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Art Beat

Aug. 18, 2005


Art from MARZ


There were plenty of balloons, computers, pretzels, cheese puffs and enthusiastic teenagers crammed into the conference room at the Adorni Center the other day, and plenty of computer-generated art on the walls. The students of the MARZ project (MARZ stands for Magic Action Reface Zone) were showing off what they had created over the last six months. MARZ is a program of the Ink People funded by the Community Technology Foundation of California (CTFC). At a lab in the Ink People building, the kids work with cameras, computers and art materials learning to shoot and edit video, record music, make masks, work in PhotoShop and build websites.Self portrait by Brandon

That's some pretty technical stuff, and the work produced is not bad considering the students' backgrounds. They're all "juvenile de" -- no you can't use that term these days. "Youth at risk"? Uh, that's a pretty loaded term too. "Youth on the Fringe" is what program coordinator and well-known local maskmaker Donvieve came up with. I kind of like, "Kids who have gotten really fed up with being abused/ignored/cheated/deprived and are trying to say, in whatever way they can, `Hey, I'm a human being and I need to be treated with some respect!!'" It's a bit wordy, but I think it describes them pretty accurately.


The program has been evolving over the last couple of years and has really been hitting its stride since the Inkers received the CTFC grant six months ago. Not only were they able to buy a lot of the high-end equipment required for video editing and digital recording, but Donvieve and the other teachers have really gotten the hang of working with the kids. It's not easy to get around the defensive attitude these kids understandably come in with, and it took some time figuring out what would work best for them. They finally came up with an atmosphere of controlled chaos. A lot goes on, the kids are free to follow their own interests, certain unavoidable rules are laid down and gently but firmly enforced and, lo and behold, some rather interesting art works are produced. Eileen McGee, who works with the Public Access Channel and produces KHSU's "Thursday Night Talk," teaches video production to the kids. She says that the focus is on, "`What to be,' not `what not to be.'" I'm sure this is a refreshing change from what these kids usually hear.

But the story is not all bright. The program is at a vulnerable point in its existence: The CTFC grant has run out, leaving Donvieve and Libby Maynard of the Ink People scrambling to come up with more funding. The teachers are currently working on a volunteer basis, which says a lot for their dedication and enthusiasm, but it will get pretty difficult for them if funding is not found soon.

Finding funding is a difficult task for any organization, and the arts are a particularly hard sell. While there's a lot of consensus about the importance of the arts, you still have to pull teeth to get any money for them. A lot of people especially have trouble with the idea of an arts program for kids who have gotten into trouble with the law. Perhaps that's because we tend to think of the arts as a reward, and being that our society is focused on punishment (wrongly, in my humble opinion) we don't like to reward kids for bad behavior.

I would like to offer an alternative perspective. Supposing, for the sake of argument, that the arts are not a reward. Supposing they are, say, a basic human right. That's a bit radical, I know, but let's just pretend for the moment that they are. If the schools are constantly cutting them out of their curriculum, then many children are being deprived of a basic human right. The MARZ kids certainly have not had ready access to this most basic of needs. So they get involved with a program that encourages them to speak their minds, teaches them the skills to get their ideas out in a variety of formats and gives them access to the tools they need to do so.

While I have no way of proving that the arts are a basic human right, these kids sure act like people who have suddenly been given something they've been desperately needing. They are focused and enthusiastic, gobbling up all the information they can get from the teachers and pouring out poetry, stories on video, music and digital self-portraits. Heather Ault, who teaches website building, talks of the "small successes" that develop confidence and lead to more and more of the same. What they learn about computers will be helpful to them in the future, but even more important is what they learn about the process of facing a challenge and working through it.

I think of the arts as a way for us humans to talk about the complex and confusing experience of living our lives. We use the arts to tell our stories and our history. By not teaching children the basics of creative expression, we are effectively gagging them. By not talking to them about the art that's been created throughout history, we are blinding them, excluding them from the human story that is their legacy. So what else can we expect but for them to act out? Or, the alternative, become so depressed that they hurt or destroy themselves (think about anorexia, drug addiction, teenage suicide, etc.)?

We are not teaching our children how to be human and we should not be surprised by the results.

You can see some of MARZ's work at


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