What one pro bono project taught me about art and vulnerability

Published July 5, 2019 10:47 am by Anthony Rizzo
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“Here, we all have to be vulnerable,” said Jose Ochoa, Executive & Artistic Director at Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts), to the LoSasso video production team and me in the hallway of his school. We were there to shoot a video for their fundraising event, Kerfuffle; the video was to capture what was so special about ChiArts (and, of course, move people to open their hearts and wallets to help fund it).

Jose’s words that day caused me to reflect on a life-long effort to reconcile the balance between artistic potential and social accountability, or the extent to which we must open up to each other as a means of enriching ourselves and the creative process. As we continued on our tour of the school, and as the subsequent video shoot ended, the fruits of that labor were obvious, manifested in the young art students all around us.

In high school we learn many lessons that we carry throughout our lives, and one of the lessons I learned was to set up multiple barriers as an instrument of survival. It wasn’t until I entered art school at the age of 25 where I learned how to be vulnerable, to embrace the chaos of being human so I could wield it for the purpose of artistic expression. Before that, making art was a difficult and painstakingly mysterious procedure, my internal language was locked in its adolescent stage.

The students we had the opportunity to interview for the ChiArts video are already well on their way to mastering their inner, artistic language. They are given many opportunities and tools to develop this vocabulary, including regular in-class critiques and a continuous dialogue between them, their instructors and other students. This is important because I believe that creative expression is one of the only ways in which we can tap into the amorphous, sometimes daunting lower levels of the subconscious.

To be able to translate that creativity into a vivid, comprehensible message is an achievement of mental and societal health. We are at a disadvantage in all aspects of our lives without the devices of introspection and a deeper understanding of ourselves; I always felt that what was lacking in my education before art school: an emphasis on developing those abilities. In contrast to most high schools, this kind of self-building is implicit to the curriculum at ChiArts.

Shooting and editing the video for the Kerfuffle event was fun and enlightening. Telling the story of students’ devotion to the daily practice of art and academics made me wish I went to an arts high school like this one. Not all students have decided on a career in the arts, but their teachers encourage their holistic development regardless.

Because of this, it’s clear that the school is invested in giving kids a unique chance at enormous personal evolution, rather than just producing professional artists. We interviewed Jayda, a ballet dancer with ambitions toward a career at a dance company in New York; Chrisjovan, a tuba player determined to emphasize personal integrity in the music industry; Scout, an incoming junior working in musical theater; DeAndrea, a photographer producing socially conscious, conceptual artworks; and Daniela, an award-winning writer with a poignantly optimistic view on humanity. With their stories combined, I was able to tell a story that I hope does justice to their eloquence and idealism, scarce resources in an increasingly cynical society.

When we showed the finished video at the Kerfuffle fundraiser, there were many positive and emotional reactions. The event itself featured several amazing live performances and art on display in multiple mediums, an impressive exhibit to all who attended. Through these efforts, ChiArts was able to raise the funds it needed, and I felt proud of the LoSasso team for playing an integral part in achieving that success.

What these students, Jose and the board of directors at ChiArts have taught me during this production is that incorporating a serious emphasis on art in the high school curriculum goes beyond the cultivation of young artists; it can awaken unique powers in each individual that you can’t get anywhere else. This promotes the crucial process of self-building as a devout practice, something I wish I had gotten earlier in life and hope that more and more students can receive in the future.

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