Art as Voice: Elon students help teenagers foster creative growth

It is a way for young adolescents to “bottle up” their fears and anxieties, to express their hopes and dreams, to share with the world their deepest emotions. A metal sculpture to be completed by local middle school students now welcomes visitors to an arts building on campus. Details….

A completed bottle was attached to the sculpture on Sept. 15 during an afternoon event on campus.
Elon University students partnered last year with 19 Western Alamance Middle School students, serving as role models and mentors who helped develop reading, writing and art skills in the younger children. As part of that partnership, the school students have been invited to contribute to a sculpture created by a nationally recognized husband-and-wife team.

The piece will be on public display for two years as part of an “Art as Voice: Service Learning and Empowerment” project conceived by Elon assistant professor Michael Fels, who led the Global Studies course on which the project is based.

Fels will work into the fall with students from Western Middle who were unable to attend the recent unveiling of the sculpture in front of the Arts West building on West Haggard Avenue.

“The exhibition will be a visual reminder of the connections between art, voice and community,” he said. “The project was a wonderful success for everyone involved.”

Teachers selected the children for the mentor program based on identified challenges and needs. With the help of Elon mentors, the middle school youth read passages from The Freedom Writers Diary, a collection of journal entries written by disempowered high school students in California. That collection of journal entries inspired the 2006 movie Freedom Writers starring Hilary Swank.

“We are thrilled and delighted that we were a part of an art project that made a mark on the lives of our middle school students,” said Lizzie Alston, principal of Western Middle School. “We are glad that Elon University partnered with us to involve our students and helped them to have a deeper appreciation for art.”

A handful of Western Middle students visited Elon on Saturday, Sept. 15, to contribute immediately to the blue metal sculpture. Along with a dozen Elon students, as well as teachers and parents, the teenagers painted blue bottles, their efforts based on individual journal entries written as part of “Art as Voice.” Bob and Cheryl Phillips, a Philadelphia couple known for work with other student projects, created the sculpture with the help of a grant from Elon University.

“What we’re fostering is ‘creative emotions,’” Bob Phillips said. “They’re getting to bottle negativity and go forward with a stronger sense about themselves.”

“The exhibition will be a visual reminder of the connections between art, voice and community,” said Michael Fels, who led a Global Studies class as part of the program. “The project was a wonderful success for everyone involved.”
Bob Phillips, a nationally recognized metal sculptor, created a public display in front of Arts West that will be completed this fall by Western Alamance Middle School students.