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Children's Studio School

by Jewel Johnson
Washington, D.C.


This painting, called Portrait was done by Lyric, 3.

Working in architecture. Projection and division of two-and three-dimensional space. Photo by Franklin Wassmer.

Working in architecture. Projection and division of two-and three-dimensional space. Photo by Franklin Wassmer.

Jewel Johnson, Javier Ivan Torres and artist/teacher Manuel Navarrette. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.

Jewel Johnson, Javier Ivan Torres and artist/teacher Manuel Navarrette. Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke.
For 18 years, the Children's Studio School has thrived as a multicultural school for three- to eight-year-olds in Washington, D.C. where arts are the curriculum, and all teachers are artists. The school is located in Cleveland Elementary school in an African American neighborhood in the northeast section of the District of Columbia. Recently, the school district attempted to close down several schools including Cleveland. The community mobilized and was able to save Cleveland and Children's Studio within it. The following article is part of an interview with Studio School parent and volunteer Jewel Johnson. The interview was conducted (and later edited) by Nic Paget-Clarke.

My name is Jewel Johnson and I'm a parent at the Children's Studio School. I have two children who have greatly benefitted from this school. They're little artists now. I feel their minds have been totally opened by the process that this school adheres to. And that is of learning how to think by working in the arts. All day they work in painting, performance art, sculpture, architecture, music, dance and writing. Art involves serious exploration. In painting, for example, children must grapple with such elements as anatomy - bones, muscles, space, symmetry ... and then manipulate these elements to arrive at their own personal artistic statements.

Cleveland has embraced the Studio School. It is wonderful to be here. We have brought a corps of artists to teach full time, and children are given the benefit of working in the arts in a way that is intrinsic to their lives. They are exposed to people like Manuel Navarrette from Peru, who brings a great deal of experience as a visual artist - painter and printmaker - as well as experiences of his own culture and language. Many of the children are Latinos, and he shares with them a cultural link, which is both a gift and an exchange.

I also think it's very important that Children's Studio School emphasizes that each child is an individual. Children come with their own cultures, and they come with their own family histories, and they come with a whole host of ideas. These ideas are part of who they are. Language and background are part of you. We encourage children to respect who they are, and respect the heritages of others by nurturing their capabilities to transform their cultures into new art forms. To accomplish this, we have artists/teachers from many cultures and disciplines. We have Manuel from Peru; and Franklin, a performance artist, is Swiss; Sylvanus, our architect, is from Ghana; Gary Lilley, a poet, is from South Carolina; and Paul Kenguno, a dancer, is from Cameroon.

The artists/teachers stretch the children to think in different ways. To find their own paths to problem-solving. Problem-solving within the arts is a key element of the Children's Studio School. Everyone's art comes from who they are, and in essence it affirms who they are. That's why my children have been a part of the Studio School. The benefit has been immeasurable. It has helped to make them better thinkers - and that is something they will carry with them throughout their lives. I think that the teachers show children the importance of art, not just in self-expression but as a way of life. And even though you may do many different things - make art a part of you. It can also be a survival mechanism.

Outside is 7th and T. You can see the Howard Theatre which, in its heyday, hosted all the great Jazz and Blues artists - Billie Holliday, B.B. King, James Brown, Nancy Wilson, Charlie Parker were in the neighborhood playing close by. This area is steeped in a lot of heritage for Black people. Up the street is Howard University. Jesse Jackson lives in this neighborhood. Not too far down 7th Street and over a bit, you can see the Capitol.

But from the good days of this area, you now see the economic blight of the streets is in front of you - a lot of drug dealing outside this window. But Cleveland has helped to stabilize the neighborhood. You know, you walk in from these streets and you see a very clean and a very active and vibrant school environment where learning can take place.

I think that the principal, Annie Mair, deserves much credit for recognizing the value of Children's School for Cleveland's children, and for working so hard to maintain this school. Also, the parents, teachers, the Studio School, and the community have all rallied together. I was very impressed by the parents. It was a struggle for them to organize. It wasn't easy but they did persist. And that takes a lot of courage. And I'm so glad that they have found that working hard and organizing and building links with other parents has met with success for them. So this is truly a victory. Not just for the children here but for the community. I feel this area will come back.

Children's Studio School can be reached at (202) 387-5880. The School offers a 3-6 month intensive, on-site Internship Residency Program.

Published in In Motion Magazine October 29, 1995.