Arturo Ho is a professional artist—but he believes that the arts are for everyone.
“I think we all have that eye for something at an early age, whether it’s music, writing, art,” said Ho, who grew up in Maryland after emigrating here as a child from Mozambique with his family. “It’s always evolving.”
He was pretty much an autodidact, learning through observation, getting his hands dirty and availing himself of mentors whenever he could. But when the opportunity arose in Wheaton to be part of the Carpe Diem Youth ArtBeat activities, the multimedia artist leapt into action. He was to shepherd a group of middle school students through an ambitious project: to create a mural in the community center of the Pembridge-Amherst Apartments where they live, completing the work in just six days.
For Busy Graham, the founder and director of Carpe Diem Arts, the most beautiful part of this project—and all the components of the Carpe Diem Youth ArtBeat program—is what happens between the middle schoolers and the after-school mentors that come to teach them.
“Around the art table, that’s where the guidance is happening,” said Graham, a lifelong arts educator. “To me, that is such a critical time of life. They have big questions, and we offer whatever we can to guide the way, to say here are other opportunities, to pave the way for them to have a better future.”
And the future is what inspired them to create their mural.
“The best part was knowing that the children that were involved in it really passionately wanted to leave something beautiful behind,” explained Ho. “A gift to their community, a mural that would reflect who they are and showcase their experiences. I thought was really cool.”
And really traditional. Sixteen years ago, kids in the community had created a mural of their own, and earlier this year, Arts for The People artists Alice Simms and Luke Vawter restored that mural in a burst of creativity Graham calls “a labor of love. It turned out to be inspiring.”
“These kids were drawn into this project by having the opportunity to do something collaborative,” Ho said. “The challenge was to make it work, and each of the students had a unique and valuable experience.”
Ho’s goal was “to bring out the best in each child,” assigning tasks according to their varying abilities, so that the end result, a mural brimming with color and energy, would make a big splash at its April 14 unveiling and continue to bedazzle viewers.
“Basically, it’s a collaboration between Montgomery Housing Partnership and Carpe Diem Arts that’s supported by a Wheaton Cultural Project Grant from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County,” said Alessandra Mantovani, a project manager for Carpe Diem Arts who is also a teaching artist. “Together, we’ve done this wonderful six-month project that gives kids the opportunity to have after-school art classes.”
Mantovani, who grew up in Silver Spring, teaches classes in Photoshop, decoupage and bookmaking/journals; she said that watching the students at the showcase and unveiling on April 14 was incredibly rewarding for her as a mentor.
“It really clicked with them that their work was something they could be proud of,” she said, adding that in addition to the mural project and her design lessons, the program offers a range of activities including salsa dancing with teaching artist Ricardo Loaiza of Baila4Life.
For Wheaton residents Nina Koltnow and Cindy Reuben, a spring break workshop on creating fused glass brought out the best in student creativity. “We’re both mathematicians,” laughed Koltnow, who taught middle school math at Sidwell Friends School for 20 years. “Fused glass is a hobby. We rarely teach glass; we do it because we love the creative process.”
She also loves working with middle schoolers, and understands well the link between art and learning. “We didn’t hit them over the head with it,” said Koltnow, who explained that the students used construction paper to create colorful designs and followed step-by-step instructions before rendering a final version in glass to be fired up in the kiln, “but it was there: a lot of logical, mathematical thinking built in. We all learn by getting our hands on things.”
“The cool thing about this is that each kid who came into this project had a unique and valuable experience that I thought would be awesome to share in the design,” he said, noting that at first, he wasn’t sure how to incorporate 10 artistic points of view. “Different kids had various abilities, and I was able to figure out how to bring out the best in each child…each student came up with different visually expressive ideas, and we painted collaboratively.”
The unveiling, he said, was a moment of pride and happiness for the young artists, their families—and their teacher.
“It’s truly their voices speaking,” said Ho. “It’s full of energy. When you see it, you smile.
“That’s the thing about art.”
After-School Arts Programs for sixth- through eighth-graders are presented by Carpe Diem Arts in collaboration with Montgomery Housing Partnership at the Community Center, Pembridge-Amherst Apartments with funding support from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County: Wheaton Cultural Project Grant. For information on Carpe Diem Arts, visit www.carpediemarts.org. View Carpe Diem Arts’ upcoming events and programs on CultureSpotMC here.