Monday, December 10, 2012

[BONUS] Passages Academy Skulls

I recently made a visit to Passages Academy in Brooklyn, New York to talk about my original Skull-A-Day project. While it's not unusual for me to speak at schools about art & creativity, this was definitely a unique situation: Passages Academy is a full time educational program for incarcerated and detained teenagers.

I have to admit I wasn't sure what to expect. The building I arrived at looked like a fairly typical school, though it was clear from entering that security was strict. I was quickly introduced to the coordinator for the Non-secure placement students, who explained that, while unlikely, there was the potential of violence and that they have trained staff on hand to deal with it, so if something happened while I was there I should just stay out of the way and not get involved (no problem there!). 

A dozen students were brought in to the room where I had set up my slideshow and there was quite a bit of commotion. After a fair amount of wrangling, the staff got things settled down as much as possible and I got started. At first there was some disruptive behavior (nothing I haven't seen at normal high school presentations, mind you), but then suddenly, after only a few slides, there was dead silence and complete attention from everyone in the room! The only interruptions were for appropriate questions from students clearly eager to know more.

After my 25 minute talk we shifted gears and the staff brought out some random materials and I challenged the students to follow my lead and make a skull of their own. There were no other directions given and again after a bit of noise the group quickly settled into a quiet round of intense art making. As my host Jessica Fenster-Sparber put it, "Students had not been asked to stop talking, jeering, or moving about; they were simply absorbed in the creative experience at hand."

Every single attendee (as well as some of the staff) made an incredible piece of art on the spot. Each was unique and reflected the thoughtful observation of the materials that they were given. Several people made multiple pieces in the time they had available and more than one asked if they could use a marker to autograph their own piece.

I was happy to be able to share some inspiration from my own experiences and glad to see that it had an immediate impact on the teens in attendance. 

Thanks to Jessica Fenster-Sparber for coordinating the event and very kindly providing copies of my book Unstuck to all of the students as a means of further inspiration!

*Images of artwork created by Passages Academy students courtesy of Jessica Fenster-Sparber


mim said...


Melissa said...

I love this on so many levels. Great job Noah! Good for you, great for the kids, great for the system. Bravo!