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Fresh Artists: Program lets students be creators, philanthropists

Sending a message

Madison Welborn works on a piece of art that when finished will included a special message. Susan Shinn/For the Salisbury Post

Madison Welborn works on a piece of art that when finished will included a special message. Susan Shinn/For the Salisbury Post

By Susan Shinn

For The Salisbury Post

SPENCER — This morning, the art room at North Rowan Middle School is alive with creativity. That’s certainly nothing new, but on this particular day, students here are creating artwork for Pablo’s Clothesline Art Sale.

The sale will take place this weekend on Bank Street during OctoberTour. The sale is part of a larger program called Fresh Artists, in which student art becomes part of corporate art collections, and the money raised from donations from these corporations provides art supplies for underfunded schools.

So students are not only artists, but philanthropists, too.

“We are the first community that Fresh Artists is partnering with outside of Philadelphia,” says Sherry Mason Brown, who’s spearheading the program locally with Kimberly Lentz, a fellow Fresh Artists volunteer.

Brown learned about their program through her work with OFS Brands, where she’s a senior program strategist.

Fresh Artists is based in Philadelphia. Brown and Lentz, along with Meredith Williams, assistant principal at North Middle, and Leigh Ann Alexander, the art teacher at North Middle, traveled to Philadelphia this summer — each paid her own way — to learn more about the program.

“We made the investment,” Brown says. “We met with Fresh Artists representatives on how to move forward with the program.”

North Middle, Brown says, will be a pilot program for Fresh Artists.

Students, teachers, parents, Brown and Lentz will work in the booth this weekend.

“We’re going to have students involved every step of the way,” Brown says.

“When I introduced this project to my students, I spoke with them as if they were already professional artists preparing for a sale,” Alexander says. “I wanted them to get used to interacting with adults to prepare them for the world beyond school. I love the way the Fresh Artists program has encouraged my students to become philanthropists by giving their art for good. I also have enjoyed watching how meaningful their interactions with the community volunteers have been. They see that people really care about them and care about what they can create.”

“We are very open with our staff and community that we are taking steps to mitigate the effects of poverty on education,” Williams says. “To me, with middle school and the amount of character education we try to inundate them with, the idea that Fresh Artists is an opportunity for students to be philanthropists is powerful. They can give back to the community.

“In middle school, we want students to become more independent, and being able to choose what you give and how you give is a step toward independence.”

North Middle has already received seven pieces of art from the Fresh Artists collection through private donations, Williams notes.

Williams also says she loves to come to the art room and watch the students at work. “It’s so relaxing.”

But these eighth-graders are anything but relaxed — they’re fully intent on the task at hand.

Madison Welborn is painting colorful, wavy lines on a rectangular sheet of white paper.

“I’m gonna get it all one color,” she says, “and then I’m going to write, ‘Live, love, be happy.’”

Dylan Connolly is busy cutting one piece of large paper into six smaller squares. He’ll create geometric artwork from at least one piece.

Will Hinson has made a black background on his paper.

“Then I’ll just splash it with a bunch of color,” he says. Soon, his work begins to take on a look similar to a Jackson Pollock painting, awash in many different colors.

Jyrik Scott is putting a background on a paper on which someone had painted a heart.

“I fixed it,” he says. “I did all the red and black background.”

So some of the pieces of art, Williams points out, will be completed by multiple artists.

Through this project, the students have learned what a philanthropist does.

“It’s a person who donates or gives money, or something of value,” Chancellor Rankin explains.

At a nearby table, Santannah Riddle is painting black ribbons on a rectangular sheet. She’ll fill the spaces between with a variety of bright colors.

Anna Everhart is creating a fall-themed picture, starting by making thick, black outlines of leaves.

“When we heard about the project, we thought, wow, this is going to be a lot of work,” Anna says. “It’s given us a chance to express ourselves in a way we haven’t done with our art before. We can make fall-themed pictures, but we can also add different colors to make it pop and stand out.”

Across from Anna, Jecenia Ramos-Lara is working on a figure in profile with black and white pastel crayons. She uses her fingers to blend the colors together.

Shania Brown has painted a flower on a black background.

“I’m going to add some white so it’ll be like stars,” she says.

All schools are participating in the sale, Brown says. Proceeds from the sale will be sent to Fresh Artists, which will then send art supplies — purchased at greatly reduced prices — back to qualifying schools in Rowan County.

Any school that has 70 percent or greater free and reduced lunches qualifies.

“The beauty of this is that our schools that are non-qualifying schools will be philanthropists to our qualifying schools,” Brown says.

For more information about the Fresh Artists program, visit www.freshartists.org or email sherrymasonbrown@gmail.com.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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