By Kristin Boza
Morgan Park High School (MPHS) juniors and seniors are taking part in an after-school arts program designed by a collaboration between the Beverly Area Arts Alliance (The Alliance), MPHS art teacher Wendie Bloxsom, and retired CPS art teacher and Golden Apple winner Mathias “Spider” Schergen. Funded through The Alliance and driven by creative and motivated artists, the program is providing students with the opportunity to create life-size moveable sculptures that they will parade in the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Arts in the Dark Parade on Sat., Oct. 20, 6 to 8 p.m. on Columbus Drive.
Schergen has been involved with The Alliance for several years. As a visual artist specializing in creating sculptures from found objects and a former art teacher at Jenner Academy of the Arts, he was an obvious partner for Arts in the Dark project based on his talent and experience.
“The program started from scratch with neighborhood people in a very organic way,” Schergen said. “I enjoy interacting with kids and young people and facilitating activities in a communal setting. As The Alliance sought ways to participate in city-wide events, we all came together to brainstorm and work with a local school to represent the 19th Ward in the ‘Arts in the Dark’ parade.”
Schergen and Bloxsom are leading the students through the process of creating giant puppet-like figures.
“The kids are learning how to move beyond 2D art in creating these figures,” Schergen said. “Each week, they’re getting more comfortable and imaginative and we hope to see them make the conceptual leap to something less literal to something more fantastical and beyond the human form.”
“Spider is a rock star in the arts education community, and I have great regard for his work,” said Corinne Rose, Alliance member and coordinator of the project. “I really think that strong public schools depend on the involvement of the community. With this project, we’re hoping to do something more in-depth and have more of an impact. We think that culminating activities are really important, not only to make the art, but have a reason to display it. The kids have a sense of being a part of something larger, and for us, it’s important to have a visual show of support for the school and the kids.”
For inspiration in his personal art, Schergen seeks ways to turn discarded items into imaginative pieces.
“I’ve always enjoyed making stuff with stuff; I was fascinated with things in the world since I was little,” he said. “When I was teaching full time, it was extremely foundational for me to go home and work out the day for a few hours. Working on art helps to free up my mind so I can approach my job in a fresh light.”
Schergen stresses the importance of students gaining knowledge of working in a studio to truly embrace their creative sides.
“The arts are so often crammed into an academic format of assessments that it becomes more important than what the kid actually made,” he said. “Studio time allows students to control their own development. When combined with exhibit experience and interaction with the larger community, the students will have a chance to explore their gifts.”
The Alliance is fully supporting the collaboration financially through their own fundraising efforts, so there is no cost to MPHS.
“We view this as a beginning of a supportive relationship with the high school in our community,” Rose said.