Hartford Public Schools

Students and Local Artists Collaborate Through New Artist in Residency Program in Hartford Schools

Hundreds of students at McDonough Middle School participated in the pilot program this spring, creating murals that now line the cafeteria walls and celebrate diversity

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It is National Arts in Education Week, but Hartford Public Schools is working to bolster art programs year-round. One way they are doing that is through a new Artist in Residency program, which pairs students with a local artist working in the city.

The program aims to embrace art and celebrate diversity.

In downtown Harford, public art brightens urban spaces. A mural off of Main Street is getting finished up by local artist Lindaluz Carrillo.

“Right here we're looking at Juan Flint, he is an amazing photographer, Puerto Rican photographer,” Carrillo said. “I feel really honored and excited to be a part of creating this.”

Her work sparks inspiration just across town, where bright murals add pops of color to the cafeteria at McDonough Middle School. That project is the brainchild of students, created last spring through the Artist in Residency Program.

“Collaborations with local artists or just working artists is good, just to get the mind creatively stimulated and like also build confidence,” Carrillo said.

The pilot program pairs a local artist of color with a teacher in art, music, or theatre and their students. Carrillo teamed up with art teacher Jason Gilmore, creating a new opportunity for hundreds of kids at McDonough.

“It was a lot of free expression for the kids,” Gilmore said. “We really didn't put any huge parameters on what the imagery would be.”

For student artists Jasmin Pagan and Angely Srolon, it was a chance to grow artistically.

“Something I learned was to not be afraid to create things and do things on my own,” Srolon said.

“I feel very appreciated because just seeing it all like here and everyone gets to see, it feels like you're that person everyone can know about,” Pagan added.

The students are not only expressing themselves through art, but embracing diversity. The project’s theme celebrates different cultures through food.

“I like to celebrate differences, differences in people, differences in everything. And I felt like that's what this taught me,” Srolon said.

The items depicted are from different cultures.

“Grilled cheese, pineapple of course, and watermelon, and a Japanese sweet treat, dragon dango!” Gilmore explained.

The theme: coming together over food.

“At McDonough, we are blending a lot of different cultures in our school. People are coming from Brazil, they're coming from Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, actually have a student from Togo, Africa,” Gilmore said.

The art sends a message.

“One family of lots of flavors,” Gilmore said.

It’s relayed in the three primary languages heard in school halls: English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

“Somos una familia de muchos sabores,” one piece of art reads.

School administrators say initiatives like Artist in Residency are crucial, especially since the pandemic took a toll on arts education.

“A lot of our arts programs really took a hit,” Tracy Avicolli, director of Arts and Wellness for Hartford Public Schools, said. “So having this program connecting local teaching artists with our current certified teachers has helped to really reboot and build enthusiasm.”

It is why the school district teamed up with Hartford Performs for this pilot program.

“A lot of times students don't have access to or don't know about the great artists in their community,” Rie Poirier-Campbell, executive director of Hartford Performs, said. “Hartford has so many wonderful artists in the area, and we just need to put them together with young people and with teachers.”

Because the program was successful this spring, it is now expanding to four middle schools: beautifying Hartford, inside and out.

“I think it's important for that particular age group, especially like middle school and younger, to just be able to see what are the possibilities that, you know, we could do as artists,” Carrillo said. “I think naturally, kids are very talented.”

And the chance to create touches the students on many levels.

“There's been a lot of things I've gone through at my age,” Srolon said. “I feel like whenever I draw or whenever I'm doing something, I kind of feel free. Like it's just like an escape for me.”

McDonough Middle School now offers a mural tour showcasing all of the student art.

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