‘provacative’,”  Joan says.  “I think that word embodies the work the students have done.”

This year, Joan is paid out of funds from the school district.  Steve applied for a grant from the Arizona Commission of the Arts to fund Joan’s stay as artist-in-residence for the 2012-2013 school year.

“My hope is the students creating murals this year can mentor next year’s incoming students,”  Joan told me.

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