Herron High School students find their voices through art

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From left: "1:25 at D'Orsay," Lucy Burton, Grade 10; "untitled, 2013," Sam Schwindt, Grade 11; "Black Roses," El Shaddai Wright, Grade 12

Tucked away in a lower corner of the Harrison Center for the Arts is the Hank and Dolly gallery.  I walked down on First Friday because I wanted to experience the whole show before I took up my post in the City Gallery.  I was overcome by the quality of the Herron High School student work on display.  I had come from the gallery showcase of Linda Adele Goodine’s work exploring her relationship with her own high school age daughter and the secrets daughters keep, and here was the work of some of my dearest friends’ daughters, the revelations of their own thoughts and dreams.  I have watched these girls grow up alongside mine and I was taken aback at how emotional it was for me to see their newest work.

Herron High School (HHS) opened in 2006, with 99 students, in the same space where Hank and Dolly’s Gallery is now.  HCA’s goal was to “grow a new generation of art patrons”: well-educated, creative thinking, world class citizens . . . the kind of students who would go on to be great civic leaders and who would see the artistry in every discipline. Now located across the street from us, HHS has brought new life to the former John Herron Art Institute campus in the Herron Morton neighborhood, serving 652 students. Every day, these students come back to visit our building, to use our gym, to visit the galleries, to hang their artwork, or to intern with us in arts management and promotion, photography, videography, design, and event planning.  They are amazing students, smart, kind, helpful, and entrepreneurial.  But the thing I have always found unusual is their compassion.  They are becoming artists, and artists help all of us live authentically . . . they make “different” celebrated, not just tolerated.  They help create environments where whoever you are is just fine.

High school is such a beautiful and wrenching time.  We try to find our voice and a way and place to express it.  For many, art becomes that way.  But art is incredibly vulnerable, always exposing your heart to the world, allowing it to be critiqued by your peers.  I am amazed that high school students are willing to do that.  We all have an “inner critic,”  a voice that tells us that we are not very good, that we are alone.

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Cultural Icon Exhibit, Gallery No. 2, March 2013 "Helen Keller", Megan Kirby, Class of 2012

How I wish I would have had a Herron High School when I was in high school.  I think I would have learned not only how to channel my creativity, but also why it mattered in every area of my life.  HHS faculty and staff have impressed me again and again with their love for their subjects and their students, with their ability to integrate art into every subject.  I was a high school teacher for several years.  I know there are many difficult jobs, but I’m not sure anything surpasses teaching.  Not only do teachers have to continue to grow and excel professionally, always improving in knowledge, but they bear the weight of caring for the students in front of them, students who they know, love, and spend more hours of the day with than anyone else.  They give their lives to not just teaching subjects, but teaching students . . . and that goes far beyond the classroom.   This week, HHS experienced deep tragedy.  I have seen the faculty care for their students with exceptional grace and love, even while processing their own grief.

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This week, I saw my daughter and her friends live out grief authentically, in an incredibly supportive environment in which teachers, staff and board members spent many hours thinking through how best to care for their students.  Herron High School has been ranked in the top 5% of schools nationwide by Newsweek, U.S. News and the Washington Post.  Those are impressive statistics that look at real measurable academic data, but they say nothing of what makes me grateful for the school.  I am thankful for the artists in every discipline who are caring for our children and intentionally creating a safe and beautiful place for them to thrive.

City LivingEmily Vanest