By Katherine Cheairs, Howl! Happening Director of Education
On February 29, 2020, a cohort of 11 teens and their parents, guardians, and supporters, along with artists were seated in a circle at 6 East 1st Street for the first orientation of Howl High, a free teen-arts program meant to expose participants to the vibrant history and culture of the arts of the East Village and Lower East Side. After we got to know each other a bit, famed street artist Al Diaz performed an interactive graffiti-writing demonstration that invited the students to experiment with creating their own tag (inside and on a large sheet of poster board). The next Saturday, March 7, 2020, marked the first session of Howl High, which featured a street-wear session with Scooter LaForge where students made personalized emoji sweatshirts and adorned them with all kinds of materials and colors.
The results were incredible. Then came March 12, 2020. At around 2 p.m. that day, the world collectively changed. Cultural institutions in New York City, including Howl, began closing down as concerns about the coronavirus had reached a peak. Planning in-person field trips for Howl High students just days before had to be placed on hold. Indefinitely.
The in-person program aimed at providing hands-on workshops with artists from a variety of backgrounds. This included documentary photography, video and performance art, as well as street and graffiti art, culminating in the students producing a final capstone project of their own choosing. Fall-cycle master teaching artist Brett DePalma and I provided encouragement and support. Outreach in the summer indicated that students were interested in doing an online version of the program, though it would be modified from its original in-person form.
On Saturday, October 3, 2020, Howl High resumed virtually with the first session focusing on protest art, featuring artists Catt Caulley and Scooter LaForge. Caulley talked about how her work was informed by Black Lives Matter and mental health in Black and Brown communities. That sharing led to students feeling comfortable discussing their own journeys with mental health, creating an openness throughout the duration of the program to name and talk about these experiences. Students were also keen to bring up topics related to social justice, racial and gender inequalities, and LGBTQ rights and representation.
Subsequent sessions included Jamel Shabazz discussing his renowned street-photography practice; John Ahearn describing his sculptural methods with communities in the Bronx; a journey through performance and women-of-color hip-hop artists with Helixx C. Armageddon; the use of found materials and footage in the work of Tessa Hughes-Freeland; the ways in which John Pizza uses poetry and personal writing as an entry point to the creation of his performance pieces; and Al Diaz taking us back in time through his legendary collaboration with Jean Michel-Basquiat.
While all eight students were not able to go the distance in the program for a variety of reasons related to changing schedules and unforeseen life circumstances, we want to honor the students and artists who participated in our inaugural program. Beyond merely exposing students to artistic practices from the East Village and Lower East Side, Howl High held space for students to log-on virtually on Saturday mornings, not only to learn about art but talk about pressing issues on their minds.
We are all living through unprecedented times. Connecting with teens and learning from them while offering support during this time has been a major highlight and takeaway. It indeed takes a village…
Howl High Fall 2020 Teaching Artist Cohort
John Ahearn, Helixx C. Armageddon (Photo by Bob Krasner), Cat Caulley, Al Diaz (Photo by Lois Stavsky), Tessa Hughes-Freeland, Scooter LaForge, John Pizza, Jamel Shabazz
Howl High Fall 2020 Final Projects
Howl High Student L.E
This final project from L.E., a drawing on paper with colored pencil, is a departure from their work earlier in the term. L.E. had been working with Looney Tunes and video-game characters throughout the program and in general did not want to get too “serious” in their own work. This final project drawing depicting two opposing dinosaurs, however, was described by L.E. as representing an internal battle with the self, related to mental health and anxiety. One side is the calm version of the self; the other a darker side always trying to take over. The lightning bolt represents the separation of the two selves.
Howl High Student Destiny J.
Photo Selections from A Friend.
“My final project is split into two different sets of images. The first is called A Friend; it is a mixture of photography and digital painting. The second is called Just Another Day, [which] is just photography. I decided I wanted to use digital painting and photography as my medium for two reasons—the first being I enjoy taking pictures and creating in a digital space, and I feel the most free to do as I please there. The second reason I chose to mix these two mediums was so that I could mix reality and fantasy, focusing more on a surreal outlook on life.” —Destiny J.
Reflections on participating in Howl High…
“The artists that had the greatest impact on me and stuck out the most were Scooter and Helixx… From the sessions I was able to learn to let myself create as I see fit. Even if I diverge from my original plan, it’s okay because the point in making art is to enjoy it and be true to yourself and your intentions. Hearing everyone speak about their careers and works, it was clear that they do it because they love and enjoy it. I often confine myself to a box and restrict myself from doing as I please because I view it as a mistake or straying too far. But I now see that I should just do what feels right. Just because the plan was to do one thing doesn’t mean I have to stick with that—if that means I have to force myself through it.” —Destiny J.
Howl High Student Koudjedji C.
Selections from Long Form Poem by Koudjedji C.
“My personal voice impacts my final project because I get to actually read the poem that I made for people to understand how New York is and how people see it. I want the audience to know that I am just explaining my experience and point of view. I want people to know that every New Yorker’s experience is different. One thing that I learned about myself is that I am determined to get things done on time and that I never give up no matter how hard things get.”— Koudjedji C.
Reflections on participating in Howl High…
“I’m glad that I got to meet different artists and see their work. Artists that stuck out in particular to me though were Jamel Shabazz and Helixx [C. Armageddon]. Their work is what inspired me to do documentary photography and make beats and poetry. I really like Jamel’s work because there is a lot of diversity [in] what he takes pictures of, and he sees the beauty in a lot of things more than anyone I have known in my life.
“One of my biggest takeaways from this program is learning the different art styles. I’m going to apply what I’ve learned in Howl High in college and my personal life because I want to work on different art styles and maybe start a business…” — Koudjedji C.
Some closing reflections from Brett DePalma, Fall Cycle 2020 Master Teaching Artist
“Any time you can reach high-school students before they’ve gotten out of bed and sit up as you present them with the work of world-class artists, I consider that successful education. This is exactly what Howl High did in the fall of 2020, during a pandemic when everything was virtually on Zoom. Better yet, when you can bring the artists themselves, online, to interact with students, that is a primary experience.
I was struck by the intimacy that the students shared with us as instructors, i.e., from the struggle with isolation to the unfolding of self-identification. Watching light bulbs go on as students discovered relationships between their own artwork and that of professionals was a personal thrill for me! The shy student becoming stronger in their self-expression of learning that their thoughts and feelings were relevant to a diverse group of artists became the teaching reward itself. I was impressed with diversity meeting diversity through the exposure of the individual attention that participants received. The virtual became real and inspiring.
Personally, I learned to never underestimate the underserved student when exposed to serious art and artists, and their ability to rise to the occasion! The future potential of Howl High to reach formerly isolated students and expand their view of the world of art and transform their lives is rich with inspiration. Howl High is just beginning to establish a community of higher education.” — Brett DePalma
Applications for Howl High Online from March 20–June 5, 2021 are now open!
Check out the link for more details: https://www.howlarts.org/education/howl-high/