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The art of mentoring on display in Hera exhibition
By Doug Norris/Features Editor
WAKEFIELD - On a recent Thursday afternoon in the
Meeting Room Gallery at Bagel
z of Wakefield, David Chatowsky of Warwick squeezes between tables of women playing bridge and points to a painting in the back corner. It's a Nicaraguan village scene. A woman and a donkey, with a little dog nipping at their heels, amble toward a mountain in the distance, d
istinguished by a simple white cross on its summit.
"There are so many people out there who just need a chance to make art," said Chatowsky, coordinator of the Angel Art Program, which teaches art to Nicaraguan children and helps them and other Nicaraguan artists sell their paintings. "We went way up into the mountains. Some of the people who live here have to travel for two hours by horse just to get from the village to their house. And they literally live in hovels. You go into a hole in the dirt to get to the house. There's no electricity. They have to get water from the river. They grow corn six months out of the year, but for the other six months they just try to hold on. So we get there and say we're going to do this art program and it's unbelievable to watch the response. Most of them have never seen a canvas before. This might be their first and only chance to have art in their lives. Their eyes light up. In the process of making art, they learn from us but we learn from them too. We learn that part of fulfilling our role as artists is to help others. We're not just making art and teaching. We're creating hope."
The painting, "Day of the Cross," by Christian Alaniz, is part of an innovative exhibition presented by Hera Gallery's "On The Road" initiative. Titled "Young Artists and Their Mentors," the show is designed to highlight the role of mentoring in the development of young artists. Divided into three separate installations, each on display for two months, the exhibitions will run through July.
"The idea of mentoring has been getting more attention lately, not only in the arts education field," said John Kotula of Peace Dale, coordinator of the exhibition. "But we wanted to focus on that relationship in the arts. More and more people are realizing that the classroom is not the only place where students learn creative skills. I just thought about the relationship between a young person trying to develop skills as an artist and people within the community that could help and thought it would be an interesting theme for a show."
Kotula said that several agencies in Rhode Island provide mentoring and internship opportunities for young artists to work with professionals, including New Urban Arts, AS220, The Met Schools in Providence, The East Bay Met School in Newport, Riverzedge and Providence City Arts. Many of those agencies will be represented in the Bagelz show.
"What this exhibition shows, I think, is that it's not how old you are, it's what you have to say in your art," Kotula said. "I think there's a level of energy and experimentation and, at the risk of being corny, passion that you don't see in a lot of shows. It's sort of irony-free. The work is clearly about the people that want to make the object that's on the wall."
The first exhibition features work by six student-mentor partners, including Laura Katz and Roberto Bessin; Courtney McDonald and Dan McManus; Kat Desrosiers and Craig Crawford; Miguel Rosario, Anthony Villavicencio and Scott Lapham; Lily Quinn and Will Schaff; and Edwin Pozo, Alaniz and Chatowsky.
"My initial response to the idea was that it was amazing," Chatowsky said. "Just ingenious. I was very thankful for the opportunity to be part of the show. I loved the sincerity of it, and also the commitment to seeing the world through eyes of hope and goodness and purity."
McManus, who teaches art classes at the Newport Art Museum, pointed out work by one of his students, McDonald, whose documentary-style photos of musicians were paired with his "Las Vegas Shoplifter" series. He said that mentoring opens up the world for the teacher as well as the student, although sometimes it's hard to draw the boundaries.
"She's an interesting young person, but she's got the soul of a 30-year-old," McManus said. "She travels a little bit, playing music, and her work can be edgy. I want to encourage her to explore as an artist, but there's a line because, even though I'm an artist, I'm also a parent and a teacher. Part of my role is trying to figure out what the line is."
The dual aspect of this exhibition allowed McManus to break away from his traditional interests.
"I go to Death Valley every year," he said. "Normally I'm out photographing the desert landscape wilderness. For two weeks it's just sand dunes and ghost towns."
On one occasion, while McManus was staying in Las Vegas, he walked into one of "those buy three for $10 T-shirt shops" and saw hundreds of pictures, mostly Polaroids, "of people who didn't look too happy."
They were faces of people caught shoplifting in the store. Along with the mug shot, written on the pictures were the names of things the shoplifters took, like "Perfume" or "Pants."
"They are distant, but kind of intimate, like Courtney's pictures," he said. "They seemed to fit with the documentary style of her music series."
McManus said that he thinks his biggest strength as a mentor is empathy. At age 14, he went to a vocational school to be an electrician. In high school, he discovered art.
"And I discovered that I didn't want to be an electrician," McManus said. "It's a wonderful thing to be able to say I am an artist. I am part of the community. There's policemen, there's firemen, there's the guy that owns the bagel shop, and there's artists - and we're all part of the same community."
Kotula said that sense of community is part of what distinguishes the role of mentoring that is conveyed in this eclectic exhibition. Patron Charles Kelley of East Matunuck illustrates the point further. He bought "The Day of the Cross" for $500 and plans to donate it to the University of Rhode Island Catholic Center.
"I came down here one night to see my son-in-law [Zack Geaber] play the drums," he said. "We got here early to get a bite to eat. I didn't even know there was an art show going on. I saw the painting, and I had to have it. But I'm unemployed, and my wife said, 'You know, you don't have a job. You can't buy the painting.' I said to her, 'What if I can get the money?' I asked my sister if I could borrow the $500. She said sure. Didn't even ask what for. Said I would've done the same for her. After hearing about the painting, and the story of Dave's work in Nicaragua, it just struck me as something I had to do."
Part one of "Young Artists and Their Mentors" will be on display at Bagelz of Wakefield, 90 Pershing Ave., through March 3. For more information, visit www.heragallery.org.