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Notes from the Field: ArtWorks: A Visual Arts Career and Technology Education Program

By Keri Jhaveri, Professional Learning and Community Programs Manager


Over the past three years, Arts for Learning San Diego has built a robust arts partnership with San Diego County Office of Educations’ Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS). In January 2021, A4LSD and JCCS introduced a visual art career pathways course called the ArtWorks Fellowship program at four JCCS sites: Kearney Mesa Juvenile Detention Center, Lindsay Community School, North County Technology Academy, and Victoria Community School. Mentor Teaching Artists Lorain Khalil Rihan and Diana Cervera work with four independent study students from each site to investigate how access to the arts can improve quality of life, build community, and lead to creative, fulfilling, and viable careers.

The ArtWorks Fellowship program was created as an opportunity for students to explore college and career pathways in the visual arts. Students choose to participate in the program, and received a syllabus, class expectations and art supplies as part of the program. Students who meet program requirements will earn a stipend for their work. Fellows are developing capstone projects that include a resume, a presentation of their work, an artist biography, and a portfolio showcasing their work processes and artwork across a variety of mediums. Students will have continued access to drawing and printmaking processes after the program ends through their ArtWorks art supplies.

This program has included guest artist lectures, artmaking workshops in drawing, printmaking, and photography, and small group coaching meetings with fellows. The culminating exhibition and presentations will take place in June 2021. Students take a leadership role, researching guest speakers and their work, and leading discussions with their classmates. Students are creating connections with professionals in the field who can help them navigate their own artistic journeys.

As the program manager for our JCCS programs, part of my job is to observe what is happening in the classroom. Recently, I joined Lorain and Diana in one of their weekly meetings with students from Lindsay Community, North County Technology Academy, and Victoria School. Each ArtWorks session begins with a check-in, a means to determine how each participant is feeling that day. This is one tool that our teaching artists use to develop relationships with our students, learn about what’s affecting them, and provide students a place where they feel seen and heard. Students were also asked to share a personal or academic takeaway they have learned from this program so far this year. The young women shared a range of takeaways: they described how participation in the program makes them feel good and gives them confidence and self-esteem. Other students shared how inspiring it is to hear about the guest artists’ personal artistic journeys and how they make their living as professional artists.

Diana and Lorain shared their thinking in designing the ArtWorks Fellowship model, “We created a curriculum that reflects the difficult lessons we are continuing to learn in our own artistic journeys as womxn of color such as limited exposure to artistic disciplines and access to institutions, how to talk about our work, monetize our skills and feeling connected to a community of artists whose experiences speak to our own. Throughout the program, we have shared the challenges we have experienced with centering our artistic practices despite maintaining day jobs, and that an art practice is an endless learning space regardless of the arts discipline. Most importantly, we have shared the necessity of trusting our own voices and creative processes while understanding that there is not only one way to be an artist, that we will experience seasons of production, creation, hiatus, and that sometimes we will create work that does not need to be shared publicly.”

This program is made possible by generous grants from the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the Ruth and Joseph Reed Foundation for the Arts.

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