DoSomething.org is an online organization that mixes activism with expression for young people, encouraging them, as the name implies, to “rock causes they care about.” One of those causes is the preservation of art education in schools.
To raise awareness about the endangered-species status of art programs in schools, which are always first to go when budgets are cut, Hewlett Packard and Advanced Micro Devices, the semiconductor company, are challenging art students on dosomething.org to make a difference in their school by way of a contest. Students have to create an “awesome PC wallpaper,” share it on Facebook and Twitter, get as many of their friends to vote for it, and qualify to win their school’s art program a $5,000 contribution, and themselves a $1,000 scholarship. The works are featured online, each on a web page with the names and phone numbers of the two senators from the student’s home state: the numbers are there to encourage people to call and plead for the preservation of art (though state legislatures, the Florida Legislature in particular, has a lot more say when it comes to under-funding education, as it chronically does).
The works are varied and occasionally searching.
One of those is “Struggle,” by Flagler Palm Coast High School’s Junia Louis-Pierre—the work you see above, graffiti drawing that goes more daringly where most wallpaper art wouldn’t: when Junia draws, says her art teacher, Monica James, she tells stories. And the story of Junia’s recent life has been the same as that of many of her fellow students: foreclosure.
“We got bankrupt twice,” Junia says of her family. The family has been in Palm Coast about four years. She has three brothers and two sisters, though most have moved on. Her home was foreclosed recently. She now lives with her family in a rental. The drawing took her a month. It’s far from just graffiti, though as wallpaper, the idea of graffiti itself is imaginative: where else for a perfect fit but on a computer’s wallpaper? And so what if the subject matter is more searching than pretty colors or famous landmarks seen for the nine billionth time?
Where else, too, but graffiti on the wall of a repossessed home? Look at the drawing closely. There’s movement and detail, behind the brash red “struggle” and green “bank owned,” that tells a familiar story with an intimacy difficult to render by those who haven’t been through it: the homeless boy in the upper corner, the mother and oblivious child in the opposite corner, the eye that has seen it all. The only thing missing in the iris is a reflection of a Palm Coast welcome sign, itself foreclosed.
“It really, really affects the kids a lot, and I’ve seen a lot of that, especially in the past two years,” James says. “It’s almost like an illustration, like a story she’s telling. And she always does that. Every piece that she does, there’s a story in there. But if you saw her, you’d have no idea. She’s so shy. I talk all the time, I just now got her to say hi to me, but inside this shy person there are all these stories.”
Speaking on the phone Junia was shy, as if words aren’t her preferred medium. Music, she says, and the stories of her friends around her, are what inspire her art. At dosomething.org, she wrote art is important “because art motivates you in ways where people find out who they really are, [it’s] crazy, because everything around you is related to art. Art is a dream, it puts pictures and ideas in your head that relate to you and your lifestyle. Like music, art brings happiness to people and it inspires them and their works to do better and be better in life, and to accomplish your dreams no matter what.”
Junia has the luck of attending a school and a district where art programs have been nurtured and preserved. Flagler Palm Coast High School has four art teachers, though the budget for materials and supplies is gone: students have to provide their own sketch pads, their own paint, their own canvasses.
This is where you come in. This is where you get to vote, for Junia and for Flagler Palm Coast High School’s art program.
The way it works at dosomething.com, the most Facebook votes a drawing gets, the better the student’s chances to win. Don’t vote here. Vote at Junia’s “Struggle” Page. And you don’t have to vote just once. You can go back the next day and vote again, and vote every 24 hour period, until Sept. 30.
[Memo to Superintendent Janet Valentine: It’s unfortunate that even if every one of the district’s 1800 school employees or thousands of its students wanted to vote for Junia, they couldn’t, at least not during school hours, because the district still blocks access to Facebook–even though some schools have their own Facebook pages. Time to lift the ban.]
The winners will be announced Oct. 12. Five finalists will receive HP Pavilion laptops.
But this isn’t just about voting for a single winner. It’s about showing this community’s commitment to art, to art education, and to its schools, which do their part to—as Jesse Jackson might put it given the chance—keep art alive.
Vote for Junia and FPC.
More about dosomething.org: