Murals make a difference in the lives of students and the Corning community
“Art is intended to be a part of our everyday lives – to inspire and to be enjoyed in the communities in which we live,” says Gigi Alvaré, director of education at The Rockwell Museum in Corning.
If you’ve visited Corning in recent years, you may have noticed murals popping up in and around the downtown alleyways. And like many, you may not understand their significance.
Called The Alley Art Project, Corning’s murals are the result of a special collaboration between The Rockwell Museum and the High School Learning Center (HSLC) of the Corning-Painted Post Area School District. Since 2009, The Rockwell and the school district have worked together in conjunction with downtown planning agencies and business owners to make this project a reality.
The Alley Art Project supports students in learning about art, design, and the research associated with the process of art making – all while cultivating a sense of pride in the community. The HSLC is a small learning community for high school students not succeeding in traditional schools. Located on the campus of Corning Community College, the school’s focus is on the development of academic, social, and vocational skills, resulting in a New York State Regents diploma. And as most cosmopolitan museums are doing, The Rockwell in downtown Corning is expanding beyond its gallery walls – serving as a cultural center by administering arts education to people of all ages and backgrounds. This perfect storm of creativity and care for our local community has sprouted an important program that connects at-risk youth to their town.
Each academic year, students fulfill mandatory art and English language arts credits during their time spent at The Rockwell. Guided by Rockwell educators, students use the American art collection at The Rockwell as a catalyst for creative writing and art. Then, students create individual pieces of art that work as elements of a larger mural. Designs are later painted on the alley facades of downtown businesses by the students. There are now a total of seven murals and plans are underway for another this year.
“The Alley Art Project provides students an outlet to express themselves and is a way in which they can contribute something positive to their community. Most importantly, an incredible sense of pride is gained,” says Gigi Alvaré, director of education at the Rockwell Museum.
The mural project is changing students’ lives, evidenced by the story of a former student and successful graduate of the HSLC. A highly-creative and talented artist, a student participant in the first alley art mural now serves as the artist-in-residence on the project.
“This story is ‘full circle’ for me – it takes a village to raise creative and caring students and the Alley Art Project has deeply connected many students to our community,” continues Alvaré.
A collaboration coming soon
The Alley Art Project has gained the attention of not only local leaders but also internationally-renowned ceramicist, fashion designer and artist, Virgil Ortiz. During the fall of 2015, The Rockwell welcomed Ortiz, a Native American artist and ceramist, to Corning for a week-long collaborative initiative exploring how glass and ceramics can intertwine. While in Corning, Ortiz became intrigued by the murals he saw in the downtown area. After meeting with The Rockwell and learning more about the student population served by the HSLC program, Ortiz offered to return to Corning in 2016 to work with students in the design and execution of a mural. Ortiz has worked with Corning students all summer through a series of Skype sessions. Students have studied Ortiz’s Ancient Elder sculpture on view at The Rockwell.
Ancient Elder is one of the characters that appear in Ortiz’s work, centered on the story of a futuristic revolution in the year 2180 that restores sacred lands to the Pueblo people. Inspired by Ortiz’s work, students created their own “super power” characters. The idea is that these characters will help bring about important changes needed in society such as equality for all. A final drawing is being created by Ortiz that will incorporate elements of the students’ work and become this year’s Alley Art Mural. Under Ortiz’s guidance, the mural drawing will be painted by the HSLC students beginning in August at Cap’n Morgan’s on 36 South Bridge Street in Corning.
From Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, Ortiz uses art to blend historic events with futuristic elements in provocative and edgy designs to ignite contemporary interest in stories of his Pueblo culture. Beyond the notoriety of his artistic talent, Ortiz’s professional agenda centers on a lifelong dream to create opportunities for youth in his tribal community by opening his studio to Pueblo children to learn different artistic mediums. The imagery of his Pueblo Revolt series is designed particularly to capture the attention of a younger audience in order to raise their consciousness about important events in Pueblo history and culture. It is Ortiz’s commitment to using art as a catalyst for teaching young people that has inspired him to return to Corning to work with HSLC students at The Rockwell.
To check out these murals in person, begin in the parking lot of The Rockwell. Four murals can be seen just around the corner from The Rockwell’s entrance. For a full listing, visit rockwellmuseum.org.
This project is made possible by grants from The Triangle Fund and Great Circle Foundation, Inc.