Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Public arts program looks for more exposure

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Teen artists (from left to right) David Ronquillo, 17, Joel Schadegg, 17, and Brandi Ross, 15, all of Silver Spring, work on projects on Tuesday at the Arts on the Block studio in Wheaton.
It’s easy to look at the colorful designs and playful posters slapped on the walls of Arts on the Block’s Wheaton studio and think the teens painting and drawing throughout the space are attending an art camp.

But the Montgomery County students in the program know it’s about much more than drawing and painting cool designs and showing them off to their friends. It’s work.

‘‘It’s an actual job, so we have to be on time. Otherwise, we get docked pay,” said Meron Ghebri, who is going into 10th grade at John F. Kennedy High School next year. ‘‘It’s a responsibility.”

A division of the Wheaton nonprofit Career Transition Center, Arts on the Block aims to cultivate the artistic skills of teens while providing professional experience. To allow for a ‘‘backstage” look at the hard work and skill development that go into the finished pieces Arts on the Block displays through the county, the studio in the BB&T Bank building, 11501 Georgia Ave., was opened to the public July 1 for the first time in its five-year history.

Residents are now welcome to view finished pieces, buy artwork or hire Arts on the Block for projects. This summer, contracted projects include a hanging mobile for the Germantown Innovation Center and murals for the Proyecto Salud health center in Wheaton and Oak View Elementary School in Silver Spring.

Past projects include a mural at Piney Branch Road and New Hampshire Avenue and another on the railroad underpass at Georgia Avenue and Blair Mill Road in Silver Spring.

The studio is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Funding is provided by CTC, grants and donations. The owner of the BB&T property, Avalon Bay, donated the Wheaton studio space.

On Tuesday, Lucy Xie, who will be a senior at Clarksburg High School next year, was working on a colorful sample tile for the Oak View mural, precisely chiseling pieces of glass. Xie will present the sample to representatives from Oak View, who can give her feedback on the design.

Arts on the Block director Jan Goldstein said a key component for students is working with clients on everything — from design and materials to even grant writing. Clients often meet with students in the studio’s conference room on projects.

‘‘It’s really not about pumping out fine artists who will all go to art schools,” she said. ‘‘We believe that creativity can be leveraged for whatever career they choose.”

While most of the students applied for the program because of an interest in arts, many realize the skills learned in Arts on the Block can be applied anywhere.

‘‘You get to experience a real work environment,” said Kelsey Yu, who will be a senior next year at Northwest High School in Germantown.

The 13 students admitted to the summer workshop at Wheaton, all between 14 and 17 years old, had to go through an interview process and are paid a stipend of up to $30 per day.

Goldstein said pay is not based on how many paintings or sculptures can be produced, but instead on three criteria: personal ability, teamwork and working with the supervisor. If students slack off or show up late, they lose money.

The studio walls also feature motivational reminders and personal posters with each student’s goals listed.

‘‘The process is a big, big part of the program,” said Carien Quiroga, a former art teacher from South Africa that supervises the studio. Quiroga said opening the studio to the public forces the students to stay focused at all times and value the work that goes into each piece.

Very few of the program’s projects are individual pieces because Goldstein wants to promote teamwork among students.

Angel Smith, who graduated from Kennedy this year, will be attending the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill next year to play basketball and study accounting. Smith said Arts on the Block was more about building a resume and building camaraderie than anything else.

‘‘We put our heads together and think of designs; we learn more about colors and materials,” she said. ‘‘But we learn more about each other.”